Technology is a useful thing. For instance, I sit here writing this on my iPad. Meanwhile, I have Spotify playing on my phone through a cheap Bluetooth speaker. It’s a delightful ambiance, and sometimes I do something like this while have Netflix playing in the background. I probably suffer a mild anxiety when things are too quiet, but that’s neither here nor there.
Speaking of my phone, I follow an Instagram account that, well, with which I might just be a tad obsessed. It’s called “icanteven”. It’s an account that only has a bunch of reposts of dogs doing what they do best, being dogs. The thing that fascinates me about dogs is one minute they get all hyper, and the next minute they just chill. Humans? We don’t do that too well, in fact, we are terrible at it.
In his book “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers” Dr. Robert Sapolsky talks about the autonomic nervous system. Specifically two subcategories of this system, the sympathetic nervous system, and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is the one that ignites our stress response, “fight or flight.” The parasympathetic nervous system is the one that ignites our “chill” response, “rest and digest.” Now, when the parasympathetic nervous system is on for too long, we may run into issues. However, I will not spend time on this, because quite frankly this is not an issue for many if any of us. Instead let’s talk about this sympathetic nervous system, when this system is on for too long we run into a whole bunch of chronic health issues ranging from indigestion to higher risks for heart disease and everything in between. In fact, Dr. Sapolsky makes a case for why chronic stress may affect diseases like diabetes and different forms of cancers.
Stress is not always bad. I just want to put that out there. The issue is chronic stress. The worst part is humans are unique compared to any other animal, we think, a lot. We think about past events and stress about what we could have done differently, we think about future events and what we are going to do. Such thoughts overwhelm us and add to the chronic stress. However, it does not stop there.
Going back to technology, this can be a massive source of stress as well. Gone are the days where people had to try to contact us. With the advent of smartphones and even smartwatches we are now accessible 24/7. For many of us, this means that if we don’t take work home with us in the form of our thoughts, we will take it home with us in the way of our technology. Shoot, I have to try hard to ignore texts from clients and coworkers on my day off. I don’t know about you all, but I am getting a little stressed out just writing all of this. See? Our thoughts can cause us to get carried away.
For those of you that claim technology is not a stressor, think about the time that you lost your phone or left it somewhere. How much anxiety did you suffer? My guess is quite a bit, I know I have misplaced my phone and experienced some panic.
The good news is there are strategies we can incorporate to help us combat stress; we just have to be careful about what we choose. I will briefly touch upon one such approach, but even more so I believe there is a principle to combating chronic stress that I think may be the most impactful, hence why I call it a principle.
One strategy is exercise. However, this plan must be approached with caution. The training itself is a form of stress, and if outside stressors are not adequately managed then exercising will only add to it and may cause sickness or injury. Further, you will fail to experience the results that you were hoping to achieve.
However, I do think there is one way we can powerfully combat stress. Just allow me one word, presence. What does that mean? Simple, be present, wherever you go there you are. Writing this, I will admit, I can be one of the most distracted people in the room. I am addicted to my phone, and I get lost in my head a lot. But I have been practicing getting better at being present. Honestly, when I am truly present, I find myself to be at the most peace, and it is a wonderful feeling. Furthermore, the people who are with me when I am present have felt more loved and cared for, and when it is just me in the vicinity, I can get far more done then I could imagine, all the while feeling significantly more relaxed.
There are ways to practice being present, including light exercise. Some of my favorites include: reading a book, meditation, or even playing my guitar. The bottom line is you need to find methods that help keep you present. Maybe that means starting slow and going a period without any technology, or perhaps one of my plans will work for you. Whatever it is you must find what works for you but make sure that it helps you stay present.
Granted, we must also deal with the matter of thoughts. How do we let our thoughts go so that even without technology we are not distracted? One thing that is profoundly powerful is writing it down, perform a “brain dump” and just put all your thoughts in a journal, close it, walk away, and promise yourself that you will look at them at a better time. Or, if you don’t feel like there’s nothing you need to write down, practice treating your thoughts like clouds. You watch them pass by, but you don’t go chasing after them. I think the latter is a little more difficult but becomes very useful when you do not have a journal handy.
As you will notice, all of this leads back to the art of being present. To be honest, this is not something that you can fix overnight. Learning to be present, just like anything worth something, will take time. Start small, don’t stress yourself out about doing it all at once, but find something that works for you and consistently practice presence, because being present is the only way that you can turn off your chronic stress response and enjoy life.