We’ve heard a million stories in the past few months about stress, anxiety, depression and a plethora of other “just plain overwhelmed” trends.
Yeah, me too.
In these stories, fingers point to the technology that birthed social media, ever-connected news feeds, and an addiction to our digital devices as the root cause. A few people admit that real-world events — such as COVID and the pandemic, climate change, and the drums of war — might have something to do with the discomfort so many feel, but that technology amplifies an already grim situation.
At the risk of sounding contrarian, today I wanted to talk a bit about how I both use and, conversely, set down technology — because (repeat after me) we create our tech and we control it.
You see, our digital interconnections bring a double-edged sword — it brings an understanding of each other and an awareness of the world in ways that empower and connect us, but at the same time it becomes very easy to fall into the forest and lose sight of the most beautiful tree right in front of us.
I remember watching early cable TV and early CNN with its repeating feeds of terrible events from places far and wide. I watched a subset of people grow, well, almost paranoid, as repeat viewing of far-away frightening events suddenly seemed real and immediate. The challenge then, and now, comes in finding the balance between healthy awareness and “doomscrolling.” Doomscrolling, you might remember, refers to following the threads of bad news to the point where it dominates your thinking all the time.
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For me, balance comes from keeping an eye on the bigger picture but remembering that my everyday actions take place in the here and now, in the daily steps of the present. But even that the present can leave me frazzled sometimes and I need a reminder to pause and breathe, which leads me to a mobile app called Oak.
Oak is a meditation and breathing app, available in your device’s app store. I appreciate its guided Loving Kindness and Deep Calm meditations, but even more, I appreciate the ability to set a timed reminder.
Late afternoon meltdown hour for me and so, at 4 pm, Oak sends my phone a little reminder to breathe, along with a tidbit about meditation: “Your worse enemy cannot harm you as much as your own thoughts,” “How does it feel on your upper lip when you breathe through your nose?” “Breathe! You are alive!”
This tiny message seems like a blip in the day, but for me, it brings a valuable reminder to pause. I breathe in and out through my nose and feel the flow of air on my upper lip. I do a deep breath to my toes and slowly exhale, letting each cell celebrate being alive. I’d never remembered on my own to stop, but my tech gives me the support I need to re-center, re-focus and just be in the moment, even if for only a moment.
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Balance also comes from taking intentional breaks from the interconnected world. When someone feels always “on” I think they quickly start living in a chemical stew of alert-alert, which causes a whole cascade of unpleasant feelings. Yup, I put in a lot of work hours and a lot of screen time but one day a week I also schedule a block of time away from things that beep, buzz, chime or otherwise take me away from the real world in front of me .
For my own practice, that means a day digging in the garden or walking the dogs or taking part in any of the many activities that happen in the space in front of me. Your activities will be the things that feel right for you — the non-digital, non-global connected ones! I set aside worries about COVID, worries about Russia, worries about rising sea levels, and just celebrate the now.
“Now” could be a budding daffodil, the sound of the wind, the smell of some fresh-baked brownies, the feel of each grain of sand on the sole of my foot, or the warmth of a pup’s paw — things that I feel and experience directly, not through a screen, lens, or any other filter. I am always amazed at how clear the world feels after a few hours of intentionally experiencing small moments of positive and concrete sensations. I love my digital life, but the “now” grounds me and balances the rest of the week.
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We do live in uncertain times but we also live in a season where green leaves unfurl, butter melts on warm, fresh, steamed rice, and babies smile and coo. Throughout human history, uncertainty has always danced with wonder. In the 21st century, technology might give us some new tools for dancing this dance, but at the end of the day (repeat after me again!) we create our tech and we control it.
Don’t be afraid to find the tools that work for you — and the time to set it all down and enjoy a moment with the now.
Teresa Martin of Eastham lives, breathes and writes about the intersection of technology, business and humanity. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.