More and more of us are starting to wake up to the fact that the information we consume may have just as much of an impact on our mental and physical health than the food and other substances we’re ingesting.
There are a lot of similarities between the way we consume food, and the way we ‘consume’ information online.
The healthier, more wholesome sources of information and help on the net can truly help us to nourish ourselves spiritual, and can feed the appetite we have for information and advice in a fulfilling, positive way.
Those are the sites that are routinely useful and calming, without trying to ‘hard sell’ you anything, rope you in to anything, scare the pants off you about anything. In short, about 2% of the sites you’ll find online (maximum).
SO MANY YUCKY SITES OUT THERE...
Then, there’s the other end of the spectrum - the sites that are encouraging and promoting the worst types of behavior in humanity, like online porn, DIY build-your-own bomb sites, sites encouraging teenagers to commit suicide, of people to gamble their life-savings and homes away online.
These sites are more like crack cocaine than foodstuffs, because even evil substances like MSG don’t really come close to the damage viewing sites like this can do to a person’s psyche and overall sense of health and wellbeing.
Thank God I’m not in that world, and I have a couple of strong filters to try to help me stay out of that online version of hell on earth, so I have no idea what percentage of the internet these types of sites account for. But sadly, it’s a lot.
And then, there’s all the sites that are in between, ranging from mildly helpful but still a complete waste of time, through to sites full of profane language and demeaning behaviors that aren’t quite illegal, but are still really, really awful.
In so many ways, the world would be a better place without the internet, but for now we’re stuck with it - at least, if we want to pay our bills, find out what’s going on in our kids’ schools and be able to buy things conveniently or make cheap calls abroad.
(And of course, if we need to work on it, which is the biggest reason I’m still stuck in front of a screen much more than I’d like to be.)
HELPFUL GUIDELINES TO REGULATE WHAT WE CONSUME ONLINE
So then, how can we ensure we’re consuming more of what’s good for us, and much less of what isn’t?
I was pondering this myself, and I’ve come up with a few guidelines that are helping me tremendously, and that BH will also help you too to ensure that more of the ‘wholesome’ and healthy sites are making it into your daily internet diet.
It’s very useful to approach the internet as you would food.
The first thing to do is to divide your internet use into two categories: necessary and unnecessary.
Necessary is work, paying bills, checking PTA notices, printing off a Google map etc - anything that has to be done, and that can only be done online.
Consider this to be your internet staples, the bread and butter of your time online.
Next, take a look at your unnecessary list.
This is where the real work can begin, in two stages. Stage 1 is to divide these sites into ‘helpful’ and ‘unhelpful’ sites. The definition of ‘helpful’ I’m using here is very simple:
does it make you feel cheerful, filled-up and inspired, when you read it? Does it give you real, practical information you can use in your real life, or just panic-inducing superficial soundbytes?
It can be hard to figure out what site is ‘helpful’ and what isn’t, especially initially, because so many of the unhelpful sites are actually strongly addictive, so we get an initial burst of ‘great’ when we log-on, but that feeling tends to sour very quickly.
CHEMICALLY ADDICTIVE, OR REALLY ENJOYABLE?
Again, it’s useful to use a food analogy. Sometimes, we just need that bar of chocolate, that scoop of ice-cream, especially if we’re using it as a coping mechanism or a form of self-soothing. An occasional splurge on sites that aren’t ‘crack cocaine’ is fine, and won’t kill anyone.
But if all you’re doing online is consuming the internet equivalent of candy bars and big bottles of coke? Then sooner or later you’re going to start feeling very, very ill, mentally and spiritually.
So for now, go slow, and just pay attention to how you really feel after you’ve read a site. What sites do you look forward to, and why? What sites are ‘addictive’, what sites do you feel compelled to read almost against your will - the same way a binge eater just has to raid the fridge late or night, or finish every crumb of the gateau?
This stage can take a few weeks or even months, so don’t rush it, and treat yourself very nicely while you’re going through this process of trying to streamline your internet intake. No guilt trips, no beating yourself up, no harsh judgments about your viewing habits.
Just plenty of self-compassion, patience and asking God for help to show you what’s going on and why.
GIVE UNHELPFUL SITES THE HEAVE-HO
Once you’ve really managed to pin-down the helpful and unhelpful sites, you can move on to the next stage: block the unhelpful sites.
Now, don’t panic! I’m not saying you can never, ever, ever see that particularly poisonous Facebook page you’re addicted to. All I’m saying is list your unhelpful sites with something like ‘Block Site’, which is a free add-on for Chrome users.
You can change the settings on it at anytime, so if your urge to splurge online gets too much for you (it happens…) you can indulge it for 5 minutes, remember why you blocked that site in the first place, and return back to your healthy internet diet.
