guilt due to internet/computer breaks
January 1, 2017 2:26 PM   Subscribe

I get extremely guilty when I take breaks and turn to the internet or computer games to unwind. Should I be trying to get over this guilt or taking it to heart?

This mostly happens on days when I don't have as much structure as usual. I go through my daily routine but eventually I lose the motivation/energy to keep reading and studying. Obviously social activity is a much better way to take a break, and that's my first go-to, but sometimes that isn't available on a particular day and I need to come up with something to do on my own. I often feel like I just want to blow an hour or two tuning out my brain with computer games. That's when my guilty voices usually tell me I ought to be leading a pure life of mindfulness and reading and walks outside with none of that garbage anywhere in it, and that if I don't cut out computer stuff I will fail in doing the things I want to do in life. So I end up feeling like an unmotivated failure. I guess, now that it's written out like this, it's pretty ridiculous - but how can I put it into perspective in a way that helps me move past it? Should I just make myself indulge until I start to feel better about it? (Some reassurance that yes this anxiety is misplaced is I guess also something I'm looking for.)
posted by myitkyina to Human Relations (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
> Some reassurance that yes this anxiety is misplaced is I guess also something I'm looking for.

I think it probably is misplaced, in that it is more beneficial to think of time spent unwinding as mental health time.

People need to relax, and if your place of relaxation includes time spent doing solo activities, that's ok! As long as it doesn't eat the rest of your life you shouldn't feel bad about how you choose to spend your time.

I read a lot of sci-fi novels, and I used to feel fairly guilty about it, since it always seemed like I could be using my time to engage with 'real' literature instead. As I've gotten older, however, I've come to realize it's almost never worth it to beat yourself up over doing something you enjoy that doesn't harm you. Whatever imaginary, perfect you that you think would be out there memorizing Kant or composing sonnets isn't you, or at least not all the time.

Don't compare yourself to an idealized version of you that doesn't exist. Be you! And you enjoy some gaming, and that's fine.
posted by durandal at 2:43 PM on January 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Taking care of yourself means building in opportunities to relax and tune out. That's healthy and allows you to be productive after rest. Guilty feelings about self-care are not good for you. Berating yourself for not meeting some impossible standard of perfection is erosive, unhealthy, and unproductive. Reframe your computer and game time as part of your healthy approach to relaxing. Taking care of yourself isn't wasting time. It's critical for maintaining good health.
posted by quince at 3:14 PM on January 1, 2017

Nothing wrong with using gaming as your relax and tune out thing (especially in the amounts you describe.)

If you're feeling anxious about it, though, is there a chance that there's something in the gaming content that might feel better to you if it was a different game / approach to game writing / etc? I don't do this as much with gaming (which I do infrequently these days) but there are definitely kinds of story telling that make me feel hopeful about the world and my place in it, and renewed and able to go back and do complicated things with my brain better (later that day or the next day or the next work week) and kinds that leave me feeling awful for no good purpose (it's not motivating me to go change things, or anything.)

I find focusing on the kinds of things that make me feel renewed makes me feel a lot less guilty about taking time for them in the first place, because it's not 'wasted' time, it's 'my brain is doing things in the background it needs to keep doing good work' time.
posted by modernhypatia at 3:50 PM on January 1, 2017

Look, you know you want to be spending time on enriching activities. And you even know this at the moment when you log in to the computer game or into the browser. But you still don't do it because at those moments you lack the will power and the focus - which is what you need to actually do the enriching activities. The reason you are going into mindless electronic trances is because your mind is too tired to actually make sense out of great literature or retain and link new information that you are studying. If you had the willpower and the focus to study you would also have the willpower to pull yourself away from the screen.

