How to Break Up With Your Anxious Life
Breaking Our Media Addiction, Part 3
I want you to know right now that if the zombie apocalypse comes, I’m giving up. In fact, if anything like the dystopian series on streaming services come to pass, I will not be digging an underground bunker and trying to fight off hordes or viruses and start the world anew in ragged clothing. I would like to go meet Jesus instead, please, and hope I’m one of the first to succumb. I will not be your partner in survival on the scorched earth (or worse, on Mars), and I will also not watch any of those shows with you. I find them depressing.
My friend Josie told me this weekend that she, too, does not want to beat the odds in a post-apocalyptic scenario (it’s nice to have things in common). However, she says because she has no desire to be a bunker dweller, she watches those series with emotional immunity. She doesn’t put herself in the position of the characters, doesn’t get anxious, and just enjoys a well-told story. She loves dystopian series.
This brings us to an interesting moment in our “breaking our media addiction” series. A truth that I believe is universal: We need to examine what we put into our minds and how it affects us morally, spiritually, and emotionally. But the standards of what is good for each of us to ingest are pretty individualized.
My friend Kelly loves Hallmark Christmas movies. When her chronic depression has a flare-up, she says Bible reading and the Hallmark channel are her go-to’s. For other people, those movies trigger depression – because they highlight the gap between the idealized relationships and small-town wholesomeness, and the reality of a holiday season that may be very lonely.
Some people love romantic comedies. For others, a steady diet of well-edited romance leaves them dissatisfied with real-life marriage. Some people can stomach crime dramas, and find the resolution at the end soothing. For others, these shows trigger anxiety, or lodge graphic images in their brains that they can’t shake. I love home-improvement shows and find them cathartic, but if I watch too many, I start to get dissatisfied with where I live.
So, though I’ve done this before in the blog over the years, I want to take a moment and encourage you to take an inventory of your entertainment media. Because what goes into our brains matters. Ask yourself these questions:
· What kinds of stories am I most drawn to? What do they have in common? Are they meeting a need or revealing a desire I have?
· How do I feel when I’m finished watching a show/movie or listening to a podcast? How does that feeling affect how I relate to people and the world immediately after?
· What are the opinions I have formed long-term based on what I regularly watch?
· Does what I watch and listen to reflect any of Paul’s standards for the things we should think about regularly: whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy. (Philippians 4:8)
Because of how our because how our brains process stories and stimulus is so different, I’m not going to try to be the moral police and tell you what we should and shouldn’t watch specifically.
EXCEPT FOR two types of media that we might all be able to agree are destructive to ourselves and harmful to society.
First: pornography. And I include in that romance novels and MA-rated series that show explicit sex. Arousal through media has been shown over and over again to be addictive on a neurological level. Looking at porn also affects our relationships to sex, our spouses (if we are married) and our bodies. As I once told my daughters, being married means I can have sex within God’s will; it doesn’t mean I watch other people having sex. Pornography also fuels real-life systemic issues like human trafficking and the abuse of women. (If you are struggling with a pornography addiction, in Jesus name, please do not feel that I am shaming you; you are not alone, and there is a lot of help available for women trapped in this cycle.)
Second: True crime and real serial killer genres. I want to point you to two sources that did deep dives on this recently: Christianity Today, and my daughter Sophia, for her university paper. These articles highlight the harm done to our own brains by ingesting the grizzly details. Sophia’s article explains the addictive element of horror, which floods the body with adrenaline, dopamine and endorphins, and can account for one reason we may want to live a life of light but get addicted to watching darkness. Also, as with pornography, these shows cause real-world pain. CT reports, “Families of victims have spoken out against the show, confronting Netflix for not consulting them and challenging viewers to consider the real people still impacted by Dahmer’s despicable crimes.”
I believe that Jesus calls us to live with hearts focused on goodness, and to empower us to live lives of freedom from all kinds of addiction and compulsive behavior. Just like outrage news media, any media can entrap us by stimulating our neurotransmitters, making us want more and more of this “fake” life and dull our senses to the real life around us. It can even make us do harm to those we are called to love.
So I close with a pretty church-y, obvious reminder that I need, and maybe you do too: with all the time we spend in front of screens, searching for entertainment, knowledge, or to be uplifted, let’s not forget to seek the face of God and His goodness. Follow this link to one of my favorite Psalms, in which David says,
“One thing I have asked of the LORD;
this is what I desire:
to dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the LORD
and seek Him in His temple.
For in the day of trouble
He will hide me in His shelter;
He will conceal me under the cover of His tent;
He will set me high upon a rock.”
Much better than an underground bunker, God is a shelter for all time, and we are “certain to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.” Psalm 27: 13