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For internationals, ‘reliance on social media is sometimes greater because we are more disconnected’

Do you go about your day feeling overwhelmed by thoughts? Do you catch yourself feeling constant hig..

Do you go about your day feeling overwhelmed by thoughts? Do you catch yourself feeling constant high level of anxiety, without being able to shake it off? Do you struggle to stay grounded in the here and now?

If youve answered yes to the questions above, know that you are not alone. The period we live in makes it difficult to stay still for any length of time, not to mention quieting the noise inside of us. We are constantly bombarded with information that creates pressure to keep up and that interrupts our focus on more meaningful things.

The fast-paced lifestyle, however, doesn't allow for deeper reflection. Instead it pushes us to scroll through feeds on our phones mindlessly. There is a near constant pressure to stay informed and updated, and a fear of missing out (FOMO) when we try to put our phones away.

As a psychotherapist based in Copenhagen who mostly sees internationals, I have spoken with many clients who experience these difficulties. The virtual world that we spend so much time in is causing people stress and loneliness, and often the very sense of disconnectedness we seek to avoid.

The purpose with this article is to bring awareness to the correlation between the digital world and mental health issues.

Moving towards good mental health requires that one is in touch with ones own physical, emotional and intellectual needs. It doesn't necessarily mean that these needs are always met, but it indicates an awareness of them and an intention to meet them. This means tuning in to and striving towards taking care of oneself.

We live much of our lives in a digital world where the focus is on external validation. For instance, when you see something you want to take a picture of, it is less about engaging the subject and remembering, and instead is all about showing and sharing. The need to be seen by others and to share with others is immense and it forces an unhealthy focus on external validation.

Sharing with others has become more important than taking time to nurture ourselves. The focus is on informing the external world rather than being present and enjoying the moment.

You might be asking yourself, Why can't we do both? Here's where the true dilemma lies.

When we try to think about who's liking our post or whether we received that email, while at the same time trying to be grounded in the present, we wind up with only a superficial level of attention on any one thing. Furthermore, due to splitting between thoughts and states, we seldom get to be in the moment and never truly allow ourselves to relax.

READ ALSO: The link between international relocation and depression

Katarina Gospic, one of the leading brain scientists in Sweden, explains it well by talking about the need to check our phones as a natural part of a system of rewards. Our brains are seeking the reward we get every time we get a like, a positive comment or anything that makes us feel good in the moment. It's an instant reward, an external validation that we are liked and okay in the world. However, these rewards are short-lived, so we keep checking our phones, hoping to receive another positive reassurance, again and again.

It's all part of an “intermittent reward system”, as Gospic so well explains it.

In my therapy practice, I have noticed that the number of clients who rely on their phone for repeated daily rewards is growing. As mentioned above, my clients are primarily internationals living in Denmark, and this appears to be making their over-use of social media even worse. Our reliance on social media for comfort and validation is sometimes even greater because we are often more disconnected. The outcome, however, is the opposite. Our clients report feeling more isolated, depressed and anxious when seeking connection in these ways.

In treating clients with an overuse of social media, we gradually expose them to whatever might be difficult for the client. In this case, we create a treatment plan that helps clients engage more with people in person, and spend less time seeking the short-term rewards on their phones.

We have noticed a direct link between the use of the phone and avoidance behavior. The more we avoid engaging in real life, the more we retreat to the use of the phone, which results in more negative feelings.

In fact, the use of the phone resembles the use of alcohol and drugs in the sense that we use it to get an instant reward and to escape the reality we are in. This explains why more and more digital detox camps are being set up all over the world.

Another part of this reward system is the thinking process behind it. Every day we hear our clients share how they compare themselves to others on social media and the pressure they feel to meet the social expectations of good looks and successful lives. For some, there is a constant race to become better, prettier, and more successful, and those who don't pause to reflect get caught up in trying to meet these impossible and imaginary goals, slowly but surely moving the focus from thinking about what is important to us, and instead buying into the ideals we see around us.

Furthermore, the virtual world often presents filtered versions, where the majority focuses on sharing only the most beautiful and most successful parts of life, leaving many who already have low self-esteem to become ever more insecure and stressed.

For some, it even leads to comparison and competition rather than sharing in others happiness or good fortune.

Externally, we are chasing to get more and internally we have never been lonelier.

READ ALSO: OPINION: A foreigner's attitude hacks for transitioning to life in Denmark

What can be done?

We have more ways to connect and communicate than ever before, yet we have never been more disconnected. The need to be heard, truly and deeply is huge. So, how do we get back to our true selves? Is there a way to find a balance between the external and the internal world? We believe there is. If you have read up to this point, you might be one of those who realizes the problem but lacks the tools to change the current state. If so, you are off to a good start.

