Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Treadmill Culture

Prager Mommy and the Disciples Pretending to be Zen.

I have come to the conclusion that the accepted daily life in America is no different than being on a treadmill that won’t stop. And that treadmill rarely slows down and often times gets faster. Let me just say up front that I too am on this treadmill. But I am ready to get off! I just haven’t figured out how yet. Aside from retirees, the rest of the adult (and much of the child) population is way too busy. There are simply not enough hours in the day to accomplish everything that needs to be accomplished. As a result, most people are overstressed and under-rested. Everyone is in such a rush! Forget having more than a minute to discuss something. To make matters worse, the lines between work and leisure are so blurred these days that it is difficult to turn things off. If you ask someone how he/she is doing, the response is no longer the obligatory “fine” or “good,” it is “busy” or “stressed.” In fact, if you aren’t busy at the moment, then you better not admit it to anyone because being busy has almost become some sort of badge of honor. I am seriously tired of it!

This treadmill lifestyle has helped people formulate many bad habits including:
  • The inability to just sit and be
  • The inability to concentrate on one task at a time
  • The inability to pay attention or be there in the moment
  • The inability to be ok with periodic boredom
  • The need to be constantly stimulated by something fast and flashy whether it be TV, surfing the Internet, FaceBook, non-stop texting, or playing computer games
  • Having no idea what you truly enjoy doing with your time
  • Putting personal needs on the back burner
  • Not taking care of one’s physical self
  • Relying on conveniences that are unhealthy, create unnecessary waste, and cost more money because they save time
  • Not paying attention to other people or their problems (you have enough of your own)
  • Not taking vacation and/or feeling guilty about taking time off

I too share some of these bad habits. The worst for me is the inability to concentrate, pay attention, and be in the moment. Years of multitasking has rewired my brain. Yes, I get a lot of things done, but sometimes I rarely remember doing them. This is especially a problem with my kids as I get easily frustrated when they take a long time to do something or need to process an issue for what seems like hours. So what does this teach my kids? Well, it affirms that we are often in a hurry; we have too much going on; they should expect round the clock entertainment; and other things matter more over them. When I look at it this way, I have to admit this is not the message I want to reinforce through my actions.

Now that I am confessing, I will tell you about my other bad habit. For two years, I did a great job of ignoring my body as it slowly fell apart. I was too busy at work with a seriously stressful work project. Work and my dissertation pushed me over the edge. I rarely had time to exercise and I wasn’t sleeping that much or well. I rang in my 40th birthday last year with a full blown body revolt! For the better part of 2010, my upper back hurt non-stop. I had daily headaches that made it difficult to concentrate. The best was the tingling in my extremities. Some days I felt like I was hooked up to an electrical outlet. Oh yeah, there was also the one month of summer I spent barely eating a thing because my stomach hurt so bad when I did. Needless to say, these are all pretty serious symptoms for an otherwise healthy person. After many visits to numerous doctors and expensive medical tests, I have been diagnosed as healthy! Now that I have been able to weave these series of events into a story, I can clearly see that I had various stress induced symptoms. The symptoms never went away; they just migrated from one body part to another. First I had to admit stress and lifestyle were the cause. Then I had to do something about it. So far, 2011 has been good to me health wise. This is due in part to the changes I have been working on for the last nine months.

For starters, I stopped making lists of things to do. Occasionally I will write a note or two if I need to remember something for the day, but that is it. For planner types, this is really difficult. What I have come to realize is that lists made me feel more in control when I really wasn’t. I always had a list. Cross something off the list and two more things to it. The list never ended and it started making me feel bad.

In addition to my regular chiropractic appointments, I started getting a weekly massage on my upper back and neck. In addition to relaxing my very tight muscles, it is 30 minutes of peace for me. After six months of this, I still have tight muscles that need ongoing attention. At first I felt guilty. After all, it costs both time and money. But now I have come to really enjoy it! I am also making working out a priority and trying to do some nightly stretching on a foam roller.

I am still working at the retraining of the brain. I have decided that multitasking has done much harm to me. I really want to get to a point where my brain is clear and focused. To do this requires me to adopt standards far less than perfection. My house is dirtier and less tidy than before. My clothes are a bit more wrinkled and they are sometimes dirty. I have forgotten about some things I promised I would do. The word “no” has been reintroduced to my vocabulary. I admit that I am reading a book for pleasure. I am trying to stop telling people that I am busy when asked how I am doing. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Most of all, I am trying to remember that so much of what I am ignoring is minutiae. It really has very little impact on the quality of my life!

The daily grind though is still that, the daily grind. I keep fantasizing of the day when people have time to engage in a deep conversation, to talk about something they care passionately about, to take time to think, to not pay attention to the clock, to care less whether they have received a new email, or to have a cup of tea with a friend. Many would say this is not our culture. But then again, who creates our culture?

1 comment:

  1. Well, this was really an eye-opener for me. I like to think that I'm not stressed because I don't have to worry about a full time job, but when I ran through that list you made, I fit pretty much every description on it! (I can't imagine what a mess I'd be if I worked full time!) I don't have the health issues that you struggled with, at least not yet. But I do know I feel like my brain is constantly running 100mph. I have to sometimes force myself to SLOW DOWN as I'm racing around the house trying to do 10 different things. But it is hard to do! Hard to retrain my brain. This is encouraging. I especially like the idea of a regular massage:) And I'd love to join you for another cup of tea.