In the multitudes of research used for health and wellness education, there seems to be an underlying and unifying theme: over-stimulation. With the increasing dependence on technology, people are required to do less physical activity, at the same time increasing mental activity. While often useful, if not managed carefully, this can manifest in poor health.
Consider how society has shifted from early pioneer days to the current technological one. Just a few things we no longer must do to survive:
- Hunt for food
- Gather firewood for winter heating and cooking
- Raise the food we eat, requiring labor to raise livestock and tend fields
- Walk to town, or walk for basic transportation
- Work at a physical labor-based job
- Do labor by hand, not using machines
- Cook food from scratch, using homegrown ingredients
- Physically meet up, to talk or communicate with others
- Go to town to get basic supplies
- Share particular talents or skills as a means to trade for needed items
All of these tasks, while time consuming, served a vital function in total health promotion, including physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and financial health. Days were spent on basic physical tasks, which also occupied the mind and helped to meet other essential needs. Physical activity was a part of every persons day and most slept easy because they were physically tired. Obesity was not an issue, in part due to the effort it took to obtain, grow, and prepare food. Most often, physical activity offset the calories available for consumption.
Social interaction was one on one and greatly appreciated after long spells out on the farm. Studies now show that quality social interaction is beneficial to health and feelings of wellbeing. With fewer options to vie for ones attention, focus was centered on the task at hand. People took pride in their workmanship and the fruits of their labor. While often harsh, pioneers days were simpler, with fewer options. This made for fewer daily choices to keep the mind constantly stimulated.
Just a few things we now do or have that contribute to poor health:
- Food that is readily accessible, high in preservatives, high in calories, and low in nutrition (Not requiring lengthy preparation or effort)
- Sedentary jobs using technology, versus physical labor
- Machines to assist with physical tasks
- Communication through phone, text, computer, or email
- Easy access to unlimited information
- 24/7 accessibility through cell phones and computers
- Actual face to face interaction unnecessary
- Clock time at jobs that do not utilize ones skills or talents
- Distractions available from multiple sources simultaneously, such as TV, radio, computer, cell phones, gaming devices, and other portable electronics
- Options to fill time are infinite, requiring constant moment to moment choices regarding how time will be spent
This list reveals the insidious side of technological advances, allowing one to get things done more efficiently, so that there is time to fill the day with more things to do. Such mental over-stimulation was never intended. Is it any wonder “stress related” illness is the number one cause for most doctor visits? Being mentally over-stimulated and physically sluggish is at the heart of many debilitating health problems seen today.
Look at the rise in ADHD, not much of that in pioneer days. Take insomnia for another example. A new federal health study showed at least 8.6 million Americans report needing prescription medication to fall asleep. Today’s stimulating lifestyles make it challenging to focus and difficult to shut the mind down for sleep. Combine that with the fact that in most lifestyles, the only physical activity comes from a conscious choice to “work out,” and the problem becomes more apparent.
This does not begin to scratch the surface of health related issues directly related to being over-stimulated. People need drugs, nicotine, alcohol, and other such behaviors to cope with the over-stimulated lives that are common today. This article is meant to throw up a red flag and get people to consider how much they are allowing into their life through their dependence on technology.
The bottom line is, if you feel run down, burnt out, or regularly need to use a substance to help you cope with a busy lifestyle, it is time to take stock of how time is spent and develop boundaries for technology use. Make no mistake that is a tough choice. However, the next choice may prove even more difficult. Block out time to do nothing, to focus on one task without electronic or other distractions, and to clear the mind, while relaxing the body. It is also essential to add physical activity into each day, the kind the challenges the muscles and lungs.
All of these suggestions are easy to do. The problem is, they are just as easy NOT to do. It was once said, “Live by the sword, die by the sword.” The same could be said of technology. “Live by technology, die by technology.” Choose carefully the stimulation allowed into each day. Create rituals or routines that allow for unwinding and relaxation. Build associations with healthy behaviors or substances such as herbal tea, warm milk, essential oils, peaceful music, sitting in nature, yoga, massage, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and etc. These associations will build with practice and can begin to signal the brain it is time to shut down. Just like Pavlov’s dog, conditioned responses can be created. Just be sure they are the kind of responses that promote health not endanger it.