Modern Life Is Taking a Toll on Mental Health

May 15, 2023
Modern life is taking a toll on mental health

One of the luxuries of my job as a practicing psychologist is that I get to hear the behind-the-scenes, real deal, inside scoop from so many people. That allows me to see how truly similar we are - our fears, our joys, our longings, and our needs. Every so often it seems that everyone is struggling with the same the same time.  

This week was one of those times.

It seemed like every time I turned around, I was having a conversation with someone about how hard it is to juggle all of the competing demands, the sky-high stress that creates, and the toll it's taking on quality of life and wellbeing. 

Truth told, I've felt the crunch this week, too. It seems like there just aren't enough hours in the day to do all of the things I want to do and, like so many others, I trimmed from the places that are actually supportive of my wellbeing. 

That's a slippery slope.


A MisMatch

Modern life is pretty amazing when you stop and think about it. Technology, advances in science, freedoms, and resources. Humans have created some mind-bogglingly incredible things to help us live longer and better lives. 

As with so many things, though, there can be unintended harmful consequences, and I'd argue that zapping our mental health is one of them.

Last week, I mentioned how we sometimes pathologize natural human responses that arise from a mismatch of our ancient DNA and our modern lifestyles. Our nervous systems were not designed with our current lifestyles in mind, and they're going into overdrive constantly, to our detriment.

The result can be catastrophic to our mental health. 


What Is It About Modern Life that Isn't Working for Us? 

It's easy to go after screens here - our lives revolve around them and most people spend very little time more than a few feet away from one. We can talk about how phones, the internet, and streaming have impacted our brains (e.g., sleep, attention spans), our relationships (more social disconnection despite constant connection), and bodies (e.g., more sedentary time, for one) in a negative way.

Or we could talk about how widespread loneliness is and how detrimental it is to our health and wellbeing. 

Or any number of other modern lifestyle factors that are actually hurting us.

But I want to focus on one aspect that really seems to be taking a toll at this particular moment: the pace of our lifestyles.


Life at Warp Speed

I see so many people living fast-paced lives.

Too fast-paced.

It's like running on a treadmill. Great for a period of time, but at some point you'll fatigue and fall flat on your face if you don't get off.

I think we need to get off the modern life treadmill a little more often.

While modern life affords many conveniences designed to save time and energy, it doesn't really seem like most people have ended up with a surplus of either. Rather than having open time, it seems that other things have rushed to fill the void.

To overly fill it.

Why is that? 

There seems to be a push to be productive all day. While productivity does actually protect us from depression (it feels good to check things off the to do list), too much of a good thing backfires. 

The push for productivity can mean that we don't honor our bodies' needs, driving us toward burnout. 

It can also mean that we do not honor our other needs as well. Needs like social connection and leisure time. 

Beyond the productivity drive, we are over-scheduled, kids and adults alike. We have more opportunities to do things and seem to feel pressured to do them all. The result? Kids no longer have open afternoons for unstructured play or spontaneous hang outs, and parents have a second (nearly full-time) job chauffeuring their kids around. Adults without kids have tons of demands, too. 

I think we also over schedule with things that seem important or that we actually want to do - plans with friends or family, classes, volunteering, running errands, self-care stuff. These are all worthwhile and do contribute to our health and wellbeing. But, again, too much of a good thing may not be that good...if the end result is that we are stressed trying to fit it all in. 

But it's not always easy to scale back.

Think about it. If you pause for a moment and check in with yourself, do you find yourself longing for more quiet, peaceful moments? 

Of course!

And if you were to carve those moments out by letting go of some of your commitments, whether that's at work, extracurriculars, social obligations, whatever, how would you feel? 

I bet the initial reaction is a tightening, a tension, an I can't. 

Or maybe an I don't want to. 

We are afraid of boredom, of silence, of falling behind, of messing up the future (for ourselves or for your kids, if you have them), and fear is a powerful driver. 

We wear busy-ness like a badge of honor, and the idea of slowing down or simplifying feels wrong, bad, or uncomfortable in some way.

Yet it's exactly what we need.


Slowing Down

We need to learn to embrace boredom. Rather than immediately grabbing something to occupy our attention, we need to learn to relax into the moment. 

We need to get comfortable with silence and stillness. We need to give our minds a break from the frenetic overstimulation. Yet, so many people are afraid to be alone with their thoughts, to be still and quiet. Unfortunately, trying to outrun our thoughts isn't sustainable. 

Somewhere recently, I heard the statement "We are human beings, not human doings." I kind of love it.

Busy modern lifestyles emphasize the doing part, but we need more time just being

Being in the moment.

Being with loved ones.

Being comfortable in our own skin and in our own minds.

Being in peace.


"For fast acting relief, try slowing down."
 - Lily Tomlin

Written by Dr. Ashley Smith

Peak Mind Co-founder

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