Go HERE to download the BLOCK SITE plug-in for Chrome, and let me know how you get on.
I installed it last week, and I’m already noticing that my internet habits have got so much better. Little
by little, I’m spending much less time online, and more time in my ‘real’ life doing ‘real’ things with real people that really bring me more pleasure and contentment.
A last tip for the news addicts out there (I’m also one, which is how I know all this stuff about you…): block the images on the news sites you regularly visit, and you find you’ll be able to get your ‘news fix’ much faster, without disappearing down the latest bit of eye-candy’s appealing cleavage.
Again, try this for yourself, but blocking the pictures made a huge, huge difference to the pulling power these sites had on me - and I’m a lady!
So here’s to your healthy internet use, and BH, one day we’ll be able to go back to sending snail mail letters, reading magazines printed on proper paper and interacting with people in person again.
I, for one, can’t wait.
Before we begin, just to note, I will be writing a whole bunch more about how internet and smartphone technology and programming can negatively affect human health, across all three levels of body, mind and soul. Getting educated about the real dangers involved with the internet is a huge part of finding the inner strength and resolve necessary to start to implement some of the practical things I’m talking about below.
But this post is much more about easy, practical things you can do right now to start to reclaim your happiness, brain and eye-balls from the internet. So, let’s begin:
STAGE 1: LEARN MORE ABOUT THE DANGERS OF BEING ‘PLUGGED IN’ 24/7
As mentioned, I’ve started to write up this stuff here on spiritualselfhelp.org, and a few good places to start the education process about how human health really works are the following articles:
The main things to bear in mind is that human biology is enormously affected by exposure to electromagnetic frequencies and energy waves. Every electric appliance - from the simple lightbulb on up - emits some sort of energy.
Some things ‘vibrate’ at a frequency that is very close to the innate vibration of the human body, and these things can have the biggest effect on our hormones, biological functioning and brain waves.
Guess what? Internet, TV, FM radio and cell-phones all vibrate in a range that effectively turns the human body into a living ‘antenna’, and can potentially severely disrupt our bio-cycles and brainwaves on just about every level.
This can lead to a whole bunch of negative mental and physical health issues including:
And all this is really just the tip of the iceberg! I am working on getting more and more of the science together to solidly back these statements up, but in the meantime, you can sum it up like this:
The more time we spend online, the greater the potential risks to our mental and physical health.
And that goes double for our kids, whose brains are still developing and getting ‘hardwired’.
So learning about how human health really works, and the real effects of internet and smart-phone use on human physiology is stage 1.
Some books you may want to read on the subject include:
STAGE 2: FOCUS ON MINIMISING THE SMARTPHONE USE FIRST
Smartphones are particularly problematic because as THIS article shows, where a simple cell phone only emits the problematic energy waves when a person is actually talking on it, smartphones emit this potentially dangerous energy ALL THE TIME, even when you’re just carrying it around in your purse or pocket.
Smartphones also enable addiction to the internet in a much more drastic way, because we take them around with us everywhere, and so we can get stuck checking our emails, or news sites, literally every couple of minutes.
So the first priority is to try to get the smartphone use down as much as possible.
Clearly, the best way of doing that is to switch over to a simple phone, and that really might be an option that could work for some people, and especially for children. The more parents stand firm on this issue, the easier it will be for other parents to stop buying their children smartphones.
But many people today feel that they need things like Whatsapp, or that they need to be able to check their emails for work, etc. So what can those people do, to try to minimize the smartphone problem?
Here’s some suggestions:
Again, you can learn far more about tagging by going HERE.
I don’t have a smartphone myself, so if you, dear reader, have any other helpful suggestions for how to minimize its use, please feel free to share your tips in the comments section, below.
STAGE 3: SET LIMITS TO HOW MUCH TIME YOU LET YOURSELF SURF EVERYDAY
One of the best ways of doing this is to oust wi-fi from your home and to use an internet stick instead, so that your computer is not automatically connected to the internet whenever you switch it on.
If that’s not practical - and for a lot of people, especially if they have a lot of people with their own computers in the home who want to be online simultaneously, it isn’t - then explore some of the following programs that let you set times when the wifi signal is turned OFF on your PC, so you can use it without being able to surf:
STAGE 4: MINIMISE VIEWING ON-LINE
The more pernicious effects on a person’s mood and mental state occurs when we actually watch moving images online.
A person who’s reading things on the internet will still be affected by the technology’s energy waves, but far less than a person who’s actually doing things like viewing movies and other video clips.
Images, and particularly moving images, impact our brains in a much more dramatic, and often negative, way. But if you still want to view things you find online, here’s some practical suggestions for how to minimize the problem:
STAGE 5: LOOK TO MOVING MORE OF YOUR LIFE OFF-LINE AND INTO THE REAL WORLD
While I’m sticking this here, as the last stage, it’s really the main way of overcoming internet addiction at its root.
