Take a Media Fast
[Excerpt from “Resilient Health: How to Thrive in Our Toxic World” by Valencia Porter, MD, MPH]
“…while it may seem informing and even empowering, the media in all forms is designed to influence your behaviors, thoughts, and feelings—sometimes to the point of manipulation.”
For most of my life, the television was a constant fixture and was on any time that I was home. But when my daughter was an infant, I suddenly became more aware of the constant stream of violence and negativity that was barraging us and turned the TV off, particularly the news. What I didn’t recognize before was that while it may seem informing and even empowering, the media in all forms is designed to influence your behaviors, thoughts, and feelings—sometimes to the point of manipulation.
Why was the news repeatedly reporting the same stories without any new information? Stress, anxiety, and worry are powerful feelings that can keep viewers glued to the screen. But is this helpful and necessary? And who has control over my emotional state? Are our ideas our own, or are they being presented to us by people we likely have never even met? From “fake news” to social media ads and posts, we should wonder who is behind the information we are consuming and what their endgame is.
For some, our digital lives may be even more consuming that our real lives, with people having real addictions to Facebook and the internet. How many times a day do you check your email? Facebook? Other media feeds? Even seemingly positive interactions can create stress. Many can feel burdened by the need to comment or “like” their friends’ posts, which then becomes a time-sucking chore that takes away from family, school, work, and a social life. And there are many negative aspects of social media as well including cyberbullying, body image concerns, depression, and anxiety. How’s your digital life going? Does it fill you with joy and pleasure? Or are you left feeling empty, alone, and pissed off?
In our house, at least once a year we have a “screen-free week” where we turn off all electronic media—TVs, computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones—unless required for work or school. Even better is when we can go on vacation and disconnect completely. My kids always protest at first. But we end up spending more time talking with each other, playing outside or creating things indoors, and most of all, connecting face-to-face.
If this seems too daunting to you, at least carve out some time during the day when you refrain from tuning in to electronic media. For instance, check your email three times a day instead of all day long. Don’t leave the TV on in the background if you are not watching it or allow the next program to just run without you actively choosing it. Another strategy is to turn off all screens after a certain time—you just might even sleep better. Taking a media fast can be a great way to reconnect with what is meaningful in your life and develop a more conscious relationship with the media.