What are you doing for others? (community and our health)

Reading Time: 6 minutes

(In past 4 weeks I have been writing a series of posts on self care covering related topics like finding your purpose, knowing what is important and what matters, creating a morning routine and why we need to unplug regularly from technology to reconnect with ourselves and others. You can read these posts here).

In the first four posts, I had focussed mostly on the relationship that we have with ourselves. In the second last post in this series, I am focussing on our outer worlds, namely, the relationships that we have with others. In other words, our social connections.

"Alone we can do so little. Together, we can do so much"

-Helen Keller

However, before we go any further, I would like to mention here that I have started taking baby steps to start a community (closed Facebook group) for like minded women with similar values and goals. Keeping that in mind, I am hosting a free online challenge for women whose details are given at the end of this post.

7 day online "LOVE YOURSELF FIRST" challenge for women

STARTS ON 30th of September 2019 (Monday) 
ENDS ON 6th of October 2019 (Sunday)

As social animals, we have evolved over millions of years to cooperate with others to hunt, to gather food and to survive. Like most primates, if we were ever to have become separated from our tribe, we would have not survived in isolation. Hence each of us has a very primitive need to be connected with others. The accompanying feeling of anxiety that often accompanies our feeling of loneliness serves a very real and useful purpose of making us feel insecure and pushes us to reconnect with others. Infact, our disconnection with other people is one of the most critical aspects leading to the surge in loneliness, anxiety and depression that is so pervasive in our world today. Having meaningful social relationships then is the antidote to the feeling of disconnection and in turn loneliness.

In our busy, hectic modern lives what often gets short changed are the meaningful relationships that we form and maintain right from childhood to adulthood. A lack of such relationships usually leads to loneliness and isolation. There are numerous studies which have been done in this space by scientists studying loneliness and its effects on our health. Numerous studies show that for all the progress our modern society has made in the fields of medicine, science and technology, we are struggling with high rates of mental health issues like depression, suicide, poor health, loneliness and anxiety. One of the research also shows that being isolated is as stressful as experiencing a physical attack from a stranger.

What I really find shocking, however, is a meta-analysis of studies on loneliness which reveal the following-

Living with air pollution increases our odds of dying early by 5%

Living with obesity, 20%

Excessive drinking, 30%

Loneliness increases the risk of dying early by 45%

Every status update is just a variation of a single request "Would someone please acknowledge me?” 

-Marc Maron

Our dependence (and a form of addiction) on social media usage can then be explained in terms of our need to really connect with each other. As social animals, we need to interact face to face, see, feel, hear and smell each other in a non threatening and caring manner. Simply put, social media and phones our simply does not and cannot replace our social lives. The time has come for all of us to become aware of what this kind of disconnection is costing us in terms of our health, happiness, life goals, achievements and preventing us from living a life that is full of joy and passion.

(I have written more on this topic in my earlier post)

The power of community in safeguarding our health

Being a part of a community is a powerful tool that we need to use to combat the illnesses that threaten our modern societies. Of course, wellness and good health starts with each of us taking personal responsibility for the choices that we make daily. We need to nourish our bodies with the right foods, take adequate rest, move our bodies and take care of our spiritual needs. However, it certainly does not end there.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, our lives are inextricably intertwined with all of nature and certainly with that of all other human beings. Being well and keeping well is then a community affair. This includes our families, our schools and colleges and finally our workplaces and society at large.

However, even while being a part of any community, we all need to be heard and feel recognised, understood and accepted as we are by our families, friends, our colleagues and our peers. This becomes even more relevant in the modern social context as traditional social community ties are changing and dissolving. We need to find ways to form social groups and work even harder to make and maintain close relationships.

(I have shared book recommendations and articles below f you would like the explore these topics in details)

Community IS Medicine

It must have become clear by now how our emotional and physical well being is tied up with our sense of belonging and being a part of a tribe. Here, I would like you to pause for a moment and reflect on the following questions

Do I have rich, satisfying relationships with others? 

What is my most valuable relationship?

What are some of the ways that I am nurturing and taking care of my need to belong? (eg. being a part of a book club, religious community, gym, women's groups, FB groups)

What does being a part of that group make me feel? ( eg. feel accepted, heard, safe)

What are some of the ways that I can join or even form social groups which inspire and challenge me to grow and thrive?