We become addicted to checking the news, or Facebook, or watching movies on Youtube etc because on some level we’re using virtual reality as an escape from our real lives, and in particular, from facing up to our often painful inner reality.
The more frustration, loneliness, self-hatred, repressed feelings, difficult relationships etc a person has - the more time they’ll spend online.
Practically speaking, you might want to consider:
It also requires a strong connection to God, because we only run away from ourselves, and our lives, and our relationships in the first place because we find them so difficult to deal with, and emotionally overwhelming and painful.
We need to firmly hold God’s hand to really have the strength to face up to our ‘reality’, and to accept it, and to deal with it.
Take a look at this book:
The How, what and why of talking to God - for some practical tips on how to start talking to God on a regular basis.
SUMMING THINGS UP:
Minimizing our time online, and particularly our smartphone use, is the main challenge facing our generation, and it’s really a huge problem that realistically can’t be solved overnight.
It’s a good time to point out here that the technology itself is profoundly addictive, and is having an enormous impact on human physiology.
THAT’s why it’s so hard to kick the surfing habit! And what makes this even more complicated is that the industry itself - and the scientific community it funds - is misleading us all about the true dangers involved with the unfettered use of this technology, which is effectively electronic crack.
So, please go easy on yourself, don’t beat yourself up AT ALL if you’re struggling to move things more offline, and keep just asking God, our ‘Higher Power’ for help.
Pick whatever things you think you can do from the list of stuff to try above, and then pat yourself on the back for even just wanting to do things differently. This is an enormous challenge for all of us in 2017, and even a tiny step you take in the right direction can potentially start to change everything around.
One of the more curious things with the internet and all the stuff that comes with it, like i-Phones, Youtube, Facebook et al is that while the research I’m presenting here on spiritualselfhelp.org clearly suggests that the electromagnetic frequencies that this technology is operating on must have a direct, deleterious impact on the user’s mental and physical health, there is precious little official evidence that suggests that’s the case.
Or so it looks at first glance.
But if you start to dig a little deeper, and cast the net for research a little wider into countries like China, South Korea and Taiwan, you quickly find that there is actually a mountain of evidence that’s already accumulating around what’s now being termed ‘Internet Addiction Disorder’, or IAD for short.
Now, if you’re a regular reader of this site, you’ll already know that I really don’t buy in to all the ‘disorders’ and mental illness labels the psychiatric establishment is so fond of pasting on to everyone.
The basis of all mental illness is a fight-flight-freeze-fawn stress response that’s got stuck, or stuck in permanent ‘on’ mode, typically due to some sort of chronic or massively acute trauma and / or neglect that was experienced in childhood.
THE BRAIN IS PLASTIC
The brain is plastic, and just as it was ‘trained’ by the traumatic experiences to start reacting in an unhelpful ‘mentally-ill’ way, it can be retrained via self-awareness, self-education, selc-compassion and a whole load of prayer to start operating again in a much healthier fashion.
But what the preliminary research from Internet Addiction Disorder appears to be showing is a couple of very disturbing things:
1) People with pre-existing issues like feelings of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem (aka ‘toxic shame’) and difficult interpersonal relationships are much more drawn to excessive internet use to boost their mood, escape from their problems, and ‘ease their pain’ - in exactly the same way you’d use any other substance or addictive past-time, like gambling, for example.
2) Being online all itself is also causing people to feel far more depressed / anxious / yucky / socially disordered / hostile, and is literally training the brain to re-act in ‘mentally ill’ ways that stimulate the more dysfunctional ‘primitive’ parts of the brain - and cut a person off from the types of activity that will strengthen their frontal lobes.
If you forgot why healthy, frequently-used frontal lobes are crucial for good mental health, here’s a quick infographic to remind you:
The long and short of it is, the more time a person spends online, the less time they have to devote to the sort of self-nurturing, self-developing activities described on the infographic, that will strengthen their frontal lobes and start to tame the more primitive parts of the brain responsible for an out-of-control stress response and addictions.
Even more strangely, is that while Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) is getting so much attention amongst health professionals that a whole group of them were pushing to have it included in the latest DSM 5, the Western governments are surprisingly mute about the obvious and growing public health problem that is addiction to the internet, particularly amongst our teens.
Here’s some snippets of some of the latest scientific literature on Pubmed to show you that IAD is a real and growing problem, regardless of society’s attempts to completely ignore it.
