“What are you looking at?” is not only a famous line from the movies, it’s also an important question to ask yourself.

Sensitive souls know that everything we see affects us deeply. Research in neuroscience is continuously gathering more evidence to support that belief. Scientists have discovered mirror neurons which seem to mimic what we are watching, so that our brains can no longer tell the difference between whether we’re doing it ourselves or merely witnessing what is happening to someone else. Simply put, when you watch someone do something or have an experience, your brain acts as if you were experiencing it yourself.

What are you looking at, and how is it affecting your emotional well-being? What we see  constantly affects us at every level of our being – not just intellectually. When we see traumatic events unfolding in the media, part of the brain reacts as though we as experiencing the trauma ourselves. Repeated or sudden exposure to the horrific scenes common in both entertainment and live news events can take its toll on us.

Once we realize these scenes are causing us stress, we have the impulse to shut them out and ignore what’s happening. But in the long term, this doesn’t work. The world is more connected than ever and we are going to be affected by what happens around us, whether we choose to be aware of it or not.

So what do we do?

Try to bring more conscious awareness to what you are looking at. What percentage of your day do you spend looking at a computer or TV screen, and what is happening on that screen? Do you watch videos of people doing things? What are they doing? Killing people, having sex, arguing, kissing, surfing, laughing, crying? Remember that, on some level, your own body and brain are vicariously experiencing these events.

Realize that you can exercise more choice in what you engage with.

In the morning, before you look at your phone or any media, do a ten-minute silent Mirror Meditation practice to check in with yourself, center, and set your intentions and the emotional tone for the day.

Be more deliberate about checking your phone. When you get the urge, try counting slowly to ten before checking, or arrange to check it only at designated times, like once an hour or three times a day. Set an alert to go off at the designated checking time.

Limit the amount of time you spend scrolling or watching videos – set your timer! After you have spent a significant amount of time with your attention on media images – take a moment to look at yourself in the mirror. Check in with yourself, come back to yourself, and listen to how you are feeling.

If you find yourself looking at negative images in the media, stay present with compassion. If you can’t stay present while looking at these images, know that worrying will not help the situation and will just make you feel worse. Do a Mirror Meditation, check in with yourself, feel your compassion for yourself and those involved in the situation. Send them your positive intentions and best wishes.

Set up a way to make pleasant images available to uplift your mood. Follow Instagram and Pinterest boards. Designate time in your day to let your mind drift and simply enjoy taking in beauty.

To stay connected in today’s world, constantly develop greater capacity to be present and treat yourself, others and world events with compassion.

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