Attempting an internet detox for my brain

August has not been my best month ever. It definitely wasn’t the worst either, but I had a lot of days where I honestly felt pretty crappy. The land of low moods, anxiety, stress and self-doubt.

When I feel like this, I notice myself slipping into some unhealthy internet patterns. Things like:

  • checking the news over and over
  • scrolling through Twitter for ages
  • binge-watching YouTube for hours at a time

These habits are part cause and part effect. I definitely don’t think they’re entirely to blame for my rubbish moods, but the first two can spark or exacerbate them. While YouTube doesn’t tend to make me feel more negative, it often distracts me from doing something that would actually help me out. And when I’m feeling down, it’s a lot harder to exercise discipline around using them.

I want to try to break free of this cycle, so for September I’m going to attempt a sort of internet detox. I am not doing this to boost productivity or anything like that (you know my thoughts on this). But I am hoping it’ll help with my general wellbeing.

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Thoughts on 6 months of blogging

I’ve been writing this blog for more than half a year now. This will be the 29th post I publish.

Starting a blog in 2019 feels a bit like signing up for MySpace or posting on Usenet or some other dinosaurish internet activity. Really, I should have started a YouTube channel or tried to make it big on TikTok. Nowadays, if you want to spend hours and hours editing yourself into audience-friendly content, video seems to be the way to do it.

But, anachronistic as it may be, I’m happy I started this blog. It’s been a positive thing in my life and I’m excited to keep at it.

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Productivity culture is making me miserable

Productivity! Who doesn’t love it? Who doesn’t want that feeling of doing something useful, something valuable, something constructive? Bettering ourselves and driving the economy? It’s the dream, right?

The idea of getting more done at work is nothing new. But lately the entire concept of being more productive has become increasingly fetishised, to the point that it’s gone well beyond the 9-to-5 into some sort of aspirational lifestyle.

Lately I’m starting to realise just how much the Cult of Productivity has infiltrated my life. It spoils my free time, it controls my hobbies, and it’s even messing with my emotions. And I’m thoroughly sick of it.

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Charity shops are good for the planet, my wallet and my anxiety

A pile of clothes, including coats, tops and trousers

Last autumn I made a resolution to stop buying fast fashion. I’ve been making a conscious effort to reduce my carbon footprint – going vegan, switching to a renewable energy supplier, planning holidays that don’t involve flying – and it turns out fashion is a serious environmental offender. So it had to go.

The thing is, I really like clothes. I love the excitement of finding a new piece you love and planning what to wear with it for the first time. I love the comfort of old favourites that make you feel more like yourself when you put them on. I follow fashion channels on YouTube and lurk various subreddits. I’ll happily people-watch for ages if it means I get to see what they’re wearing.

So I wasn’t sure how I’d fare without the ease of the usual high street retailers or online shops. But I figured I’d give it a go and see how long I could last.

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Keeping a journal

There are some things I always carry with me – keys, wallet, phone, and a bright yellow A5 notebook.

I like to think of the notebook as an analog download of my brain. I follow the bullet journal system, which means it’s a combination of a journal, a planner, a collection of lists, and basically anything else I feel like writing down.

I highly recommend keeping a journal. Writing down your thoughts can be a good way to work through problems and relieve stress. Plus, years later you can look back at it and laugh at what an embarrassing idiot you were. It’s a gift to yourself that keeps on giving.

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My most boring dreams

Last year, I started keeping a dream journal. I usually forgot my dreams within minutes of waking, and I felt like I was missing out on something. What exciting and surreal adventures would I reveal? What secrets of my subconscious would I uncover? Could there be brilliant ideas percolating in there, possibly even fodder for a novel? I was excited to find out.

It turns out that most of my dreams are deeply mundane, and that was why I didn’t remember them.

Here are some of my most boring dreams:

  • I buy a mandoline slicer and use it to make coleslaw.
  • I attend a ‘luxury’ retreat that is centred around hand-washing my own clothes.
  • Quorn releases some new ‘vegan’ products, but it turns out they still have egg in them.
  • I realise I have only one day to live, but begrudgingly agree to spend it at academic conference on a subject I have no interest in.
  • I go on a day trip to Aberystwyth. I try to take some photos for Instagram, but later discover my thumb is in every shot.
  • At work, I am forced to justify my choice of databases.
  • I buy some clothes on eBay, but none of them are any good.
  • I under-bake the banana bread.
  • I meet a small child in a shop and try to convince him to buy a Wii U. He doesn’t.
  • Lying in bed, I notice the houseplant in the corner is about to topple over. I hurl myself across the room to catch it. I wake up standing next to my bed, adrenaline pumping. There is no plant.
  • I stay in a holiday rental with a group of people who are constantly reminiscing about something fun they all did while I wasn’t around. On the last day, I do the washing-up.
  • I write about the washing-up dream in my dream journal.

Truly, it is amazing what the unconscious mind can imagine. I’m looking forward to the inevitable moment where I re-enact that Calvin & Hobbes strip where Calvin bores himself awake. Maybe tonight’s the night.

Or maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll have the houseplant dream again. That was pretty thrilling.

Running a half marathon

I recently ran my first half marathon.

Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.

I have never thought of myself as an athletic person. The combined horrors of puberty and middle school gym teachers gave me a longstanding opinion that exercise was something other people did.

I first dipped my toe into running about 8 years ago, when I followed the Couch to 5K programme and shocked myself by managing to run for a solid half hour. But since then, my running had been pretty inconsistent. Occasionally I would keep it up for a few weeks at a time, but I had no goals and didn’t make much of an effort to fit it into my schedule. I’d do 2 miles here and there when I felt like it, and that was it.

One day last September, I was sitting on the bus during a particularly tedious commute, and saw that my friend had signed up for a local half marathon. “Maybe I could do that!” I thought. The intense boredom of the bus was so great that I signed up on the spot.

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