Here are some specific steps you can take to begin finding the balance you need:

  • Awareness is the first step. Before we can make any changes, we need to acknowledge the problem.

  • Secondly, write down your individual needs. Try to make time for every single one of them during your week. Talk to your partner or friends or anyone who you trust about this process. Change can be hard as it requires you to challenge old ways of thinking and to step out from your comfort zone. Sharing with someone allows you to get support and to hear your own thoughts and feelings.

  • Limit the time you spend on your phone. For this, consider using one of the apps that reports back to you how much time and what you have used it on. Then set achievable goals.

  • Try to use the phone with intention rather than for mindless scrolling. Have set phone times and stick to those boundaries.

  • Spending less time in the virtual world will lead to more time in real life. Think of the things you have wanted to do for a long time but didnt have time to do. Here is your chance! Read, study philosophy or astronomy, explore your local environment, develop new friendships, attend evening classes, learn to meditate.

  • Pay attention to all the things you get done when you limit the time on your phone and notice the effects it has on your mental health. Notice how you feel.

  • Evaluate before and after. Write down the results gained from restricted phone use and more time spent on your personal needs. This can be done as soon as a week after you start out.

One of our most profound findings from restricting phone use is a more peaceful everyday life. Freeing yourself from the need of external rewards allows you to get in touch with your internal needs. Once you become aware of your needs, you will also start thinking of ways to meet them. This opens the door for healthy habits such as physical activity, meditation, reading, playing and so on.

Weve also noticed a sense of regaining control over daily life once these boundaries were implemented. Our clients report a feeling of freedom to plan their days and follow through with activities, rather than getting sucked into talking or scrolling on the phone. There was an overall increase in satisfaction with the time spent.

To conclude, we would say that by not escaping reality, we are given the chance to notice what is going on around us, and to begin to more readily face some of the many challenges many internationals face when starting life in a new place.

Edita Petojevic has lived outside of her home country for most of her life. She received a B.A. in psychology from Jacksonville University in Florida, United States and an M.A. in Integrative Psychotherapy and Counselling from Roehampton University in London. She sees clients in English and Swedish at the MacFarlane Psychology Group, a Copenhagen practice offering psychotherapy for internationals.

READ ALSO: Why moving to Denmark can cause feelings of loneliness – and what you can do to feel better

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Downing Street have bigger problems over the Brexit deal than losing the PR war

There are a lot of Conservative MPs who are worried tonight that Downing Street is losing the “air w..

There are a lot of Conservative MPs who are worried tonight that Downing Street is losing the “air war” over its deal with the European Union very badly – and many journalists agree.

Its true that anyone watching 24-hour television has had a near-uninterrupted line of critical voices about Theresa Mays accord with the EU27. But the bigger problem is not that they didnt have, say, James Cleverly, going to bat to explain why Mays deal is a good one for rolling news.

Its that the number of people on air who have already said things on live TV or radio that make it hard to see how they could possibly vote for Mays deal is already above the number that May would need to lose to be in danger. The combined Conservative-DUP majority is 14, which means she needs to lose seven MPs to be in danger. The DUP has come out against the deal so she is already trailing by three. Add Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, who have both gone on air to denounce the deal and she is down by five.

The government is not just past the point where its majority on paper is in danger, but where it is outside the area where any realistic Labour rebellion can save it. Theres a tendency to underrate the chances that Conservative MPs will rebel because so many other confrontations with Conservative rebels, whether they be pro-Europeans or Brexiteers, have ended with the rebels voting with the government. But crucially, in each of those cases, the government made a concession to buy off those rebels. In some cases, sure, those concessions turned out to be worth less than would-be-rebels thought they were. But in all of those cases the government didnt have to put those concessions into a binding treaty that could be examined by MPs before they vote. In this case, they do.

And thats why while it is a problem for the government that they are losing the air war, it is a tiny one compared to the much bigger problem that they do not as it stands have a path to passing their Brexit deal through the House of Commons and it is tricky to see where they are going to get one.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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No Nut November: the insidious internet challenge encouraging men not to masturbate

What may appear to be just another weird and bizarre internet challenge is underpinned by extreme mi..

What may appear to be just another weird and bizarre internet challenge is underpinned by extreme misogyny and threats of violence.

“Well done to the soldiers fighting on the front lines. And a moment of silence for our fallen comrades,” reads one post. “We must stay strong and continue the challenge for them,” reads another. “For my brothers still out there, we have survived almost two weeks,” reads a previous post, “Two weeks of self-determination.” “I will NOT lose this battle!” reads another.

