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“Checking our phones is a way of distracting ourselves” With mental illness advocate, A.N. Gibson

Checking our phones is, for most of us, a way of distracting ourselves. We do it on the train, on our breaks, when we’re waiting at a…


Checking our phones is, for most of us, a way of distracting ourselves. We do it on the train, on our breaks, when we’re waiting at a restaurant, right before we go to bed. We’re reading the news, checking Facebook, reading emails, everything. Distractions may help you pass the time, but they’re certainly not going to help you live a life full of experiences. Developing a purpose-driven mindset is the key to getting the most out of technology. Ask yourself: What am I on here to do? If it’s to send an email or a text or to give yourself a few seconds of mildly mindless relaxation, cool! If it’s to avoid eye contact with strangers and small talk, not so cool. Healthy habits are balanced and screen time is no exception. It’s not about never looking at your device and it’s not about always looking at it either. Instead, try to find the space between all or nothing and you’ll find some solid healthy ground.


I had the pleasure of interviewing A.N. Gibson. A.N. is a mental illness advocate and author of 7 Seriously Spectacular Strategies You Need to Thrive With Mental Illness! She’s been living with MDD, GAD, and Panic Disorder for the past 17 years and has no plans for stopping. This year she launched www.HorriblyHuman.com, a space for anyone struggling with symptoms to find strategies and tools for managing mental health and happiness. She’s working on another book, has plans for a podcast, and is gearing up to launch a series of wellness workbooks by the end of the year!


Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your backstory?

With Major Depressive Disorder, Panic Disorder, and General Anxiety Disorder, I’m what you’d call a triple threat of un-wellness. Unsurprisingly, it took me most of my adult life to learn how to treat and manage mental illness. As a professional copywriter, I started to use my voice on the side for mental health advocacy and began connecting with all kinds of incredible people who suffer similar symptoms.

A few years ago, I became freakishly fascinated with a single question: what happens after treatment? Most folks spend years working on learning how to identify and treat our illnesses, but it’s the after part that causes us so much trouble. In the end, there’s a huge difference between surviving your illness and thriving with it.

The more I connect with folks battling brains, the more I recognize that we need more than professional support; we need a way to embrace and enjoy our existence without worrying that our mental illnesses will stop us from doing it.

That’s why I created Horribly Human! With the launch of my eBook, 7 Seriously Spectacular Strategies for Thriving With Mental Illness, I’m creating content and crafting a community that believes wellness is a lifestyle. With a blog, resources, and my Workin’ Wellness program which will launch at the end of this year or early 2019, Horribly Human is all about building healthy habits for humaning.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I have a follower who lives with Bipolar One disorder and has suffered a number of manic episodes throughout her life. She was having a hard time overcoming self-shame. Embarrassment and self-doubt are fairly universal issues for most of us. Society sees defective behavior as defective character, so we’re always in apology mode for who and what we are.

After a professional contact behaved unprofessionally, she was at the wrong end of a public shaming that would upset anyone. With her particular challenges, she found herself spiraling and allowing a mildly uncomfortable moment to consume her self-worth.

Then, she read a chapter from my eBook and decided to put some strategies into practice. It worked! Not only was she able to talk herself down, but she was able to figure out the difference between her voice and the voice of her illness. When she emailed to let me know how impactful it was and that taking action kept her from regressing, it made me fall head over heels in love with my mission!


Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?

I’m working on my Workin’ Wellness program: a series of video trainings and workbooks to teach anyone with mental illness how to overcome common obstacles, thrive through survival, and how to just plain embrace their horrible humanness.

Between work and personal life, the average adult spends nearly 11 hours looking at a screen per day. How does our increasing screen time affect our mental, physical, and emotional health?

The thing about being stuck to a screen is you’re stuck! No matter what you’re doing (working, texting, scrolling through endless duck face pics on insta until you start Googling whether anyone’s ever requested Daffy Duck lips from a plastic surgeon), the more you give your attention to a device, the less you’re giving it to your health.

