I came across a fascinating article in The Guardian this morning entitled ‘Why the Modern World is Bad for your Brain’, by Daniel J Levitan, discussing the effects on our brain (and therefore on us) of juggling many tasks, activities and external inputs all at the same time.
The modern world, often referred to as the technological or globalised world, is characterised by us being able to work and play whenever and wherever we want. We can hot desk, work from home, from the airport, the train, we can outsource to timezones halfway across the globe who ensure our output keeps on churning away; and we can catch up with ‘friends’ all over the world in between working, plan our weekends, book cinema tickets, order our shopping and book the next yoga class without missing a beat. Aren’t we efficient!
Well neuroscience is now catching up with what many of us have known for some time, that rather than us being on top of things, they are, in fact, on top of us and we are more akin to hamsters on a wheel than the well organised multi-taskers we imagine ourselves to be.
Levitan in his article suggests that the same parts of the brain linked to addiction fire when we are trying to stay on top of our lives in the modern world. The sense of accomplishment we feel when we are responding to incoming emails, texts or other never ending demands on our time, we get a serving of reward hormones – much like a gambler or cocaine addict. What’s wrong with this? Well, there is always a price to pay and the price is that we are constantly in a state of stress anticipating the next email and trying to work out whether we need to act or not – we are living in uncertainty. As a result, we therefore also live with an unhealthy serving of cortisol – the stress hormone.
One of the main issues with the modern world seems to be the unpredictable nature of it. Emails come in at any time of day or night. Add into this mix the other methods of modern communication and our attention is constantly being taken away from focusing on one task, from utilising our brains to their full capacity and savouring the experience of losing ourselves in a complex task, dinner with a loved one or simply a beautiful sunset.
The main challenge in our manic world seems to be to slow down: to get in touch with our emotions, engage our mammalian brain (rather than the reptilian limbic system where the pleasure centre resides) and to slow down. De-escalate things, bring our stress levels down and work out what we need rather than responding constantly to the demands of others epitomised by incoming electronic stressors.
Psychotherapy is a way of slowing down. It is not the only way, but it can provide a valuable sanctuary from the constant demands of life and a space to get curious about where our interest goes when we slow things down and inhabit our bodies.
The Guardian: Why the Modern World is Bad for your Brain
Image credit: Mark Vahrmeyer