These posts may read like an army motivational board, a triathlon training forum, or even, generously, a gamer thread. However they belong to one particular forum on social network Reddit that has exploded in popularity over the last several years. Growing out of the annals of 4chan and similar internet message boards from the early noughtie, as well as being built on deeply traditional, historically puritanical views, the movement has grown to the tens of thousands, with hundreds posting on the sub-Reddit every single day. The forum is No Nut November: the internet challenge encouraging men not to ejaculate (or “nut”) for an entire month.

The rules of No Nut November (often abbreviated to NNN) are relatively straightforward: the key being not to orgasm for the entire month of November. Details of the rules on the sub-Reddit include lines like “ONE WET DREAM ALLOWED”, “NEBs (Non-ejaculatory masturbation) and pre-cum are allowed”, and “SEX IS A DISQUALIFICATION, BIRTHDAY SEX INCLUDED”. A motivational post on the sub-Reddit, giving helpful guidance to those participating, includes advice such as “DONT. EDGE.”, “Keep your bladder empty”, and “Dont be alone”.

No Nut Novembers popularity has grown so rapidly in the last few years that it has managed to penetrate the mainstream. Burger King even tweeted on 1 November referring to the challenge: “him: its only a month / waifu [slang for a female partner derived from anime and manga]: ………..[crying emoji]”. On one Reddit forum dedicated to adults trying to relate to young people, a post with over forty thousand upvotes read, “Yep guys. Burger King just acknowledged No Nut November.”

him: it's only a month
waifu: ………..

— Burger King (@BurgerKing) November 1, 2018

This may, initially, appear to be your average, dumb, internet challenge; something bizarre and fleeting, like eating a teaspoon of cinnamon or chugging a gallon of milk within an hour. The type of online trend that, although perhaps unpleasant, is nothing but harmless. However, NNN is different. While some participating in the month-long abstinence period may be doing just that, simply participating; the challenge has a darker side and often dangerous consequences that affect more people than those just participating. I spoke to Girl on the Net, a sex blogger who has written extensively on topics such as masturbation, sex-positivity, and the effects of porn on our mental health – key to the No Nut November philosophy. She shed a light on how No Nut November began.

“NNN came out of the NoFap movement, which began on Reddit, with guys encouraging each other to give up masturbation,” she says. Indeed, the NoFap sub-Reddit began in 2011, when one Redditor discovered a study that argued men who abstained from masturbating saw huge spikes in their testosterone levels after a week. While initially built merely on this foundation, the NoFap community has become linked to wider sexism and misogyny, reducing women to sexual objects to be attained or abstained from and shaming sexually active women. And this is no niche philosophy. The NoFap sub-Reddit, at the time of writing, has 377,000 subscribers.

“There is a lot of myth and misogyny mixed in with what is essentially a fairly harmless personal challenge” Girl on the Net tells me. “I suspect most people doing NNN are doing it for personal reasons; they think they're spending too much time wanking, for instance, and want to see if they can spend their time on other things.” (more…)

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An agreement in Brussels is only the beginning of Theresa Mays problems

Britains divorce from the EU is approaching its Westminster endgame. With a Brexit deal agreed betwe..

Britains divorce from the EU is approaching its Westminster endgame. With a Brexit deal agreed between both sets of negotiators in Brussels, Theresa Mays cabinet will meet tomorrow afternoon to consider a draft of the withdrawal agreement. Ministers also will meet the Prime Minister individually this evening.

While we dont yet know what the text of that agreement says, we do know what Brexiteer cabinet ministers dont want to be in it: an Irish border backstop in the form of a “temporary” customs union that cannot be left unilaterally by the United Kingdom. The best that the EU will offer is a multilateral “review mechanism”, not a time limit or one-sided break clause.

We also know what the DUP will not accept: a backstop that only applies to Northern Ireland, or provisions within a UK-only backstop that apply to Northern Ireland alone. A customs union in and of itself wont prevent a hard border, so the latter will be needed at the very least. By the DUPs uncompromising logic, this is merely disingenuous new packaging for the same unacceptable reality.

Reports from Brussels suggest the deal will contravene both of those red lines. Just as important as the word “deal”, however, is “draft”: nothing will be finalised until it is signed off by the EU Council this month or next. If the shape of the agreement is as expected, we should also expect Cabinet resignations. May then faces a choice between ploughing heedlessly on with a deal that cannot win the support of her executive, to say nothing of the legislature, or returning to Brussels to beg for more concessions. Neither path looks likely to generate a happy outcome.

Patrick Maguire is the New Statesman's political correspondent.

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