Overcome Information Overload with a Media Fast

Woman reading a bookTaking a break from media may help reduce the stress that results from information overload.

Imagine it:You are at the office, trying to meet a tight deadline only to be constantly interrupted by the incessant pings of your e-mail, voicemail, instant messaging, and text messaging. (We won’t even talk about the impact of your Twitter feed.) After that little ping takes you off task 20 times, you may feel your blood pressure rise and you probably want to scream, “Uncle!”

It turns out that screaming “Uncle” might be the best thing you could do for yourself. Consider the latest trend in cleansing: the media fast.

What Is a Media Fast?

Media fast is the term used to describe an intentional period of abstaining from media—ideally, all media. Think about it: Some people fast or cleanse when they want to clean up their diet and jumpstart a new health program. A media fast is like a cleanse for your brain. It is an opportunity to unplug from all of the technology, distractions, and noise and give your mind a respite from the stress associated with those things.

Why Take a Media Fast?

We live in a time of information overload. Studies show that people are bombarded with an average of 34 gigabytes of information every day. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found that the overload of visual stimulation actually causes the brain’s processing capacity to shut down. Furthermore, multitasking can knock 10 points off an IQ score. Some experts even believe that the lightning-fast streams of information are too fast for the brain’s moral compass to process.

In other words, too much is too much. A media fast does several things: First, it provides a respite during which your brain can recover and your stress levels can drop. Second, it provides a period of insight during which you can evaluate your media usage and addictions. Third, it provides you with free time—a novel concept in our fast-paced society.

How to Conduct a Media Fast

There are several ways to perform a media fast. Some people cut out all media for a specified period of time, such as one day or one week. Others choose to cut out certain forms of media, such as the Internet and social media. Here are some tips.

  • For optimal results, cut out as much as possible for as long as possible. If you can go cold turkey for a week, you are bound to see results.
  • Consider embarking on a media fast in phases. Start by phasing out newspapers and magazines, then television, then the Internet.
  • Use the time you gain during your media fast to accomplish a goal or practice self-care. Avoid replacing media with a different time-waster.
  • Evaluate the results at the end of your media fast. What did you notice? Are you less stressed? Will you return to your same old media habits, or will you cut back?

If you think you cannot do a media fast, start by tracking the time you spend on media. The results may surprise you— and inspire you to try a media fast.