Love

Do You Have A Problem With Your Phone? The Benefits of Unplugging

As I gather the items I need to write this blog—my glasses, computer, glass of water— I watch myself grab for my phone.  There is nothing that I need on that device right now.  Other than the experiential example of what so many of us find all day and all night— that our phones have become an appendage, what co-author Russell Clayton of the University of Missouri describes as “The Extended Self.”

Of course, I’m not here to say we shouldn’t have phones. That would be ridiculous, given the tremendous benefits they provide and the reality of the species-level transformation that a life “plugged in” has created.  At the same time, we shouldn’t just throw our hands up (or our faces down). We have reached a dangerous level of tolerance for our phone dependence, our egos normalizing by way of joking, avoiding, resigning. 

I always like to write about what is real and true for me, and I know that my relationship with my phone often serves as a barometer for my relationship with myself, and my love for life. The truth is that when we cross over the line and our phone use becomes a problem, there are dangerous implications for our brains and our bodies, for our mental health and relationships, for our capacity to create true happiness and to enjoy the blessings we are meant to receive as a soul.


I have learned from the wisdom of Kabbalah that where our attention goes is exactly where we go, this is who we become. So how can we tell if we are placing too much of our attention in our phones? How can we tell if our phone use is a problem in our lives? I suggest 3 important steps: 

  1. Educate Yourself on the criteria for and side effects of excessive phone use.

  2. Observe Yourself on how your phone use affects your energy and makes you feel.

  3. Unplug Yourself to create a daily and weekly sabbatical.


Let’s start with the first step, educating yourself.  According to the National Institute of Health, the criteria used for drug addiction can also be used for our mobile devices.  More specifically, take a look at this list below of indicators for a phone problem. Check off how many of these are true for you:  

  • Conscious use of phones in dangerous situations or in prohibited contexts (e.g while driving)

  • Excessive phone use that causes social and family conflicts and confrontations, as well as loss of interest in other shared activities

  • Continuing the behavior despite the negative effects and/or personal malaise it causes

  • Excessive phone use causing noticeable physical, mental, social, work, or family disturbances (e.g eye strain, symptoms of withdrawal, stress, and anxiety)

  • Chronic impulsiveness to check your device

  • Frequent and constant checking of phone in very brief periods of time causing insomnia and sleep disturbances

  • Increase in use to achieve satisfaction or relaxation or to counteract a dysphoric mood

  • Excessive use, urgency, need to be connected

  • Need to respond immediately to messages, preferring the cell phone to personal contact

  • Abstinence, dependence, craving

  • Anxiety, irritability if cell phone is not accessible, feelings of unease when unable to use it

(Front Psychiatry. 2016; 7: 175.


3 KEY SIDE EFFECTS: Let’s go a little deeper with our understanding of side effects from phone dependency.

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  1. Pleasure vs Happiness. The semantic difference between pleasure and happiness is subtle but the implications are huge, on the brain and the soul. I love this chart from a recent Business Insider article which helps us to see in the brain how pleasure seeking activities, like excessive phone us, create short term highs (dopamine) while fulfillment seeking activities generate farther reaching and more lasting contentment (serotonin). Phone use taps into our already vulnerable tendency to seek short term, pleasure-seeking gratification.

  2. Mindfulness. If we are having trouble keeping our attention fully in the present, taking in the world and people around us, then one culprit could be the time spent in the online world. Harvard researcher Matt Killingsworth found that happiness and being present in the moment are directly linked. We know this right? But the research is mounting that being mindful and in the present leads to greater self esteem and lower perceived anxiety and stress. When it comes to our phones and mindfulness, recent research has shown that smartphone involvement decreases our capacity for mindfulness.

  3. Anxiety/Depression. Late night phone use in particular has been linked to increases in depression and declines in self esteem and coping ability. Phones OUT OF THE BEDROOM are becoming the new “buckle up for safety.” Also leaning on the depression side, a recent survey showed that those considered frequent social media users experienced 2.7 times higher rates of depression that those of less frequent users.

