Entertained to Death
We're somewhere in week 5? 6? 100? of quarantine and I've done all the things. I painted a few canvasses. I discarded all my useless shit. I color coordinated my closet, listened to a million podcasts, then an audio book (Little Weirds by Jenny Slate, check it out). I've binged a television show (Vikings-so good!), finished a few books (Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami, Mastery by Robert Green). I've spent a nefarious amount of time scrolling through social media, only to be disgusted by myself. I work on a computer all day, then I facetime friends, or call my family. I'm more connected and more alone than I've ever been. I'm sure many people are feeling this way.
Last weekend, I went running in the mountains with one of my friends. I was totally disconnected from my phone and technology for hours, and I felt so happy. I forgot how essential disconnecting is, and how accessible it used to be. I later told a friend that the quarantine had me feeling "entertained to death," and it's not really a surprise, is it?
The number of Americans consuming on-screen entertainment has never been higher. Analysts at Lightshed Partners have projected that Neflix could increase their reach from 7 million to 10 million, and the streaming service is also experiencing a boost in upgrades from the standard two-stream $12.99 per-month-tier to the four-stream Family Plan which costs $15.99/month. It's not really a surprise that other content consumption is on the rise, as tech companies like Facebook, Amazon, Peloton, and Slack have also seen increases in usage.
Not everyone is sitting around watching Neflix though. Coursera, a Mountain-View-based online learning platform that offers university classes to anyone, is seen a usage increase of four to five times higher than usual, with thousands of universities requesting free access to their platform. The face of education is changing to include far fewer actual faces, as are many workplaces. Demand for the videoconferencing app Zoom has become ubiquitous (and vulnerable to hackers) as thousands of companies go remote.
And while there are already over 1 million podcasts and over 28 million podcast episodes just in the U.S., more and more people are using the quarantine as an opportunity to start one. Podcasts are useful if you're trying to learn something new, receive daily news updates, catch a quick laugh, or be inspired. I'm an avid podcast listener (Rich Roll, Guilty Feminist, Bitch Bible, Joe Rogan, Freakonomics, The Daily, just to name a few). But I can't listen to someone talk for too long before I start to go insane, which is the same problem I have with watching TV, or facetiming, or writing, or any at-home entertainment.
Without the ability to travel, meet new people, and more deeply experience life outside my home, I've attempted to deepen the life I live inside my home. But as we're all collectively finding, life inside the home has it's limits. Yes, we can entertain ourselves within the bottomless pit of the internet but that kind of feels gross after a while, like eating too many sweets or indulging to too much wine or having too much sex. Too much comfort results in listlessness and a lack of productivity, which is why I've employed the following techniques to maintain my sanity during this very strange time.
1. Stick To A Routine
For a while, I was staying up late, sleeping in, drinking chardonnaynay whenever, and eating at the most sporadic times (or not at all). But having a hectic or nonexistent routine results in a hectic life. So, I doubled down on my workout routine and gave myself goals to work toward. I created a distinct space for work, and keep to a strict schedule on weekdays, which gives my weekends an air of novelty despite me always being home. And finally, I stopped staying up late to watch *just one more* episode.
2. Limit Booze And Shit Food
This is important, because we often turn to food for comfort. It's a deeply biologically wired human tendency that isn't bad or wrong, it just is. But drinking too much too often has never made anyone's life better, and same goes for junk food. I'm not here to tell you what is or isn't considered shit food, but if you eat something that makes you feel shitty, fill in the blanks. I'm taking this moment as an opportunity to learn how to cook new exciting things, like Yukon potatoes and Brussels sprouts.
3. Go Outside
This is personally a non-negotiable, but it's no secret that sunshine makes us happy. Even going outside for a short walk, take a phone call or just sit in the sun will boost your mood, science says so. One Australian study found that people had higher serotonin levels on bright sunny days than on cloudy ones, despite how cold or hot the weather was. The sun gives us Vitamin D, but the National Institutes of Health states that Vitamin D insufficiency affects nearly half the population worldwide. You can supplement, but find a vetted source. Consumer Reports tested and compared 16 common Vitamin D supplements, finding Trader Joe's Vitamin D to be both ubiquitous and effective.
4. Limit Screen Time
This one is hard to do when work, socializing, and entertainment are necessarily on screens at the moment. But separating each bout of screen time with something more tangible (like reading a book, talking to someone you live with, terrorizing your pet, or cooking dinner) will help your eyes remain moist and your brain remain sane. Probably.
5. Sleep More
We all know we need more sleep, but we're all in collective denial. Everyone has a friend that swears they can get by on 4 hours, right? According to the CDC, one in three Americans don't get enough sleep (defined as at least 7 hours). The CDC also reports that a variety of factors contribute to poor sleep: overweight individuals tend to sleep less, as do those who are underemployed or unemployed, those with less education, and those who are divorced or single. I use this white noise app to help lull me to the dreamworld, and try to go to bed before 11 p.m.
6. Complain Less
There is a widespread belief that sharing common dislikes builds stronger connections than sharing common likes-there was even a dating app called Hater built around the concept. BUT research out of Stanford University found that complaining releases stress hormones that negatively impact neural cognition, specifically in the hippocampus, which is the problem-solving/critical thought piece of the brain. And once you get used to complaining, you'll find that it's hard to stop. Repetition builds habit you know, and you might as well build a more useful habit than complaining.