The following is excerpted from:
Internet Addiction: A Brief Summary of Research and Practice
Hilarie Cash,a,* Cosette D Rae,a Ann H Steel,a and Alexander Winklerb
THE OFFICIAL DEFINITION OF INTERNET ADDICTION DISORDER:
“[IAD] is accompanied by changes in mood, preoccupation with the Internet and digital media, the inability to control the amount of time spent interfacing with digital technology, the need for more time or a new game to achieve a desired mood, withdrawal symptoms when not engaged, and a continuation of the behavior despite family conflict, a diminishing social life and adverse work or academic consequences.”
HOW TO DIAGNOSE THE DISORDER:
“[T]he following five diagnostic criteria are required for a diagnosis of Internet addiction:
(1) Is preoccupied with the Internet (thinks about previous online activity or anticipate next online session);
(2) Needs to use the Internet with increased amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction;
(3) Has made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop Internet use;
(4) Is restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use;
(5) Has stayed online longer than originally intended.
Additionally, at least one of the following must also be present:
(6) Has jeopardized or risked the loss of a significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the Internet;
(7) Has lied to family members, therapist, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet;
(8) Uses the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression) (emphasis mine).
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED?
There’s a crazy variation in official estimates, ranging from .3% to 38%.
I’m inclined to think that the 38% is much more realistic, for a number of reasons. Firstly, as I’ve been sharing with you here, this technology is profoundly affecting us at the physiological level, and can stimulate the mind and body - or relax it - in exactly the same sort of ways as chemical substances.
It’s addictive, mamash - and for people who want to make money, the best way of keeping their customers and punters queuing up and coming back for more is to make your offering addictive, physiologically (just ask the Columbian crack barons.)
The second reason I think the higher estimate is more realistic (and probably still not even really reflecting the true extent of the problem) is that you only have to look around your house, your family, your office, to see everyone is addicted to their devices.
This is not rocket science, but simple, every-day observation.
And the last reason I think the higher number is closer to the mark is because there’s a number of additional studies that suggest that is the case, some of which I’ll bring here:
SOME MORE RESEARCH ABOUT THE PREVELANCE OF IAD
“Internationally, up to 15.1% of intensive Internet use among adolescents is dysfunctional.”
It should be noted here that ‘dysfunctional’ use is classified as more than six hours of non-work related internet / gaming / online use a day. So any kid who is only spending 5 hours online every single day wouldn’t be classified as ‘dysfunctional’, in this study.
Effect of Gender and Physical Activity on Internet Addiction in Medical Students.
(The mind boggles as to how much internet you’d have to consume a day to qualify for an ‘extreme’ addiction…)
EVIDENCE THAT USING THE INTERNET IS SERIOUSLY AFFECTING OUR MOODS AND PHYSIOLOGY
Again, I’ve already been laying out the scientific basis for how electromagnetic fields can and do severely affect how the human mind and physiology reacts and behaves, affecting everything from hormones to stress levels and even, the amount of oxygen in the blood.
Western medicine is still a long way behind the curve of accepting something as out there that internet use (and its associated electromagnetic frequencies) could be stuffing up human health and giving people heart problems, headaches, and other physical symptoms of major subliminal stress and tension.
But here’s what some of the studies have to say between the links between internet use, and mental and emotional disorders:
“Poor self-rated health, unhappiness, and depression were significantly related with Internet addiction in male and female teens. Depressed girls had a much higher risk of internet addiction than boys who were experiencing similar feelings of depression.”
This last one is more than 12 years' old now. I can only imagine how 'bad' the picture would be today, when i-Phones are everywhere.
SUMMING THINGS UP
I could carry on writing this for another three years (as excessive research online is also another symptom of chronic internet addiction...), there’s just so much stuff out there making direct links between things like anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, hostility, ADHD, self-harm and a whole bunch of other emotional issues and spending a lot of time watching the big (and small…) screen.
Remember, the baseline for ‘excessive use’ is fixed at anything over six hours a day - which makes the true scope of the problem much, much greater than anything that is being formally recognized or dealt with even by the people who are publicly talking about the so-called ‘Internet Addiction Disorder’, or IAD.
As a society, we have a huge problem on our hands. The more time we spend plugged in, tuned in, wired up, addicted to our screens, the more the hard-wiring of the brain and the body’s delicate physiological systems are being impacted, and messed-up.
If you look for the research to back this statement up, you’ll find it in reams.
But what you won’t find is any real solution to the problem, not least because most people are blissfully unaware of just how much internet use is directly impacting their physical and mental health.
So it falls to each of us, as individuals, to begin to turn this tanker around by turning off as much as possible, and actively looking for ways to scale back our unnecessary activities online.
It’s much easier said than done, as the internet is truly addictive, and breaking free of it is not an easy proposition. But it can be done! And BH, in the next post I’ll share some practical steps you can start to implement to minimize your time online as painlessly as possible.