“I’ve Been Failing to Take My Own Advice.”

I’ve been failing to take my own advice. Over the past few weeks, I could tell that I have let myself get overwhelmed by three big concerns in my life. So, I decided to try something a little unconventional.

What has been concerning me lately? First, I am worried about how the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread throughout the United States. Given that my retirement-aged parents live in Florida, I have been particularly concerned about the spread of the virus there. However, I’m also anxious about a resurgence of the virus in my state of Tennessee. In the county where I live (with a population of about 135,000), we only had three deaths in the first month of the pandemic. This was followed by several months of quiet. Four more deaths have occurred in the last two weeks.

A second source of my stress is the upcoming election. Since I provide a service to help funeral homes with their Facebook pages, I am on social media frequently throughout the day. But during presidential election years, my social media and internet use gets out of control. I check polls from multiple sites, read articles and then watch videos that dissect those polls and articles. It goes far beyond being informed and swerves into the realm of being obsessed.

The third source of my stress has been deciding whether to send my two school-aged daughters back to school or find an alternative. My children’s school district started classes on July 31 – which didn’t give my wife and I the luxury of time to make a decision. After much investigation and consideration, we decided that we would be homeschooling our children this year. This was partly because of health-related concerns, but we had also considered this for years and now seemed like a good time to try it. I am feeling better about my daughters’ exposure to the virus, but now I feel pressure to provide a quality educational experience for my daughters.

Those three topics add up to a lot of stress and poor sleep. Despite the fact I have written many times about how to reduce your social media use and protect your sleep time, I have not been following my own advice.

What I had forgotten is that it isn’t enough to say, “just stop doing that.”

When changing bad habits, it is more helpful to replace the bad habit with a new behavior. Like the ex-smoker who starts chewing on a toothpick or the dieter who replaces potato chips with rice cakes. I needed something compelling to replace the time I have been spending obsessing over my concerns – especially my time spent online reading and viewing anxiety-inducing content. I needed something interesting and exciting. I needed something outside-the-box.

My inspiration came from my daughters. They have recently been interested in Lego® sets (especially those with dragons). As I searched eBay for a discontinued Lego® set for them, I stumbled across a deal on a Millennium Falcon Lego® set (#75105). With more than 1,300 pieces, this was the distraction I had been looking for. (For those of you who aren’t Star Wars™ fans, the Millennium Falcon is Han Solo’s ship and is a significant part of the Star Wars™ universe.)

Does it make a lot of sense for a middle-aged man with a PhD to buy a children’s toy to deal with his stress?

Perhaps not. But I knew I needed something interesting, compelling and active to get my phone out of my hand and my eyes off the latest election poll or coronavirus graph. The set was just what I needed. It kept my hands and mind occupied, it inspired time with my daughters and it brought my stress levels down to manageable levels. (By the way, if you really want a distraction, for about $800 you can buy the really big Millennium Falcon set (#75192) with more than 7,500 pieces! My wife vetoed that one.)

I suspect you may be feeling the same sources of stress that I am. For the rest of the year, we will be bombarded with news about the election, coronavirus and more. Undoubtedly, we need to be informed about these events. But at a certain point the news coverage will overwhelm us and will cause more harm than good.

Instead of saying, “I’ll just stop,” you may need to find your own whimsical distraction. Perhaps you will learn to crochet, start an online painting class, buy an out-of-this-world jigsaw puzzle, learn to solve a Rubik’s® Cube, try learning some conversational Icelandic on Duolingo or something else. Whatever it is, I promise you it isn’t silly. Taking care of ourselves and protecting our mental and emotional health is never silly. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, Han Solo and Chewbacca need to help smuggling some droids into the Rebel Alliance.

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