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Monday, October 19, 2020

Why It’s More than OK to Unplug and Slow Down

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It’s not uncommon knowledge that we live in a fast-paced world. Science and technology has provided us the comfort of getting things quicker and so much easier than ever. At work, sending correspondences, getting into voice or video calls, sending files across, and tracking progress of projects have become so unchallenging that not even the ongoing pandemic was able to stop offices from functioning. Even whilst working from their homes, employees are still chasing deadlines and demands. Outside of work, ways to connect with friends and loved ones have become so simple and effortless that one starts to worry when the other person fails to revert to our messages in hours.

Indeed, the world has been made so small by technology, that distance for the most part, fails to affect most aspects of our lives.

But did you know that all these comforts come with a price?

According to Dr. Greg Smith, M.D., some of the observed dangers associated with being always wired in, include: promoting a sentient lifestyle (even among children), internet and social media addiction, and depression. 

He writes, “Some studies have also shown that increased use of online resources such as social media may actually result in less happiness, not more, by undermining one’s sense of well being. Comparing your life to others online, whether positively or negatively, may result in more emotional dysregulation. Jealousy may lead to one-upping behaviors and a vicious cycle.”

“Also somewhat counterintuitively, increased connection time may actually cause one to feel more isolated from friends and family, not less. More “friendships” online may portend less actual physical and real-world social interactions, leading to more isolation and mood changes.”

In 2019, a research by global tech giant, Asurion, revealed that the average American checks his phone 96 times a day. That’s roughly around once every 10 minutes for 16 hours a day. 

Slowing Down Can Make You Happy

In his article about the Lost Art of Patience, Dr. Alan Castel, Ph.D., author of Metacognition and the Mind, said that while smartphones make people faster, it’s really slowing down that makes them healthier and happier. 

“In our rapidly changing world, we value speed and efficiency.  However, there is something to be gained by being slow if slow can make you more present, more mindful, and more aware of other people’s perspectives.  For example, a slow communicator can be a highly effective one, allowing for natural pauses, such that the audience follows his or her train of thought,” he writes.

In the same article, Dr. Castel mentions several other examples that touch on walking more mindfully, and the results of the classic marshmallow test, which revealed how, years later, the children who waited to eat their marshmallow had higher SAT scores, lower levels of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, and were just overall doing better than the ones who ate the sugary treat right away. 

He adds, “Finally, while we view the speed of obtaining and transmitting information or goods as a necessity, slowing this down can aid in comprehension and appreciation of the message. Today, there are parts of our life that emphasize the benefits of being slow, ranging from a “slow food movement” to “slow parenting” to “slow jogging” to the mindful slowing associated with a meditation. We also sometimes enjoy having to be patient, and delayed gratification, in which we need to wait in order to enjoy a reward in the future, whether we are anticipating Christmas presents or a recent on-line purchase that will be delivered in the mail.  Our behaviors also benefit from slowing down, and can make us healthier.  There are benefits to eating more slowly, as this can lead to less food consumption.”

On a more personal level, I have been practicing slowing down for the past month and have found that I am generally more at peace with myself and what is happening around me. Whereas before, I’d work myself until the wee hours of the morning just to make sure I’ve marked every item on my checklist, these days, I’ve learned to take a pause and leave some things that can’t be accomplished for the following day.

And the key to this shift is acceptance.

Especially when the pandemic started and the stay at home orders were put in place, I kept looking for things to do to keep myself busy. I kept telling myself, “I can’t let this thing stop me from making progress.” Of course, back then I’d equate busy with progress. 

It took me five months on quarantine before I finally accepted that I needed to slow down. I got to the point where I was so obsessed with getting work done and staying up to date with what my friends were up to, that I have become highly irritable and would throw a fit over the smallest things. Always being wired also messed with my ability to concentrate, so I had a hard time finishing tasks that required me to take  a deep dive.

It was during one particular grocery run, where I had to spend an hour in line at the cashier, for me to realize what was wrong with me. My phone ran out of battery (I was replying to messages and drafting agreements while looking for the biggest jar of peanut butter and guava jelly), and I had nothing to do while waiting for checkout. The first few minutes felt like the longest of my life. I kept thinking back at the messages that I still have not replied to and to the work that needed to be accomplished. After about 30 minutes of stressing, I told myself “I can’t do anything about it now.” and just proceeded with my day. 

The drive back home was one of the most relaxing I’ve had in a long while. The sun was setting and the sky was painted in soft yellow, orange,  and purple tones. All around me, there was a sense of calm and everything looked like it had a beauty filter on it. It then dawned on me that if my phone had not ran out of battery, I wouldn’t have had the luxury of seeing this glorious sunset. 

From that point on, I’ve consciously limited my hours not just on work, but on social media as well. My screen time has been reduced by 32% and I am at a much better place psychologically and physically.

It’s amazing how one little change can affect you in the most profound way. Slowing down made me happy, and if you’re reading this and think you need to do the same, I say just do it. Stop feeling guilty for the things you’re unable to accomplish because you reached your limit, because your mental health is more important than your productivity. 

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