Feeling depressed? Blame it in part on your modern life

As I sit here typing this, I am growing increasingly depressed. I long for physical activity and the feel of a fresh breeze on my cheek. Instead I am sedentarily positioned in a deserted corner of an office under artificial lights with my face shoved up to a computer monitor.

The downward spiral I experience each day as I sit all day at my desk tweeting, facebooking, surfing the net, (and of course doing my writing job), isn’t just in my imagination.

In a recent article in Newsweek, Dr. Andrew Weil, author of the book Spontaneous Happiness, explains that those who are living in industrialized nations in this Internet age are actually at higher risk for depression than those in poorer, less modern environments. He says we are experiencing a “nature-defecit,” and that as society immerses itself more and more in technology and other socially isolating activities, we are creating a fertile ground for depression.

When you think about it, even supposed “social” networking is many ways a form of social isolation. Sending tweets and commenting on Facebook posts is by no means as stimulating as actually going out and spending real time with a person.

The brains and bodies of humans — who evolved to thrive in nature and bond with others — are just not equipped for 21st Century life, says Weil.

More and more of us are sedentary, spending most of our time indoors. We eat industrial food much altered from its natural sources … We are deluged by an unprecedented overload of information and stimulation in this age of the Internet, email, mobile phones, and multimedia, all of which favor social isolation and certainly affect our emotional (and physical) health. Behaviors strongly associated with depression—reduced physical activity and human contact, overconsumption of processed food, seeking endless distraction—are the very behaviors that more and more people now can do, are even forced to do by the nature of their sedentary, indoor jobs.

To create a better balance, Dr. Weil recommends: “Increasing aerobic exercise, improving sleep, spending more time in the sun, eating more fish to boost intake of omega-3 fatty acids, socializing more, and not dwelling on negative thoughts.”

I for one am determined to try his suggestions (and here are a few of my own). But since I have no choice to be stuck in front of a computer for the next 8 hours, I think I’ll start small, by setting a photo of a sunny beach as my desktop wallpaper. If that doesn’t work, I’m totally taking a nap.

More on the topic:
Log Off. Reboot: A break from modern technology is good for your health

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Our virtual life does not reflect real life

A Facebook friend of mine, also a former colleague, posted this comment today:

Ways in which FB is not like real life: You can like everything, you can’t dislike anything, and you can’t like anything (or anyone) more than once.

This status update didn’t get much of a response; some of her updates get dozens of comments and likes. But it inspired me to think deeper about this virtual life we have created on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, LinkedIn, YouTube…and the list goes on and on and on.

I sometimes get so sucked into my computer, that is, my own virtual reality, that I  neglect what is happening beyond my screen and outside of my online networks. Certainly I know the weather in San Diego is beautiful because my Facebook friends who live there told me so. I also know a friend who just had a baby in San Francisco is looking for recommendations on how to get her baby on a good sleep schedule.

But what is going on with my neighbor? Is it actually sunny and warm outside of my house?

It’s not that I don’t participate in the outside world of real life, but sometimes the virtual world is just so much more accessible and interesting. But it is also limiting.

There is nothing more fulfilling than having a wonderful conversation with a friend who is actually sitting across from you, moving her lips and talking. Maybe it involves sipping on tea that I steeped in my own kitchen. There’s no way I could get the satisfaction of watching my kids play with each other in harmony while staring at my computer screen.

Some things in real life are invaluable. But still, I wouldn’t trade the informative network I’ve got on Twitter, or the ability to sort of keep in touch with my myriad friends and foes on Facebook. And sometimes, too, I get looped into a YouTube feed that is inspiring or funny.

What I’m saying is it’s great to have both, and the virtual world and the real world have their own rules and quirks. Maybe I can’t unlike something on Facebook, but I can unfollow someone on Twitter and never hear from them again. It’s not so easy to do that with a pesky neighbor.

Online community to the rescue!

When I find myself in need of good advice, more times than others I do not call upon my learned elders or my spouse. Instead, I turn to the Internet.

Social media has provided a great outlet to air grievances, get feedback and seek advice on problems. Friends and acquaintances on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn seem more than happy to help, and this diverse and far-flung community has helped me out of a few jams in the last few years since I’ve been active on these social media sites.

Recently, I posted to my personal blog a story about our recent adoption of two cats. They are brothers, four years old and very freaked out about their new surroundings. As soon as their old owners let them out of their carriers in our laundry room, they bolted. And they didn’t come out of hiding for many days. In fact, one of them has yet to be seen and it’s been nine days.

I have never lived with cats before, so I am not familiar with their behavior. I was not sure if I would ever see the cats again, so I put it out the the social media community: How long would the cats stay in hiding?

I have a penchant for polls. Maybe it’s my research background during grad school, but who doesn’t love a good list of percentages? The response was like having a knitting circle of cat lovers in my living room telling me stories about their cats and their adoption processes. It was heartening to hear their stories and made me feel less like a novice and more a part of a community.

So while I sometimes drone on about the pitfalls of social media and what we might be giving up by such fervent dedication to our tweets and status updates–and also the psychological effect social media may have on us–I am thankful to have such a broad community welling to help a sister out in times of need.

Basket case: Blogger seeks streamlined social media

I tend to be very OCD when it comes to neatness and organization. I recently decided to forgo elegant stainless steel appliances for shiny black because I knew the high likelihood of fingerprints on the stainless steel would most certainly push me over the edge.

Courtesy theludlowgroupblog.com

My house decor also incorporates quite a few decorative baskets in every room. I use them for the inevitable extraneous objects that seem to crop up: keys, shoes, bills, Mr. Potato Head ears … Unfortunately, these baskets seem to fill up faster than I can file things away. So I end up adding more baskets (This unintentionally sends a signal to the family to create more clutter. It’s a tangled web).

Yet somehow it works. I think I just feel better knowing that the potential energy said clutter is contained within some sort of system.

So what does this have to do with social media? For the purposes of this blog, let’s think of each of these clutter containing baskets as social media/networking-related sites: Facebook, Twitter, G+, etc.

Back in the day, I had just one social media basket, Myspace. I was content and satisfied. My photos were posted there. My blogs were written there. My friends were added there. Heck, I announced the arrival of my first born son there. Life was good.

Then it seemed the world defected to Facebook and I was lured there as well. Suddenly I wasn’t able to put all my eggs in one basket anymore. Photos were posted in two places. My networks were growing like weeds. Commenting became a challenge … and my MySpace Top 10 Friends List long neglected. Eventually, like most people, I let go of my Myspace account. Life was balanced again.

Then came Twitter. And Tumblr. And for half a second, Google Buzz. G+. Linked In. CafeMom. Hub Pages. WordPress. Blogger. Loopt. Blogged. Networked Blogs. Technorati. The list goes on and on. Perhaps these aren’t all traditional social networking sites, but each requires a certain level of social interaction, content posting, and engagement from its user. Meanwhile, even those companies and websites which aren’t social media driven are finding ways to integrate social media into their interface.

For a time, I could just unplug. Put the computer away.

Enter smartphone. Now it’s easy to be engaged 24 hours a day, on the go, in bed, and dare I say, at work…

Too many baskets. Too many eggs. I’m pretty sure we’re all about to crack.

As for me, I think it’s time to do a major social media streamlining. Get rid of the extra clutter. Maybe take up a new hobby. Maybe basket weaving.