It’s no secret that I am an incredibly sensitive, empathetic person. Which, as we know, can be both a blessing and a curse. The news lately has been heavily weighing on me. Certain news stories are triggering hard emotions – but I can’t stop reading. Social media can do similar things. I adore social media and have found it priceless in my ability to connect with others – but reading about others’ experiences, often negative ones, as people tend to post on social media, has felt taxing. The other night, someone said to me, “Be careful what you let into your space,” following my explanation that the news is breaking my heart lately. She went on to say, “It’s okay to care about the world, and we all have stories that stick with us and we want to follow. But it can sometimes become hard to separate what’s happening with someone else from what’s happening with you. And it can turn into a little bit of an obsession. And it can take away from your own experiences and what you’re dealing with on a day-to-day basis.” Hmmm. I thought about why it is that I felt terrified about not being connected to the news or social media. Because I want to care, I lectured myself. Because people always talk about needing to know what’s going on in the world. Because I want to be educated and aware and able to hold a conversation. Because I want to know what’s happening with my friends. Because I want to be a part of people’s lives. Because I don’t want to only focus on myself, I want to be empathetic and care about everyone else.
Oh dear. A giant reframe was necessary, here. Stepping away from the internet and the t.v. doesn’t mean I don’t care. That’s a huge leap that my brain made, and one I can gently dispute. I care. I care so much. I care too much, sometimes. But I have to come first. My thoughts, my feelings, my memories, my emotions, my day-to-day life. Before I can take on the problems of the world, I need to be with me, first.
So then somehow, we were on the subject of multitasking, and keeping busy. I love multitasking. Often times, multitasking feels calmer to me than only doing one thing at a time. And some of that, I know, is just me and my personality. But I am wondering lately if part of that is a subconscious way for me to not have to fully be present in one experience or the other. Mindfulness is HARD. Because it means slowing down and being present and experiencing all of it – whatever it is. “It’s great that you love your jobs and you love to keep busy,” she said. “But maybe you need some time to just be. And experience whatever it is you’re experiencing internally.”
This connected right back to social media and the news for me. Because my downtime often takes the form of relaxing on the couch, checking the news sites, checking Facebook, replying to blog comments, posting new pictures on Instagram. And in a lot of ways, I love that. It’s comforting and calming and helps me feel connected. AND, I think we all have times where it’s actually more beneficial to not focus on what’s going on in our lives. We all need distractions sometimes, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But sometimes a healthy distraction becomes an avoidance technique.
So on Monday evening, I turned off all of the “breaking news alerts” on my phone. I decided that I wouldn’t watch the news at the gym. I wouldn’t check the news sites. If something drastic happened that I needed to know about, someone would find out and someone would tell me. And if something happened in a loved one’s life, they would either tell me themselves, or I would find out when I found out. It doesn’t make me a bad friend or bad person for not stalking Facebook out of fear that I’d miss something important. I decided that I was going to separate my “down time” from my “social media” time. I decided to be mindful during my down time. I decided to use yesterday and today’s afternoons and evenings as a way to practice. So yesterday I left work, ran a few errands I needed to run, and went to the gym. But while I was running errands I didn’t check social media sites while waiting for the cashier. And at the gym I listened to music and didn’t watch the news. And in the car I didn’t listen to the radio, I listened to the sounds on the road. Then I went home, and it was only 5:00. I sat on the couch and didn’t know what to do with myself. I wanted to watch t.v. while I fooled around online while I snacked while I thought about the thank-you-notes I had to write. But I gently encouraged myself to do one or the other.
I lit a candle. I read. I opened the window. I cleaned. I didn’t have music on. I listened to the silence. I wrote thank-you-notes in silence. I walked to the mailbox to mail them. I cooked dinner. I splatter-painted. I noticed my breath.
And sure, at one point, I took ten minutes and looked on Facebook. But I did it mindfully. And I could sense that difference.
A similar experience this afternoon. Initial thoughts of, I’m supposed to just BE? To think and feel and exist with myself? Um. No thanks. So not appealing. But I did it. And at one point I checked out a particular news story I’ve been following. And as I did, I scanned my body, and felt my stomach slightly constrict, my chest get slightly tighter. My body was telling me something. So I put the news away. And I cooked dinner. And I went for a walk, with my earbuds in but no music playing. Listening to the world. Being.
The point isn’t to never multitask, to never check the headlines, to abandon social media. I love all 3 of those things, and that’s okay. The point is to find the balance between good distraction and avoidance. Between stress and mindfulness. Between focusing on others and focusing on myself.
And really, I just need to BE. Whatever is working, whatever isn’t working, whatever I need, whatever I don’t – to embrace it and live it. Colors haven’t been working for me lately – so rather than fighting it, I’m wearing a lot of neutrals. And who cares, because neutrals are colors, too. Today I wore all black, and sparkly gold shoes and earrings, and felt (among other reasons) calm and comfortable. So it works. Whatever it is.
Does this resonate with you at all? What are your thoughts on multitasking? Do you ever find it hard to just BE?