How I retain my sanity on Facebook and beat stress!

There was a discussion in a Whatsapp group on strategies to beat stress and create peace of mind. This post is based on what I wrote there.

1. Reduce time on news and social Media: I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook and Twitter. I like some of the discussions there and love reading the literary stuff posted by friends. But there is too much "spam" too and it is difficult to filter that garbage. And Facebook, by design, encourages us to "consume" a lot without "producing" much. So for a long time, I struggled with Facebook to decide how to use it and interact with it. After lot of experimentation, which included staying away from Facebook entirely for more than a month, I currently follow this "30 minute rule". I only spend 30 minutes per day (I use a timer) on social media and news.  I read the following on my phone in that order (you may have your own list) - US News (Yahoo News Digest App), India News (Eenadu e-paper, an Indian Telugu daily), Whatsapp groups (I put most groups in mute mode and check them only once per day), Facebook and Twitter. I usually have my 30 minute break in the evening time, after my work. Since I do it only once a day, I look forward to this time and it actually feels relaxing. Often, I cannot complete the entire list and that is OK. Things can wait till the next day. I book-mark the articles I want to read later (either Pocket app or Facebook “save it later” feature). And if I have to post something (my writings, things I think are worth sharing etc), I often use the Buffer app to schedule the posts. I often schedule all the posts I want to post a week before, so that I can spend some time over the weekend to write them.

2. Talk, don’t text: Sherry Turkle, an MIT communications professor, gave a talk in my company (Qualcomm, San Diego) last November which had a huge influence on me. She pointed out that we are relying more and more on texting (includes Whatsapp, messenger etc) instead of talking. And we shy away from phone calls or face-face conversations. She has lot of fascinating research on how digital devices are killing our solitude and influencing our conversations and how all this is impacting us in her book "Reclaiming conversation - The power of talk in a digital age" which I very highly recommend. After that talk, I called some long time friends to just have a conversation with them. That human connection feels good and makes us healthy. As my thoughtful friend Om put it in our phone conversation, “We have so many modes of communication these days but so less communication happening!”. We need to come out of our Facebook connections and make real connections outside. We need to have face-face talk or phone chat more than text communication. This not only fosters friendships but also helps us in our mental health! As we all know, it always feels good to talk to a friend!

3. Read books in hard-copy format: Books relax you in a way no movie can. While reading a book, you recreate the whole story with your imagination. You pause and converse with yourself. All this is not possible with a movie. They both serve different purposes. Whenever possible, I personally like a physical book, instead of reading on the kindle/computer. A physical book has a life of its own. The book design, the cover, the font, the smell, the feel of the pages - it is all very unique for a given book. But in Kindle, every book feels the same. Also with a physical book, you are more immersed. You don't keep searching for word meanings or googling what a particular thing is. So take a book you like, go to a nice and quiet place (it can be as simple as a favorite corner of your house), put your phone in silent-mode (resist temptation to check things described in the book on Google) and just read! It is one of the most relaxing things you can do.

4. Sleep more: Tom Rath once gave a very informative talk in our company on his book “Eat Move Sleep”  . For the first time, I learnt that “sitting is the new smoking”. I also learnt that we are not sleeping enough! Till then, I used to think that around 6 hours of sleep is good enough for me and it is OK to spend time on computer/phone before sleep. I learnt then that our smartphones are disturbing sleep cycles quite a bit. This combined with the fact that most of us get less sleep than we need means that we are chronically sleep deprived. So I decided to sleep around 8 hours and to not see any bright objects like phone/TV from at least 2 hours before my sleep time. Both have been quite difficult to do, but I am trying my best. After that talk, I started using flux on my computer which makes the color of your computer's display adapt to the time of day (later Apple iPhone had the same feature called Night-Shift). But I was still using phone/computer till the bed time. And since phone is next to my bed, often there is a temptation to do some reading or idle browsing. I finally found a solution - Now I do not bring my phone to the bed room at all! I put it away in the living room! That helps a lot, not only to sleep well without distracted by phone but also to wake up early the next morning. Since I have to walk couple of steps to shut-off the alarm, it is much more likely now that I do not go back to sleep!

5. Meditate: I am not a regular meditator but I consider myself a meditation enthusiast. Meditation is really like an "exercise for the mind" and helps immensely in promoting our emotional health. Meditation is not necessarily sitting cross-legged with eyes closed. Even Yoga can be considered a dynamic meditation, if we do the postures mindfully, focusing on the movements without thinking anything else. Doing Yoga like aerobic exercise with loud music and all takes away this meditative aspect of Yoga.  We can similarly have mindful eating, mindful walking, mindful brushing etc! It sounds silly but if you try it you will see the usefulness. Paraphasing the great Zen master Shunryu Suzuki, “We express ourselves when we put our mind wholly on the task we are doing”. And in expressing ourselves, we find ourselves! So try meditation, explore different forms and stick to the one you like. Do whatever but meditate in the end!
I have more things to write about but will stop here. I know I did not write anything new, we all know this stuff. It is just that we need to reinforce and internalize these things. More importantly, we need to put them to practice! Please share your thoughts and ideas too!

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