In terms of reaching our health and wellness goals,  being a part of a community can support us in the following ways by providing

  • accountability
  • new ideas and fresh perspective
  • inspiration and keeping you motivated
  • you with a collective wisdom

 

As you ponder over these questions, you may want to go through some of the ways that you can choose to enhance your relationships and be a part of a community that fulfils your need to belong in a healthy manner

You can choose to.... 

connect a bit more by listening, communicating, and allowing your heart to remain open

be truly present in a face to face conversation by noticing the posture and body language and making eye contact

show up as yourself and create a space where others feel safe enough to do the same

make your relationships your top priority in life and consciously make time and space for it 

As  the author, Mathew Kelly said so beautifully,

"Learn to waste time with the people you love"

"LOVE YOURSELF FIRST"

A 7 DAY FREE ONLINE CHALLENGE for women

"Love yourself first, because that’s who you’ll be spending the rest of your life with"
Author unknown

 

STARTS ON 30th of September 2019 (Monday)

ENDS ON 6th of October 2019 (Sunday)  

This challenge is for women who feel overwhelmed, exhausted, depleted and/or frazzled and are running on empty with little to give to themselves or others

This challenge is ALSO for you if you are ready to

accept yourself completely

refuse to feel guilty for taking out time for yourself

feel more energetic savour time with yourself as well as take care of your family

Unplug and reconnect (change your relationship with technology)

Reading Time: 8 minutes

 

(This is the fourth post in the series of 6 posts that I writing on self care. You can read the earlier ones here, here and here)

Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master

~Christian Lous Lange

If you have gone through the earlier posts, you would know that we have been discussing topics like purpose and meaning, knowing what is truly important in our lives and what matters to us. But all of this would be made redundant if you could not apply what you have learned about yourself to carve out the life that you want. We have a lot to be grateful for in our lives towards modern technology including but not limited to comfort and convenience but we are certainly paying a price for it.

When I planned out the series of posts on self care, I knew that one of these posts would be to highlight the issues that are connected to the way that modern technology is impacting our lives. It has been clear to me for a while now that the very fabric of our society, our attention span and our health are all being affected by the very same technology that has been designed to revolutionise our lives (which it has). But it is even more disconcerting that many of us are blissfully unaware of the ways it affects each and every aspect of our lives. And even when we are aware of this, what makes it so difficult to do something about it is the way that it is designed. The many ways that technology has been designed to be fun and easy to use are the very same things that keep us hooked on to it.

One of my personal struggles today in terms of getting creative and meaningful work done is in connection with my own phone usage. Technology is something that is constantly being reinvented and keeps changing and has always fascinated me. I have always embraced it happily and learned how to apply it constructively in both my personal and professional life. But the flip side is that my smart phone usage is certainly more addictive for me than anyone else in my family. The good thing is however, I have known this for a while now and this awareness has helped me to take steps to deal with this issue.

Modern technology has enriched our lives and helped us make significant progress however, smartphones are really quite different from the other technologies that preceded it like telephones, telegraphs, movies, radios, video games etc. These were also game-changers in their own right but are still quite different from smartphones in terms of impact. The main reason for this is that smartphones, in particular, have been specifically designed to grab our attention and get us to spend an inordinate amount of time on them. 

The result is that the smartphone has permeated our lives and become ubiquitous like nothing that we have ever seen before. Whether is our social, personal or our work life, no one is immune to the addictive nature of our gadgets and social media adds another layer to this addiction. And I do not use the word addictive lightly at all. Our phones have been specifically designed to make us spend more time on them based on the way our brain works.

As Tristan Harris (a former Design Ethicist at Google and co founder of Centre for Humane Technology) said “Our generation relies on our phones for our moment-to-moment choices about who we’re hanging out with, what we should be thinking about, who we owe a response to, and what’s important in our lives. And if that’s the thing that you’ll outsource your thoughts to, forget the brain implant. That is the brain implant. You refer to it all the time."

(If you would like to know more on this topic and how it affects us, read his article Tech Companies Design Your Life, Here’s Why You Should Care_)

These are just two of the many books on this topic of how smartphones are affecting our health (and especially that of our children)- iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy--and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood--and What That Means for the Rest of Us by Jean M Twenge and How to Break Up With Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life: The 3 -Day Plan to Take Back Your Life by Catherine Price. 

However, this post is not so much about technology as it is about the impact of modern technology and specifically the smartphone on our health. You may already be aware of some of the ways in which your digital technology use (including social media) is affecting your life and your relationships, your work and attention span.

However, to gauge the true extent of this issue, do take out some and answer the questions below-

Can you imagine life without a cellphone? What kinds of feeling comes up for you when you visualise such a scenario?

Have you ever noticed yourself using it not so safely? For e.g. talking or texting or watching while crossing the road or even while driving?

Have you noticed yourself feeling anxious and uncomfortable or even bored in a social situation and reaching for your phone to soothe yourself?

Have you ever noticed yourself losing hours at a time reading or watching social media posts and articles by simply losing track of time?

If you are cringing now after answering these questions, be rest assured that you are not alone. My own personal struggle with regards to my phone usage has reached a place where I am constantly trying to ensure that my phone works for me and not the other way around. The price that we pay may seem innocuous at times but make no mistake; we (and our children) are paying a hefty price by being constantly distracted due to the way the smartphone is designed to engage us.

Each of us has a relationship with our phone which in most of the cases is not in our favour and infact puts us at a major disadvantage. Unfortunately, this relationship often takes precedence over our real life relationships. It is time that we paused to think about what kind of relationship we really want with our phones. 

To have more clarity on how your phone usage may be your relationships, think about your answers to the questions below.

