(get yourself) connected
For those in my "inner circle", (these days- a few close friends and my husband), hearing me talk about my theory on how I feel most of the issues we as humans face today- depression, anxiety, loneliness, road-rage, war, violence, bullying, addiction, you name it- all boil down to a lack of connection, is just another day in the neighborhood.
(For those that do not know me, my background consists of trying on different personalities via the theatre in my youth, to always attempting to analyze customers during my forever stint as a waitress- "Where did they just come from? What's their relationship? What's their story?", to becoming a therapist, yoga teacher, and Mother, forever the student pushing up her imaginary glasses whilst chanting the Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra, listening to The Cure, fantasizing about the "one day" I will finally get to go to Hogwarts, always striving to learn and be more...I want to know everything. But not this much. So, you can do the math as to how I got here.)
Now that we've cleared that up. let's talk about what I mean when I say "connect" or "disconnect". Thanks to dictionary.com, we see several meanings of the word- to join, link, fasten together, bind, or unite; to establish connection between; to associate mentally or emotionally, or my personal favorite- to relate to or be in harmony with another person. (Interestingly enough, one of the definitions of yoga is to yoke, unite, or link.) Same with disconnect- to detach, sever or interrupt the connection of or between a lack of communication or agreement, or to withdraw into one's private world. And when I say connection, I not only mean meaningful, vulnerable, intimate connections with other human beings, but also with the self, the grass, the clouds in the sky, the way the sun reflects on the water, and the sound of my cat licking his butt as we speak. I am not talking about those long, stereotypical hippy hugs that your one cousin who bathes in patchouli oil gives you. (No disrespect, just not my thing.) Presence. Mindfulness. Connection. Being that one "weirdo" who sits in Starbucks without a phone or blue screen attached to their eyeballs. THAT.
Being that I am a forever-student, therapist and teacher, I love to read. Books, articles, research, you name it. I soak that ish up and word vomit it out, here, in blog form. Lucky you.
Naturally, I then found it fascinating when I came upon an article in the Atlantic about the mental state of teens today- Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? Jean M Twenge is the author, and she is also a Professor of Psychology, speaker, consultant, mother, and author of numerous books and scientific publications.
Basically, the article talks about her research- looking at generational differences for the past 25 years, and her findings- a shift that occurred around 2012 in regards to teen behaviors and emotional states (and when American ownership of a smartphone surpassed 50%). Additionally, these shifts span across every ethnic background, in cities, suburbs, or small towns, and with those that are wealthy or those that live in poverty.
"To those of us who fondly recall a more analog adolescence, this may seem foreign and troubling. The aim of generational study, however, is not to succumb to nostalgia for the way things used to be; it’s to understand how they are now. Some generational changes are positive, some are negative, and many are both. More comfortable in their bedrooms than in a car or at a party, today’s teens are physically safer than teens have ever been. They’re markedly less likely to get into a car accident and, having less of a taste for alcohol than their predecessors, are less susceptible to drinking’s attendant ills.
Psychologically, however, they are more vulnerable than Millennials were: Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones."
Less likely to go on a date, have sex, get pregnant or an STD, get their drivers license right when they turn 16, or even go out to "just hang" with friends, and more likely to be alone, in their room, on their phone, feeling distressed, isolated, anxious, and depressed.
Hell, my husband and I both took the Facebook App off our phones for this very reason and we are grown ass adults. We realized that we were feeling greater amounts of anxiety and stress when we spent (too much idle) time on FB. Not only that, often times we would get into arguments when we felt one of us would be phubbing the other or either of our kids. What's phubbing, you say?
According to this article by Emma Seppala, What is your phone doing to your relationships?, phubbing is when we snub other live, in-the-flesh human beings for our mobile phones. What I like about this article is that it addresses the elephant in the room- the irony that when we are on our mobile phones, we are connecting to other people who often times are hundreds or thousands of miles away, however, this inevitably interrupts our actual, present moment relationships, which tend to be our most precious and important to us.
"In fact, many of the problems with mobile interaction relate to distraction from the physical presence of other people. According to these studies, conversations with no smartphones present are rated as significantly higher-quality than those with smartphones around, regardless of people’s age, ethnicity, gender, or mood. We feel more empathy when smartphones are put away.
This makes sense. When we are on our phones, we are not looking at other people and not reading their facial expressions (tears in their eyes, frowns, smiles). We don’t hear the nuances in their tone of voice (was it shaky with anxiety?), or notice their body posture (slumped and sad? or excited and enthusiastic?)."
According to the article, a set of studies showed that even having your phone out and physically present during a conversation still directly interferes with both your ability to connect with the other person and the overall quality of the conversation itself.
I often joke that my kids might think of my phone as an extension of myself since, even if I am not on it, it is usually within arms reach. SAD! (No, but really, this is something I am very present of and need to work on)
Smartphones aside, what about how our society as a whole feels these days and what they might be/not be connected to? What, you say? There's an article about that as well?!
Yes, and a rather bleak one at that.
This one was just released a few days ago, put out by the American Psychological Association, aptly titled, The State of our Nation, and what I found very telling is the findings are across the board- for older adults who have lived through Pearl Harbor and WWII, for the baby boomers who lived through the Vietnam War and the assassinations of JKF and MLK, for the Gen Xers who lived through the Gulf War and the Oklahoma City bombing, and for the Millenials, who lived through 9/11 and countless high-profile shootings. No matter the age, more than half of Americans feel this- RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW is the LOWEST point in our nation's history that they can remember.
"In 2017, many Americans say they are stressed about at least one issue facing our nation, and a majority of adults (59 percent) said they consider this the lowest point in our nation’s history that they can remember — a feeling that spans generations, including individuals who have lived through World War II and Vietnam, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the September 11 terrorist attacks, and high-profile mass shootings."
One positive the article noted was that more people, (51%), are getting out there and getting involved in some way to support causes that have been effected by the state of our nation. Additionally, 74% feel they have someone they can rely on for emotional support, 57% say that spending time with family and friends mediates their stress levels, and the breakdown of how people manage their stress seems interesting and promising: 47% listen to music, 46% exercise or walk, 29% pray, and 12% meditate or practice yoga.
Still, this all sounds pretty bleak and depressing, and it is. Sometimes, you just need to name things for what they are, and right now, the state of the world and most of her inhabitants are either in some sort of physical or emotional turmoil. The realist in me gets this and the forever-optimist in me is hopeful and full of faith that we as a human race can move through this, together. But we cannot do this if we don't remember what it means to connect.
How do you connect with nature? How do you connect with our planet? How do you connect with your family? How do you connect in your job? How do you connect with yourself? How do you connect with the present moment?
I found solace in Brene Brown's new book, Braving the Wilderness. The quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone, with her simple-in-theory-yet-perhaps-difficult-in-reality four guidelines:
• People are hard to hate close up. Move in. (This is so true- get out of our comfort zones, away from our echo chambers, and into some real-life, face to face interaction)
• Speak truth to BS. Be civil. (This one can be tough...especially the civil part)
• Hold hands. With strangers. (Literally and figuratively)
• Strong back. Soft front. Wild heart. (I LOVE this one)
• • • •
Let's all give it a whirl, shall we? Phones separate from our person when we are having face-to-face conversations with others, challenge yourself to not sit on your phone while you are waiting at a stoplight, at the Dr's office, or picking up itchy-butt cream for your butt licking cat at the vet, and set goals for real, in-person, present-moment, meaningful connections. This might mean you need to be a part of that 12% who uses meditation and yoga as a means of stress relief- good! Great even, because you will be connecting with yourself. Start somewhere...perhaps here and get yourself connected.