  4. And here are some of the other the side effects: Insomnia, Inability to Focus / Complete a Task, Stress and Restlessness, Relationship Stress, Eye Strain, Neck Pain, Social Anxiety, Escapist Behavior, Dependence on Digital Validation (Newport Academy)


HEALTHY UNPLUGGING HABITS

How can we protect ourselves from the illusion that the online world is more compelling, beautiful and filled with endless routes for joy and awe than the real and messy world of nature, people, opportunities and those dreaded “pauses in between”? 

  • Observe Yourself. As I mentioned above, self observation is a key step.  And please be brave and give yourself permission to be honest with yourself.  We have the answers within us and have everything to gain by putting in the effort it takes to nestle into our internal silence and listen. Here are some questions you can ask yourself: 

    • Before you go for your phone, ask yourself, do I feel empty, bored, anxious, lonely, insecure, vulnerable, restless, unworthy? What might I be trying to escape?

    • While on your phone, try pausing, taking a deep breath and ask, Is this really where I want to be right now? Is this best for me?

    • When you get off your phone, check in again. How is my energy? Do I feel happier, more fulfilled and creative, more worthy or peaceful, I am more in love with my life? Or do I feel more empty, frustrated, disappointed in myself, tired, wired, restless?

  • Create Distance Between You and Your Phone (Physical and Emotional)

    We need to create boundaries. Sometimes we need a definitive structure to combat our brains’ firing temptations. Here are some ideas:

  • Pick a specific bedtime for your phone, put it to bed and then LET GO.

  • Buy an actual alarm clock and put your phone to bed in another room

  • Create a weekly Sabbath for yourself - 24 hours with no phone. It’s a life saver.

  • Feed your soul with whatever helps you connect to something bigger in life.

  • Write down your offline passions like nature, crafts, people, animals, athletics, dance, music, poetry, writing a letter.  

  • Partner with a friend to keep you accountable. 

  • If you really need more help, you can try programs like Catherine Price’s 7 day challenge.


Protect Your Relationship From Holiday Stress: The 4C Approach To Closeness

“We almost break up every year after Christmas,” my client announced. “We go to multiple Christmas’s, and at the end, we’ll declare (if we’re not breaking up) ‘next year we’re leaving town.’” The holidays can be a loving, joyous time for couples, and yet, they can run our stress high and patience thin, trigger old family issues, highlight our different needs and approaches, and quite honestly awaken the “what about me” consciousness. All this can add up to a massive wedge in our most important relationship. 

Sometimes our greatest angst comes from the gap between our expectations— the “should be’s”— and our reality right in front of us. Difficulties and unmet expectations are not only normal, but an inherent and valuable part of our “growing upward” in life.  We become better, stronger from the challenges we face, especially when we own them! We create deep fulfillment when we dive into the darkness and bring out the Light. And anyone in a deep and lasting relationship should know the hard earned and quite miraculous process that it takes for two separate souls to un-peel their ego layers to become one.

Preparation is key for couples to navigate their relationship during the holidays, and this starts with a commitment to going into the holiday as partners. Many outside forces can invade your togetherness but the more you prepare, the more protected your bond will be. I like to suggest openly identifying the potential sources of strain or conflict that the holidays might pose.  COUPLE EXERCISE #1: Take a look at this list below and scope out any hot buttons. Then use THE 4C APPROACH to strengthen your partnership. 

List of Potential Stressors

  • Increased work load, feeling overwhelmed and not clear about how to divide and share the added tasks 

  • Socializing differences (I don’t want the party to end vs I can’t wait to go home)

  • Loyalty to your family and pulled about dividing time among each side, and step families

  • Differences in culture, religion, or spirituality

  • Emotional pain and lack often stirred up from childhood making us more vulnerable and reactive

  • Certain people we are anxious to be around, like In laws or parents or siblings

  • Financial strain and different values on how much do we spend on gifts/food  

  • Alcohol and the need to talk about consumption 

  • Additional compounding life challenges like illness, loss, financial bills or work uncertainty

The 4C Approach to Closeness During the Holidays

1. CONSCIOUSNESS: Take Control of Your Holiday, Don’t Let the Holiday Control You

I learned from the great Kabbalist, Rav Berg, that “consciousness is everything.” Meaning, the seeds we plant with our thoughts and intentions directly influence what will grow and manifest. The first limiting thought to challenge is, “I don’t have control over my relationship, my holiday, my happiness.”  Catch this one quickly and replace with, “I create my relationship, my holiday, my happiness.” Let’s take the client I spoke about earlier, who has made great strides in claiming her power. She now approaches the holidays as a spiritual growth game. Her intention has moved from how can I change my family or get them to love me to how can I see the good, be more compassionate and learn to listen. Further, how can I wake up and first thing, appreciate my partner.  I love this story of taking control of your holiday, your relationship…your life. 

