Life is busy. It’s an overused statement, but only because it’s so freakin’ true. Crazy and conflicting family schedules, long work hours, and heavy workloads are only part of the problem. We’re living in the twenty-first century, the most technologically advanced time in history. Although computers and devices have improved our lives in many ways, and most of us can’t imagine living without our smartphones, that connectedness influences our stress levels, our relationships, and our overall health and well-being. (Excuse me a second while I check my phone.)
I call it 21st-and-a-quarter-century stress, which is a pervasive, unrelenting, tech-driven, FOMO-fed stress that has us on the go—physically, mentally, emotionally, even cognitively—all day long. For many of us, the madness begins in the grogginess of early morning as we fumble for the light of the smartphone and scroll through the cyber-world as our first entry point into the day. And technology has become our lifeline to the ‘outside world’ as ongoing pandemic restrictions limit travel, socializing and working away from home, so we rarely unglue our eyeballs from that smartphone screen.
We’re living in an age of hyper-connectedness, checking work emails at all hours, texting when we should be talking, surfing mindlessly when we have a spare moment, zooming for social and work reasons, scrolling other people’s lives instead of living our own, or fanatically nurturing our online lives for an audience of pseudo friends, letting our self-esteem drop with every comparison to their perfect, edited, selfie-catalogued lives.
Each day, as you strive for better, not only must you get through the curves and roadblocks of everyday life, you must also juggle distractions from the digital space, and energy drains from an increasingly dysfunctional and demanding world. As humans in this mix, our bodies are tired, our brains are full, and our capacity is being tested
Acute, Chronic or Pervasive?
Typically, we categorize stress in two ways: acute or chronic. Acute stress is single-bout, short-term stress, like a tough day at work, a moment of conflict with your boss, a traffic jam, or an argument with your teenager. While the stressor is present, you’ll experience typical stress responses like increased blood pressure and heart rate, increased gut and muscle tension, and a higher breathing rate—and you probably won’t feel happy. Then the tough workday will end, or the conflict will, or you’ll get out of traffic, or your teenager will stomp off to their room, you’ll take a deep breath, and your body will begin to recover from the stress. Eventually you’ll start to breath more normally, your heart rate will slow down, and you’ll feel less tense. Acute stress is stress with adequate recovery and it’s how we’re meant to work.
Chronic stress is long-term stress, or stress without adequate recovery. You’re probably pretty good at navigating the odd tough day at the office, or the occasional run-in with your boss, but if every day is a tough day, or the drive home is always traffic-clogged, or your home life is fraught with family arguments (or all of the above), recovery from stress will be difficult. If the body doesn’t get a chance to recover from stressful situations, it creates a new normal. The common markers of stress—increased heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, gut and muscle tension, even cortisol levels—stay elevated, so your body must work harder to help you function normally. If chronic stress is prolonged it can lead to stress-related health problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, ulcers, chronic pain, or depression.
So, how is 21st-and-a-quarter-century stress different from chronic stress? In many ways, it isn’t. It is long-term stress without adequate recovery. It is ever-present, in myriad forms, just like chronic stress, but I propose that it is more pervasive, because we are connected 24/7 to the digital space—to news (fake or otherwise), social media, apps, games, streaming programs, videos, shopping, pop-up ads, emails, text messages, and any number of alerts. Plus, we can access work-related information at all hours of the day, so our workday has no boundaries, especially now with so many people working from home.
While technology has enhanced many aspects of our work and life, the bandwidth overload it creates is affecting us—body, mind, and spirit—like never before. Every day we’re tasked with navigating all that is happening in our physical world, with the added burden of processing the digital noise inundating us from the online space and the little supercomputer we call a smartphone.
This daily physical-digital juggling act means your body and mind both lack recovery time. The pervasive stress that happens to us as digital information gets pushed into our devices—and that we perpetuate through our dependence on these devices—creates 21st-and-a-quarter-century stress. So, how do we push back against this ever-present form of stress? Below I share a three step process to move you toward more presence, clarity and success.
1) Pause. In the busyness of life, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s important. Maybe you’re too tired or too busy doing life to contemplate possibilities. Or you want to, but you can’t find the time or energy, so you disconnect instead. When that kind of overwhelm takes over, slow down. Pause (device free). Just breathe, and give your brain and body time to get present to the moment. Gift yourself two minutes to sit and breathe, and then move to step 2.
2) Pay Attention. Since our smartphones are always within reach, when stress is high and energy is low, it’s easy (and tempting) to check in, scroll, text, and wait for that hit of dopamine to distract and calm. Unfortunately, with too much scrolling, the calming effects of dopamine eventually clash with the angst of cortisol, and we begin to feel the effects of 21st-and-a-quarter-century stress. Too much screen time can cause anxiety and decrease self-esteem. Energy can drain, and productivity too. Pay attention to when that happens. Notice when and how your device use impacts you in a negative way, then move to step 3.
3) Practice. Smartphones have become an essential part of our lives, so we must learn how to have a healthy relationship them. Practice taking tech breaks throughout your day and week. Disconnect during meals, turn your phone off after dinner and don’t check in until after breakfast. Allow for device-free weekend time. If you’re watching TV, don’t multitask with your phone. Choose one or two tactics that work for you, and see how your brain and body feel with regular time for digital detox.
This post includes excerpts from my new book The Success-Energy Equation: How to Regain Focus, Recharge Your Life, and Really Get Sh!t Done. To continue your success-energy journey purchase your copy via Amazon, or for a signed copy go to successenergybook.com. Turns out it’s an ideal pandemic navigation tool that will help you focus on what’s truly important in work and life as you contemplate a success-filled life beyond the pandemic.
ALSO: Join me next week April 19-22nd for The Ramp Up Resilience Summit; a free event running daily from 12-1pm EST featuring 4 great speakers and one great host on a fun platform. We’ll be sharing strategies to lead with resilience through these challenging times. Register at RampUpResilience.com.
I speak April 20th and I sure hope you’ll be there!