Increasing numbers of articles and books are being published, mostly by those who are 30 and over, with a similar refrain: the stress we are feeling these days reflects the fact that our brains have not yet caught up to our wired, 24-7 world. The overwhelm that we feel is not a personal failing; it is a global phenomenon that is taking a tremendous toll on our health and well-being. Fortunately, antidotes exist and they don’t cost much money. A simple walk in the woods, taken regularly, may do the trick. So, too, with turning off the news and taking a few deep breaths. Although future generations may have better-equipped brains for the lives we now lead, the ones we have now require frequent servicing. If you’ve been looking for a respite, this Provision fits the bill.
In his new book, Spontaneous Happiness, Dr. Andrew Weil describes what happens to the human brain in our wired, 24-7 world. And it isn’t pretty. Dr. Weil writes:
“In my experience, the more people have, the less likely they are to be contented. Indeed, there is abundant evidence that depression is a ‘disease of affluence,’ a disorder of modern life in the industrialized world. People who live in poorer countries have a lower risk of depression than those in industrialized nations. In general, countries with lifestyles that are furthest removed from modern standards have the lowest rates of depression.”
“Within the U.S., the rate of depression of members of the Old Order Amish•a religious sect that shuns modernity in favor of lifestyles roughly emulating those of rural Americans a century ago•is as low as one 10th that of other Americans. Psychologist Martin Seligman, originator of the field of positive psychology and director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, has studied the Old Order Amish, along with other premodern cultures. He concludes: ‘Putting this together, there seems to be something about modern life that creates fertile soil for depression.'”
“Another prominent researcher whose work I respect, Stephen Ilardi, professor of psychology at the University of Kansas and author of The Depression Cure, observes, ‘The more “modern” a society’s way of life, the higher its rate of depression. It may seem baffling, but the explanation is simple: the human body was never designed for the modern postindustrial environment.’•
“More and more of us are sedentary, spending most of our time indoors. We eat industrial food much altered from its natural sources, and there is reason for concern about how our changed eating habits are affecting our brain activity and our moods. We are deluged by an unprecedented overload of information and stimulation in this age of the Internet, email, mobile phones, and multimedia, all of which favor social isolation and certainly affect our emotional (and physical) health.”
“Behaviors strongly associated with depression•reduced physical activity and human contact, overconsumption of processed food, seeking endless distraction•are the very behaviors that more and more people now can do, are even forced to do by the nature of their sedentary, indoor jobs.”
“This kind of life simply was not an option throughout most of human history, as there was no infrastructure to support it, much less require it.”
“Human beings evolved to thrive in natural environments and in bonded social groups. Few of us today can enjoy such a life and the emotional equilibrium it engenders, but our genetic predisposition for it has not changed. The term ‘nature-deficit disorder’ has recently entered the popular vocabulary, though it has not yet made it into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or been accepted by the medical community. It was coined by the author Richard Louv, in his book The Nature Principle, to explain a wide range of behavior problems in children who spend less time outdoors but now is invoked as the root cause of an even wider range of both physical and emotional ailments in people of all ages who are disconnected from nature.”
“The problems stemming from nature-deficit disorder are examples of a mismatch between our genes and the modern environment. Our brains simply are not suited for the modern world. Possibly, the deterioration of emotional well-being characteristic of contemporary urban life represents a cumulative effect of lifestyle changes that have been occurring over many years, an effect that is now suddenly obvious.”
“Not only do we suffer from nature deficit, we are experiencing information surfeit. Many people today spend much of their waking time surfing the Internet, texting and talking on mobile phones, attending to email, watching television, and being stimulated by other new media•experiences never available until now.”
“The allure of synthetic entertainment’television, the Internet•is eerily reminiscent of the false promise of industrial food. It seems like a distillation of the good aspects of a social life, always entertaining yet easy to abandon when it becomes tedious or challenging. But, like junk food, it is ultimately unsatisfying and potentially harmful. Our brains, genetically adapted to help us negotiate a successful course through complex, changing, and often hazardous natural environments, are suddenly confronted with an overload of information and stimulation independent of physical reality.”
So what’s a person to do? Dr. Weil suggests 10 possible remedies:
- Cultivate optimism and gratitude.
- Get help to reframe how you see your problems.
- Practice meditation.
- Visualize happiness.
- Neutralize loud or disturbing noises.
- Sleep in complete darkness.
- Focus on what is happening in the present moment.
- Take breaks from the news.
- Limit electronic stimulation.
- Make face-to-face, social interactions a priority.
That’s a pretty good list that long-time readers of LifeTrek Provisions will recognize. I have written about such practices on many occasions, archiving my thoughts on one of my companion websites, www.CelebrateWellness.com. The website is divided into four sections or categories: Nutrition, Exercise, Hygiene, and Relaxation. Look over the comments and remedies proposed by Dr. Weil and you will see that they pretty well cover the same territory. If we are not on top of our Nutrition, Exercise, Hygiene, and Relaxation, then we are not on top of life. Our brains are not overwhelmed, they are under equipped.
Future generations may be better equipped to function in a wired, 24-7 world. Indeed, some futurists like David Houle have suggested that the infants of today will evolve new brains as a result of all the stimulation in what Houle refers to as the Shift Age. We are shifting, he argues, from pre-industrial to post-industrial brains with more synapses and glial connections than ever before. One can only hope that that will be the case.
But evolution is generally a very slow process and the human brain has been wired to be the way it is today over the course of thousands if not millions of years. So we’ll see how quickly the human brain adapts. Until then, and for most of the generations now alive, we’re going to need to take that time to better equip ourselves to handle the overwhelm.
Coaching Inquiries: What practices assist you to find an oasis in the overwhelm? What helps you to eat well, exercise regularly, care for yourself, and relax your brain? How often do you do those things? Who could be your partner in the process? What would help you to more fully enjoy the journey?
To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation.
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.
Great work on today’s Provision, Repetition Rewires the Brain. I always enjoy what you share, but I was especially blessed by what you wrote this weekend, and I wanted to let you know. Blessings on your work.
What an excellent and helpful Provision. Thank you.
Happy birthday! We delight in your growing wisdom as you age! What a wonder you are. Keep blessing and being blest.
Happy birthday to you!!! Many greetings to you and Megan from your friends in Germany!!! Sorry for not using your “early-bird-offer” with the evocative coaching training. I suppose, my English would not be good enough. Even to study your weekly Provisions is a big task to me and, I admit, I don’t always read them to the very very end – although sometimes I find myself thinking, it not only would be a good English-exercise but also would be good to learn a little bit more about leadership every time.
Happy Birthday!!!! Today is MY birthday too! (53rd). I’m not available to take the evocative coaching training, but I wanted to tell you that I am currently taking the Wellcoach Training and I really appreciate your teaching. I really appreciate Provisions as well. There is always much to learn. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. Your enthusiasm is contagious!!!
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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