By Heather Hunter
Facebook. Twitter. SnapChat. Instagram. Tumblr. Text messaging. Cell phones.
These are the many names of stress.
The technology we have available to us every waking second of our lives is powerful stuff. In an instant, with few limitations regarding where I am, I can check my bank balance, review business documents, text my daughter, play a meaningless trivia game to pass the time and check in on how or where an old friend from high school is located. I can read the essays and poems of my partners in creative rebellion, view photographs of the countryside in Spain, find a menu for the takeout place on the corner and even order my dinner without blinking an eye or speaking to a single person.
Everyone and everything is at my fingertips instantly, without having to consider things like time or distance—or often—even others’ work schedules or privacy.
It’s incredible. It’s convenient. It’s amazing.
It’s also highly intrusive and, as I am beginning to notice more and more, that “everyone” also includes me, which I don’t care for so much.
Social media and my cell phone lately have been making me cringe. Though I appreciate all the myriad ways I can keep in touch (across time zones and continents and hectic schedules) with those I love, find inspiring or just might not get to visit with often. My cell phone, the Internet and all these capabilities cause me much more grief than I give them credit for. Their immense power to rain stress down on my life is almost immeasurable in its magnitude.
These same tools, that are so very useful to me in so many ways for both my work and social life, blur the boundaries that used to be more transparent in our world, making it difficult (and sometimes impossible) to find a moment’s peace or privacy, and because of this, we are causing our own suffering.
What we are suffering from an epidemic of being overly available.
This year, I have five words that are guiding my focus and decision making—five words to help me choose my experiences and attitude. Based on Danielle LaPorte’s The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul, these five words embody the spirit of how I most want to feel and are designed to help me to really focus my actions in ways that will help generate the way I want to feel.
My words for 2015:
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about that first word: “connected.” For me, feeling connected means feeling a part of something larger than myself. It means having close personal relationships with people. It means sharing my art (essays, photographs and poetry) with others. It’s helping others feel less alone or crazy about how they are feeling or see things.
It’s making a difference.
It’s using my talents and gifts to help others and knowing that same world I am helping to make a better place will have my back when I need it most.
In defining what feeling “connected” means to me, though, I have also discovered a lot about what it is not:
It’s not feeling surrounded by negativity. It’s not being sucked in (or included in) online bitch sessions about public figures or people I have never met. It’s not feeling obligated to immediately answer every call, text or post or entertain every offer or request.
It’s not feeling insecure when things you posts aren’t “liked,” using your page views or shares to determine your self worth or comparing yourself to others. It’s not gossip or hate-mongering. It’s not being on-call for your hourly job when you aren’t physically there and not being compensated for that time (folks on salary—sorry—you signed up for that shit).
It’s not about shutting out the creative and beautiful for the necessary. It’s not about sacrificing tomorrow for right now.
And it certainly is not about living your life as a slave to a device many of us did fine without, merely a few short years ago. These bad habits and negative ways in which we use advances in technology do not connect us. They divide us.
Using our tools this way creates an attitude and culture that is very much us vs. them, focused on all the ways we are lacking and fuels our feelings of fear, hatred and inadequacy. Forget trading nuclear secrets. These are real, more immediate threats to our well-being and happiness that effect our everyday lives.
The reality is that our world has evolved so much, it’s pretty difficult to live your life—let alone make a difference— without using these tools. They’ve become commonplace ways we communicate. What we can do, however, is be more mindful about how we use them.
We still have the ability to filter what we let into our lives. I propose an environment where we use these tools only to build each other up, rather than tear each other down, and a great place to start is by re-establishing those blurry boundaries.
For me personally, resetting my boundaries and claiming my feeling of connection means starting with Facebook. Since I am a writer, I rely a lot on this platform to share my work, but that doesn’t mean I also need to let it fill my head space with negativity, exclusionary fundamentalism or just plain information overload.
My solution: rather than “unfriend” a whole slew of folks, which just feeds that division, I just “unfollow” them. (I reserve “unfriend”-ing for particularly bad karmic situations like people who have decided not to contribute anything positive or those who just won’t quit with the game requests).
No more craziness in my news feed. Score one for my peace of mind.
Hoping to take it even further, I’m going to be putting a lot of energy in 2015 into making my workplace a more supportive, uplifting environment and less like a gossipy hell hole. I’m still learning and playing with ways that I can make this happen in my current role, but I am starting by doing more listening than talking, which means being more mindful of the tendency to gossip and disengaging from that as often as I remember.
Already, five short days into this experiment, I felt a little lighter, less stressed and happier. I also feel a bit more empowered to teach people how I expect to be treated both through my words and my example, which I hope will help me along the way in chasing those four other ways I want to feel this year.
Maybe if, in 2015, we collectively focus on using our technological powers for “good” rather than “evil,” we can make this world a better place we’d like to live in. Maybe we can each experience more of feeling the ways we really want to feel. Maybe we can reduce our stress and improve our health in the process.
My ultimate hope is that other people will try this and feel it make a difference in their lives. When that happens, I believe we will all feel much more connected, vibrant and centered.
And much, much happier.
Heather Hunter is a seeker, a purveyor of words, and on a perpetual journey of the soul. She also doubles as a mom, veterinary assistant, and wife. Her goal is to uplift and encourage others as they fight their own internal battles and learn to live more vibrant, intentional lives. She shares her story of self-discovery and empowerment on both her blog at www.heather-hunter.com and on Rebelle Society, where she is a contributor. Her articles and award-winning poetry can be spotted both online and in print magazines. Her words have been used to deliver messages of positivity and hope to both individuals and a variety of businesses. She is currently at work on a book that will offer hope and practical advice to others. You can find Heather on Facebook, on Twitter and on Instagram.
Editor: Dana Gornall