Factoring the Internet into Your Self-Care Plan

You wake up to the sound of the birds chirping and the morning air smells fresh and clean.  As the cobwebs clear the anxiety builds. Will he eat today?  Will there be a constant fight about food?

Your heart is racing.  Your mind is racing.  That headache you have has been there for nearly a week and nothing seems to completely relieve it.   Your stomach is in knots every time you sit down to a meal.  You feel sick to your stomach when you wake up in the morning and that feeling starts building; that feeling that something is wrong, something bad is about to happen.  Every muscle in your body seems to just ache and you didn’t do anything strenuous.  You can’t stop thinking about that article you read last night.  It was about…..you guessed it….eating disorders.  It wasn’t reassuring either.  The one that you read several days ago made you feel guilty because it was critical of something that you were doing and actually had found helpful.  The one you read last week gave some great ideas based on some new research, but how will you incorporate them and how will you ever keep up with all of the new information out there.   And then there was my poor support group member; what if what happened to her child happens to mine?  What if I don’t respond quickly enough and she thinks that I don’t care? The chest pain builds again and this time you feel dizzy too.  Should you tell someone? Could this really be a heart attack this time? 

Does any of this sound familiar?  Do you ever feel like you are running on a treadmill that has no slow down buttons, much less an off button?  Do you find that your world revolves around eating disorders in some way, shape, or form 24 hours a day?  I know I did.

Obviously, anyone suffering the symptoms above is in bad need of some self-care.  They may actually be in need of someone to care for them or even need a doctor.  I have talked about self-care before and have suggested ways to accomplish this.  I am not going to repeat all of those things again as I would like to talk about something related to self-care that is a bit different and I don’t hear mentioned much……………the internet and social media.

When my son became sick (and we were all recognizing what we were dealing with) I wanted all of the information I could get my hands on.  I read everything available about eating disorders and it seemed like every time I turned on my computer I was seeing something eating disorder related.  This could have been that I was more in tune whereas I would have ignored that stuff before, or it could be that the cookies on my computer and the things I was searching were putting this stuff on my newsfeed, Pinterest, etc, more often.  Whatever the reason, I was like an addict.  I had to have the latest articles and the latest research.  I read what other parents were experiencing and, frankly, some of it was very frightening.  I joined support groups both in person and on line.

My time began getting consumed and tied up with social media and the internet.  There was so much information that it became overwhelming.  There was no limit to the amount of information that was coming across my news feed.  Whether it was articles about eating disorders or another post in the on line support group, there was so much and I was always left feeling that I didn’t know enough or that maybe I wasn’t doing enough.  It became counterproductive.

While I certainly believe that seeking information is very valuable and that the internet and social media serve a very valuable purpose, I also think that they can become a source of stress.  They can make your life feel like there is never any down time.

Caregivers need a lot of self-care.  That self-care, as I have stated before, can come in many forms, but the most important form is whatever provides relief and helps to ground you.  That can be different for everyone.  One form of self care that I don’t think is considered often enough is a break from the 24/7 pace of the internet.

There are no “normal visiting hours” for the internet.  It is there all the time.  Sometimes people find that browsing the internet after a busy day working is relaxing.  Others find that it winds them up and makes their minds very active.

I personally found the latter was the case.  I felt compelled to answer things in the on-line support groups even when I was really too tired to do it.  My constant searching for information about eating disorders was time consuming and really didn’t give me that much relief or reassurance.  I did learn things about the latest research or different techniques that might help with my son, but it also made me feel very inadequate.  I sometimes felt that there was just too much to keep up with.

When I decided to take a break, it was because I was exhausted.  I started wondering if the eating disorder was again making itself the center of attention and causing me to give it too much power over my time.  I stopped searching for articles related to anorexia and OCD; I stopped reading my newsfeed on Facebook unless it was non-eating disorder related.  I stopped checking in with the on-line support group for awhile.  I used the time that I would have spent on the internet doing other activities that I found relaxing.  I took a walk with the dogs, I read a book that was just for pleasure; I watched a TV show that was enjoyable; I took a bath; or I went to bed.  I stopped putting pressure on myself to be constantly “up to date” and decided to rely on the treatment team that we had put our trust in to do that for us.

The break was really very restoring.  It helped me to realize that the eating disorder had yet again found a way to make itself the center of my attention and call the shots.  It was again making me think only of “it” and creating chaos, doubt, and worry.  Breaking that cycle was not only a much needed rest, but also helped restore my perspective.  When I did return to the internet and to social media and even the on-line support groups, I set limits.  There was a limit to the amount of time that I would allow myself to be on line.  Even within that boundary, I set a limit as to how much reading or “surfing” would be related to eating disorders.  Even the on-line support groups had a limit regarding the time spent reading and answering posts.  I tried to stay away from material that I knew I would find frightening or overwhelming and resolved to put my trust in my treatment providers.  This did not mean that I buried my head in the sand and didn’t keep up with new research or treatment options.  It meant that I stopped feeling afraid that I would miss something or that I wasn’t doing enough to help my son.  It meant that I stepped off of the treadmill and found other activities with which to fill my time.

When we think of self-care we generally think of physical exhaustion and emotional exhaustion and ways to restore our body and our health.  When we think of our minds, we tend to think of self-care as a way to deal with our emotions, how to relieve that stress and let out our feelings of sadness, anger, and frustration.  All of that is very true and should be considered as part of any plan for self-care.  We live in a time where technology is growing exponentially.  Our minds are now “exercised” very differently. Information is at our fingertips and there is a lot of it. Our minds can be over-exercised and flooded with all of that information.  It can lead to a different kind of exhaustion that should now be factored into a self-care plan.

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