There are a couple of things you can do: One is to immediately supply resources to replenish or kick start your brain when the vague thought, "yeah, log in.." first hits you, and take in something that raises your blood sugar, or have some coffee, or turn on the lights and open a window. In my experience sluggish brains mostly need one of two things, blood sugar, or sleep. So the second thing you can do when your brain throws up the idea of vegging in front of the screen, is to stand up, turn the lights off and lie down for a nap. When it's like this for me I either need sleep or carbs. You could also be thirsty. Sometimes getting some fluid will help, but dehydration is likely to be only something making one of the other two states, fatigue or hunger, worse, not the only cause.

There's no reason to feel guilty when your brain gets tired, any more than there is a reason to feel guilty when you bladder gets full or your feet get cold. You could go through life thinking "What's the matter with me. I let myself go pee six times a day. I should be able to get by on just twice!" And you could try to find ways to not pee as often, for example by restricting fluids. But it's much more effective and sensible to think, "Huh, I can't think clearly. Maybe I better look after my brain."

Net surfing or gaming is good because all you are doing is reacting by clicking. It takes very little brain. Sometimes spending that two hours of the day gaming is sensible because the alternative is being groggy and not able to do anything else. It keeps you up until bedtime at least, while amusing you. There may be times when taking a nap is not a good plan, as it will mess up your sleep cycle and either give you insomnia or make you sleep in later, or both. So it might also be possible to find some alternative "virtuous" activities that you can do with a tired brain.

If your brain is tired of processing language and visuals, you might find that just quietly listening to music - improving music, from a playlist of classical symphonies that you have decided to become familiar with - would do as an alternative to the gaming and not make you feel guilty. Grooming is another activity that sometimes people can do when their brains are in partially shut down mode. You can sit there and brush the dog, or pet the cat, or carefully go over your shins for ingrown hairs. Often a brain too tired to think can handle grooming because that is a really basic, primitive brain activity. Another type of activity that some people can do when they are too tired to think is handwork. You might be able to sit there knit, or spin, or sand your carpentry project with increasingly finer grades of sandpaper. It should be some kind of very repetitive basically tedious handwork. And you might then feel that you were using your time better than if you were click the computer mouse. But it really doesn't matter what you do, as long as you don't make demands on your brain without supporting it to make it able to do the intense kind of processing that you are talking about doing.
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:57 PM on January 1, 2017 [6 favorites]

Some peoples answers seem a little uptight. This is Facebook and Instagram and BuzzFeed articles telling you how to maximize your time, and in our culture of "go go go earn earn earn or fuck you", we harm ourselves with self blame and judgment if you aren't homemaking a kale enema while instagramming MLM materials and pics of kids at all hours of all days. I understand the guilt, but it's bullshit. Take care of work and home and yourself and, those things being secure, do whatever the hell you want in your free time.

I'm not even a gamer, by the way.
It's called free time. Be free!
posted by jitterbug perfume at 12:50 AM on January 2, 2017 [4 favorites]

Hey OP, taking a break is a necessary thing. The author of The Sweet Spot might say you are following her advice: “Take recess” in sync with your brain’s need for rest.

I've been cleaning all morning and now I'm taking a recess by answering your question. I found out about the book by listening to an interview with the author, UC Berkeley sociologist Christine Carter, while I was cleaning and immediately remembered your question. The interview, or the summary, might reassure you that our brains need breaks to function well. Turns out that designing our lives to make them less stressful (which includes taking breaks) helps us become more productive and more satisfied with our lives.

(I especially loved this comment she made during the interview: "Multitasking is not heroic." The entire world, bosses included, seem to think it's a requirement when it's not even effective. But I digress.)

So skip the guilt and take your breaks in peace. Capitalism likes to prey on our Puritanical roots to make us feel shitty when we're not productive 24/7 in service to capitalism. That's good for the system perhaps but genuinely unhealthy for our whole selves. And different types of breaks are different kinds of healthy. It's not necessarily so that social activity is "better" for you than game breaks as long as you're not isolating yourself on a regular basis. Maybe you need both things. TL;DR: Enjoy your games and the Internet in peace.
posted by Bella Donna at 11:56 AM on January 2, 2017

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