I have the kind of job that requires me to be accessible pretty much all the time. It is a mentally taxing and creatively draining job – that I like very much. I know I need to manage this electronic-information age better; I have learned to recognize flashing lights in myself that warn me I’m about to make like a computer and freeze or crash: My eyes start to well with tears, my body parts ache, I lose concentration and lack clear decision making ability, I feel like laying down and letting all the demands of incoming information just bury me alive. Before you tell me to exercise, I do – twice a day, and outdoors to boot. I carry my phone with me so I can stay out longer and spot check in with business. And then my family comes home and the TV goes on and racket and ruckus and shuffling and bustling invade the house and, well, it’s just a whole lot of “noise” – white noise, loud noise, before-my-eyes noise, inside my head noise. I eventually fall asleep. Then I rise, and it starts all over again. I like adrenaline, but like I think other stimulants do, it does have its own hangover. Can you help?
Sounds like your senses are getting worked over! A big reason you are feeling so overwhelmed is your belief that you can beat the system by trying to cheat natural law. Your body, mind, and spirit are not designed to take the constant pummeling delivered by your electronic habits.
When you expose yourself to so many sounds, alarms, rings, and pings, it puts your body in a state of high alert. Our bodies aren’t supposed to be on high alert for such an extended amount of time. This hypervigilant state is extremely stressful on our nervous and physical systems, thus requiring some kind of release.
Even though you’re exercising and trying to get away from the noise occasionally, it’s clearly not enough to settle down your system. One of the best ways I know to discharge all of the stress that accumulates in our bodies is to practice some form of meditation on a daily basis.
We literally have to unplug and create distance between ourselves and all of the noise. UCLA has developed a mindful awareness research center at marc.ucla.edu, which has free podcasts and other classes to teach you how to begin a practice of meditation and mindfulness.
Even with a daily commitment to mindfulness and meditation, it’s still a good idea to commit to a regular technology “fast” of a few hours or even an entire day, if possible. Author Andrew Reiner wrote a powerful essay on this idea. I’ll include a short sample of his thoughts on taking a break from technology:
[There] are some…crucial lessons that we can take away from the writings of Abraham Joshua Heschel. In his renowned book The Sabbath, the mid-20th-century theologian and activist wrote, “The Sabbath is the day on which we learn the art of surpassing civilization.”
When this book was first published, in 1951, Heschel said that one way to accomplish that ascendancy was by reconsidering our relationship to technology. “The solution of mankind’s most vexing problem will not be found in renouncing technical civilization,” he wrote, “but in attaining some degree of independence of it.” Heschel understood that when we set aside a day for rest, a space apart from the demands of technology, we can better lean into an inner silence and stillness. That is when we move closer to the truth. What better way to prepare for developing intimacy from without—with one another, with learning—than from within?
Reiner goes on to say that he challenged himself and his students to make a regular practice of completely disconnecting from their devices and screens to give their bodies and minds a rest.
Between regular meditation and periods of electronic fasting, you can still do the work you love and clear out the accumulating stress so you can be more connected and creative.
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
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