Monday, March 7, 2011

Are you Addicted To Mental Junk Food?

We all know that junk food is bad for our body. Eating a preponderance of candy, soft drinks, processed foods etc has deleterious effects on how our body functions. It is the bane of our western civilization's health. It is consumed regularly, repeatedly, without regard for our long term well being. It is promoted without apology, 24/7 to our nation, with its target audience largely being our young children. In my opinion it is a crime and abusive to a certain degree to have our kids enticed, and then as parents, to let them indulge non-stop in this type of poisoning. I know that's strong, and some of you may think I am over the top on this, but it is how I feel, and there's abundance of research to back up why I feel this way. Most of us know this to a certain degree, but many choose to ignore it, and thus our nation's health continues to degenerate, to the point where the generation growing up now, will be the first generation to have a shorter lifespan than its preceding generation.

Don't worry, I am not going on a rant about junk food (maybe I did already?). Instead, I am going to use the analogy of junk food for our body, to speak about junk for for our brain. Namely, I am going to rant today about media. Yes, media is the equivalent of junk food for our body when it comes to our mental health. To me it has never been so apparent how unhealthy our exposure to media can be as it is right now. Right now, as I write this, the media is full of another story of one of our illustrious troubled Hollywood characters. And we as a nation lap stories like this up, constantly craving the next juicy tidbit of news about this spectacle. We seemingly cannot get enough of it, and when this story fades out, there will be another one to take its place, and then another as we require more and more "hits" to achieve our "high" and satiate our appetite. In addition to this sensationalistic story, the news if full of who killed who, what business went bankrupt, what country has unrest, and how broke our nation is. We read it on the internet, have conversations about it on electronic bulletin boards, facebook and tweet about it, see it 24/7 on one of the many news channels, listen to it on talk radio etc. It's everywhere, and you cannot avoid it, unless you really try.

That's what I want really want to talk about: avoiding it. I am not talking about sticking our head in the sand and denying there is bad stuff around. You can't turn away from your garden that is full of weeds and say "there are no weeds, there are no weeds". There ARE weeds. There IS junk happening in our world. I am not here to try to deny it. But in this day and time, there is an overabundance of focus on it, via our media, social media/internet etc. And, being exposed to it 24/7 has deleterious affects on our mental health. I saw it change me when I began to tie into news all the time after 9/11 occurred. I've heard it in voices angry and filled with hate toward people just because of their political affiliation. I have seen it in people glued to their TV/Computer following a story that has NO bearing on their life in the least. It's like watching a train wreck occur over and over again as the same story is repeated, ad nauseum on the many outlets available. In kids it can provoke fear and/or anxiety. It can create a new "unhealthy" normal by numbing our minds to the most outlandish events and occurrences. It plants ideas in our heads of how we should be, what we should wear, what's now acceptable behavior, what we need to look like, who we idolize and more.

Now, if you're OK with that, I am not here to condemn you. That's your call. I am only here to voice a different concept. I am here to voice the idea that we should do more to filter what we let into our heads. Why? Because whether you like it or not, the repeated exposure to events DOES have an effect on you. It goes into your brain and either has a positive or negative effect. Many of you, (depending on your generation) if you heard me sing "Here's the story, of a lovely lady..." you could chime in without thinking and sing the entire song. You know what? I bet that you NEVER sat down and said "I am going to memorize the words to the Brady Bunch Theme". But you heard it over and over, and it became part of your mind. It is in there, no matter what you do.

So, just like we need to be careful what we allow in our body physically for health reasons, we need to be selective in what we allow in our brains for our mental health. Just like when we ingest food, there is no "zero sum effect", meaning we can't eat something without it moving us toward or away from wellness, nothing we allow in our brain has a zero sum effect. This doesn't mean you can't read any news, or do any of the social media that are so popular. It DOES mean that we need to watch our diet of what goes into our brain.

Sometimes when our health is bad, we have to take some more drastic steps initially to get us going in the right direction. Sometimes we have to do a cleanse for our body, or totally fast from junk food for a period. Let me encourage you to do a cleanse of sorts for your mental health. I am currently starting a one week long "media fast". I am staying away from media for this entire week, with few exceptions. I will do some social media/email/internet for work (just as I am right now) but that is all. I will check the weather on occasion so I know what to expect. I may take in a sports event (maybe not since I want to avoid commercials and news blurbs). Maybe a week is a bit long for you. If so, then try a day of TOTAL fasting from media. Start when you wake and don't touch/see/read any of it until the next morning. If you survive (and I think you will) plan on two days of it next week, then work your way up to a week. When you are tempted to "feed your habit", instead, fill your mind with good, healthy things. Start a gratefulness journal, pick up a good book, read some scripture, pray, write down your thoughts on what you're experiencing, listen to some good music, whatever it takes to get you past your "withdrawals".

Hey, I won't mind if you even fast from reading my stuff here or on facebook for a week!

Until next time...Be Well!

Dr. Bruce

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