Many of us with mental illness use distraction therapy to treat our symptoms. Depression, for example, can be greatly improved when intrusive thought patterns are stopped in their tracks with the implementation of a new activity. Unfortunately, our desire to minimize symptoms easily turns from a minor miracle into a compulsion. Unhindered,compulsion becomes addiction and, before we know it, we haven’t left the house in three weeks because we’re obsessively engaging in Twitter feuds like an 8th grade girl with something to prove.

Unlike drug use, screen time is just plain socially acceptable. You can do it on any device, anywhere, anytime. While those closest to you will recognize the uptick in your use, few folks in the outside world will have any idea that you’ve been replacing real therapy with Reddit threads. Worse, when you suffer from social anxiety or a desire to isolate, sticking a screen in front of your face to make quasi connections with millions of strangers gives you an excellent excuse not to go out. But guess what? There’s a huge difference between being able to experience a quality relationship and chit chatting with faceless folks on the net.

No matter how much you pretend like the dudes on World of Warcraft really get you, the fact of the matter is that your mental health needs more than a voice to feel loved and whether you want to admit it or not, your brain knows it’s true.

The absence of actual experience denies us the ability to live. And if you’re not living, you’re not loving your life. It’s not enough to look at pictures of food, you need to eat. It’s not enough to hear all about the terrific trips your favorite followers take, you need to go out and see the world. And it’s certainly not enough to watch people fall in out out of love, hit major milestones, and find personal success. You have to be willing to get up and out in order to have that for yourself too!


Can you share your top five ways people can improve mental wellness and create a healthy relationship with technology?

1. Perfect Your Perspective — Since most of us only share the upside of our lives, it’s incredibly difficult to reach out to the internet and share our failures which are often as plentiful as our wins. Few folks say, “I was fired today,” or “I got rejected by that chick I liked” or even “I ditched the diet and fell face first into some Cherry Garcia.” When everyone under the sun seems to be living a wildly successful existence, it’s hard not to compare your current state of affairs to everyone else and when you do you feel like you’re failing. And since what we feel is how we act, we start acting like failures until it becomes painfully true.

It’s important to check your perspective each and every time you open an app. The social media world is a stage and everyone you know is acting their ass off! A Tweet or a post or a pin is just a minor moment in a lifetime of ups and downs and every time you start comparing yourself to everyone else, when the lights go down and the audience leaves, they’re just as human as you are. It also doesn’t hurt to make friends with folks who love keepin’ it real.

2. Move It or Lose It — Screen time provides the perfect excuse for isolation: you’re connecting with people! Sure, you may not have left your room for 3 weeks, but you’ve sent out 1,000 Tweets and participated in some rockin’ Reddit conversations. Unfortunately, no matter how much you hug your keyboard, you can’t substitute it for one of your most basic needs: companionship with a real and healthy community of people.

Relegating your screen time strictly to outdoor settings significantly improves isolative behaviors. If you want to Tweet for an hour, go to a coffee shop to do it. Read through Reddit in a park, take a walk while you listen to podcasts, and save posting pics to your Instagram until you’re enjoying an eatery. Before you know it you’ll be disconnecting with your screen and reconnecting with the outside world!

3. Curate Your Content — There’s a lot of garbage out there on the internet and even when you do your very best to avoid triggers, you’re bound to come across a whole host of unhealthy stuff. Depression, for example, seeks sadness like a bloodhound and even when you’re not Googling “extremely sad stories” you’re bound to stop scrolling and start reading some terrible thread that pushes you further into despair. That’s why you need to put algorithms to good use!

Managing your settings on social media platforms and devices will substantially cut down on coming across crap you don’t want to see. I, for example, cannot handle seeing animals or children abused, so all of the settings on all of my devices prevent me from coming across them. You are in charge of what you have to deal with and if you’re smart about the way you click on content, you’ll be smart about how you manage your mental health.

4. Get Likes In Real Life — When you don’t have a wealth of self-worth, it’s easy to look for acceptance on the internet. There’s likes, retweets, pins, upvotes, follows, etc. and the fact of the matter is that many of us genuinely care whether the online world enjoys the content we create. Sadly, if you have even a shred of compulsive behavior, it’s easy to get addicted to receiving positive reinforcement from followers. Even worse, when you get the opposite, you’ll spiral.