Is there...

a particular relationship that is suffering more than others as a result of your being constantly distracted? 

any way that a relationship will get more fractured in the long run due to your distracted ways if you do not take some steps to curb them?

some part of your life that you are missing out on now that you will regret not being present for later on?

some anxiety or worry that you have of letting go of these distractions?

(Take some time out to reflect on these questions and write down your answers to these questions in your journal as you have done for my earlier posts)

It is up to us to become aware of these pitfalls first and foremost at an individual level and then ultimately at a larger societal and community level. It is only with this kind of awareness that we will be able to modify our behaviours and make conscious choices in the way we use technology. This will help to make it work for us and NOT the other way around.Too often we lose sight of the fact that it is only when we squelch the constant chatter of our outer world that we can truly start to hear what our inner world is trying to tell us or warn us about.

Real self care starts the moment we start listening to ourselves and start taking steps to give ourselves what we truly need.   

And as we work towards becoming more present and less distracted, we can truly show up for our own life in a way...

that is truly aligned with our purpose and our goals

in which we are present for ALL the moments that make up our life and NOT just the special occasions

that is conducive for healing and taking care of ourselves

that helps us share our unique gifts with the world

that enables us to take risks, grow and show up as our authentic selves

that allows us to enjoy and live each and every moment of our lives without putting off "living" 

 

In the section below, I have highlighted some changes that you can make TODAY with regards to your phone/technology use to help you to reclaim some level of control

(I will be writing in more details on this topic in my series of posts on increasing self awareness and creating meaningful connections).

You do NOT need to be available every second of the day

You can answer your texts, emails and calls at select times during the day by blocking out time for it. Schedule switching off or at the very least taking some time off from your phone /technology each day and giving yourself a break (unless your profession demands you to be on call). This can be done by either taking 10-15 min phone breaks several times each day to either take some time off OR to focus on the work that needs to get done. I routinely put my phone on silent for at least a few hours each day to work on something that is important without being distracted all the time.

Your phone is NOT a substitute for human companionship or connection

Even when we are with people who really matter to us, we may not really be present. Instead of spending the limited but precious amount of time with our children, parents and friends who are in front of us, we may actually be spending time with our phones. I am guilty of this myself and I make a conscious effort to be really present in the presence of others especially my family.

Here are some distraction and phone free time zones that you can incorporate into your daily routine-

  • first thing in the morning
  • before your children leave for school (wherever applicable)
  • right before bed time
  • meal times
  • family time in the evening and on weekends

Take control of your phone

There are many ways that you can take back control of your phone and I have highlighted some of the most effective ones below.

(courtesy: https://humanetech.com/resources/take-control/)

  • Turn off ALL notifications apart from the ones you receive from people (calls and text messages)
  •  Go GRAYSCALE- this particular strategy is one I have recently implemented and has been really effective in reducing the time spent on my phone
  • Try keeping your apps on the home screen only
  • Launch other apps by typing so that it gives you just enough time to pause and reflect if that is truly the action that you want to take
  • Remove social media apps from your phone as it is the easiest way to cut back on the usage. They can be used when truly needed either from the browser or a desktop/laptop
  • Check out apps like Freedom (I personally love this one), Thrive Away, Offtime to track, monitor and control your phone usage

Isn't it ironic that a technology that was designed to foster communication and enrich our lives is, in fact, the very thing that is hindering interpersonal connectedness?

Ultimately, we need to remember that as human beings we have a primal need to be connected to others. But true connection usually happens in the micro moments in our life and that makes it very easy to miss out on those moments if we are constantly distracted. We can end up paying a heavy price by looking for this kind of connection elsewhere and becoming addicted to social media, shopping, alcohol, drugs, "busyness" etc.

So the next time you are with another person, look up from your phone and put it away. Take the time to be really present, to look into their eyes and to truly listen to what they are trying to tell you. Let us all reclaim our precious connections one conversation at a time!

As the author, Johann Hari has said so well

"The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but human connection"

Book review of “Four things that matter most” by Dr Ira Byock

Reading Time: 2 minutes 

This one of my all time favourite books in the “life and living” category is “The Four Things That Matter Most. While this book has been written by a physician, Dr. Ira Byock, dealing with terminally ill patients, this book is first and foremost a book about living. This book’s main tenets are 4 important phrases-

Saying these Four to friends and families has been life altering for many even at the last stages of their lives. The Four Things That Matter Most have helped people heal their relationships with their families, friends and even with themselves. Others have found closure in relationships which were bitter and possibly beyond redemption, releasing them from the burden of carrying a grudge and anger for the rest of their lives. Badly broken relationships due to past lies, separation and divorce, betrayal, broken promises and even abuse have been mended or healed with some people even coming closer than ever before.

The act of forgiving others (and even ourselves) is one of the hardest things to do and often the one that is most required

The act of forgiving others (and even ourselves) is one of the hardest things to do and often the one that we require to practice the most. It is a choice that a person has to make consciously for their own sake rather than the person being forgiven. This lessons learned from this chapter I keep close to my heart.

In the end this book is about a celebration of the bonds that we have with others. It helps us forgive, appreciate, love and celebrate one another and live a complete and fulfilling life.