2. COMPASSION: Accept Yourself, Your Partner, Your Reality With Love

Acceptance and compassion go hand in hand, and paradoxically, they provide the best platform for making personal changes and inspiring others to change. To embrace and be with your self, your beloved, and your unique reality together— with acceptance and trust that for good reason, you need to be here in this moment—this opens your heart, and you can just feel the lightness pour in. If you’re feeling heavy or emotionally reactive, a pause is a must. Sometimes that means stepping away from your partner, taking a shower, going for a walk, looking at the sky, sharing in some way—these can all shut down the limiting force of the ego and make room for the bigger picture. Set your intention to awaken compassion within, beg if you have to, and do for yourself that which brightens your soul. I’m a huge fan of self compassion.  As Louise Haye says so well,  “Loving others is easy when I love and accept myself.”

3. COLLABORATION: Go Into the Holiday as Partners  

When we choose to invest in a committed relationship, our lives become interdependent. Our togetherness becomes an entity. If one partner’s gain puts a hole in the galley, then the whole relation”SHIP” goes down. This puts us in a vulnerable position, because we must create a oneness when we often have divergent needs or desires.  But this is the beauty in the dance of love and intimacy—navigating our own individuality alongside our growing capacity to care more for the other’s happiness than for our own.  Taking it one step at a time, we can use the holidays to begin negotiating and taking turns when our own dreams and desires don’t line up.  This collaboration can center around conversations (be careful they’re not “controler-sations”) on the following kinds of topics: 

  • Effectively sharing and negotiating the additional workload common during the holidays

  • Respectfully considering the traditions and values from each partner when creating your own

  • Balancing the religious and spiritual meaning and practices associated with the holiday

  • Showing care and support when our partner’s are stressed or emotionally vulnerable. “This means being supportive, even if you think his or her perspective is unreasonable,” (Dr. John Gottman) 

  • Being sensitive to personality differences when it comes to attending parties and gatherings 

4. COMMUNICATION: Calmly Make Sure Both Are Heard

One of my favorite communication exercises to do with couples in my practice is the Dream Catcher by Dr. John Gottman.  It’s a turn taking, structured exercise that with great practice and self control can become more integrated into how we relate to our partners.  Rather than pushing our point, calling the other out in some way, the focus is on creating a safe haven of authenticity where each partner feels seen and heard.  The listener spends around 10-15 minutes asking questions like:

  • What do you feel about this issue? 

  • Is there a story behind this for you? 

  • Does this relate to your childhood or background in some way? 

  • What do you need with this issue? 

  • Tell me why this is so important to you? 

  • What do you wish for?

  • What would be your ideal dream here?

  • Is there a fear or disaster scenario in not having this dream honored? having this dream honored?

  • Is there a deeper purpose or goal in this for you?

COUPLE EXERCISE #2: Pick one of the hot buttons that stood out from the list of stressors above and take turns being the speaker and the listener. The problem might not be solved, and that’s okay.  The purpose is to care enough to catch one another’s real dream and desire. Many need a counselor to help prepare them for this level of listening. You’ll know you are ready for this exercise as a couple if after your heart is filled with love and you feel closer.

Below is the FOx2am show on this topic; and here are 2 links with communication resources. Communication and fighting fair tips, and more about the Dream Catcher.

Power of Animal Bonds and How to Grieve Their Loss

Power of Animal Bonds and How to Grieve Their Loss

When humans bond with animals, wonderful things can happen, particularly for those whose pets who become true “companion animals.” Two camps of humans seem to exist: those who get it and those who don’t. Why do animal bonds make such a strong impact, what can we learn from them, and how can we best take care of ourselves at their passing.