If you find yourself in this particular pickle, you need to adjust your focus. It’s natural to want other people to like you. Social acceptance is gratifying and part of what we need in order to lead a full, healthy existence. I suggest living by the rule of three: if 3 people in your real life dislike something you’ve posted, it matters. If 3 people in your real life love it, it matters. But if no one you know is mentioning your mentions, it just plain doesn’t matter at all. When you take your expectations out of the internet and into the real world, you’ll stop living for likes and liking how you live.

5. Crowdsource Solutions — We hear an awful lot about the downsides of social media, but these powerful platforms host a heck of a lot more than cute dog videos and endless political fights. It’s one thing to get on there and talk about how down you feel or how a bout of mania is ruining your life, but it’s something else entirely to seek out solutions for your symptoms.

A few weeks ago I posted on Twitter asking my followers for help managing stress. Since I have little to no solutions of my own and I’ve been working at it for years, my expectations were pretty low. Much to my surprise there were a ton of really smart strategies I just plain hadn’t thought to try.

Use collective wisdom to your advantage and start crowdsourcing questions! The more you ask, the more you’ll learn, and that’s really the key to maintaining mental wellness.


51% of Americans say they primarily use their smartphone for calls. With the number of robocalls increasing, what are ways people can limit interruptions from spam calls?

As an anxiety sufferer, calls from unknown numbers often spike my symptoms. What if it’s a bill collector? What if it’s my boss calling me to tell me I’ve done something terrible? The more it rings the more I’m nervous and the more calls I get the worse my overall mental health becomes.

Aside from sending unknown numbers to voicemail, you can employ a number of tactics to prevent ringtones from moving you to madness:

● Don’t give out your number even if the rockin’ retail cashier says it’s just to look up your purchases.

● Register your number with the FTCs Do Not Call directory.

● Download apps designed to filter phony phone calls.

● Go full-on Millenial and adopt a text-only philosophy. (I live like this. Don’t judge me.)

● Block every unknown number (unless they leave a voicemail) and only answer those that you know. The more you answer the more they’ll call!

Between social media distractions, messaging apps, and the fact that Americans receive 45.9 push notifications each day, Americans check their phones 80 times per day. How can people, especially younger generations, create a healthier relationship with social media?

Checking our phones is, for most of us, a way of distracting ourselves. We do it on the train, on our breaks, when we’re waiting at a restaurant, right before we go to bed. We’re reading the news, checking Facebook, reading emails, everything. Distractions may help you pass the time, but they’re certainly not going to help you live a life full of experiences.

Developing a purpose-driven mindset is the key to getting the most out of technology. Ask yourself: What am I on here to do? If it’s to send an email or a text or to give yourself a few seconds of mildly mindless relaxation, cool! If it’s to avoid eye contact with strangers and small talk, not so cool.

Healthy habits are balanced and screen time is no exception. It’s not about never looking at your device and it’s not about always looking at it either. Instead, try to find the space between all or nothing and you’ll find some solid healthy ground.

80% of smartphone users check their phones before they brush their teeth in the morning. What effect does starting the day this way have on people? Is there a better morning routine you suggest?

Study after study suggests that screen time releases feel good chemicals all over your brain so it’s no wonder that many of us want to start the day on a “high” note. (See what I did there?) But starting the day staring down a slew of new messages can increase your stress level, strengthen negative symptoms, and even trip triggers before you’ve had your first cup of coffee.

Turn down distractions! When I go to bed at night, my phone goes on silent or Do Not Disturb mode. It doesn’t come off of that until after I’ve fed my family breakfast and, quite frankly, it stays on silent all day because I’d much rather hear vibrations than a snappy song whenever I receive a notification. You can also choose to limit push notifications and badges and only engage with apps when you have a purpose for doing so!

Can you please give us your favorite life lesson quote?

“Ya gotta do better to get better!”

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

My Workin’ Wellness Program! From learning how to stop people pleasing to building a healthy sense of self-worth, we’ll be constantly creating content that’s accessible to anyone with an internet connection and a desire to live a full, healthy life.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

I’m on Twitter at @HorriblyHuman, Pinterest @HorriblyHuman, and Instagram @HorriblyHuman

Originally published at medium.com

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