What device dependency is doing to us

This week the world acknowledges the impact of stress on our individual and collective health with two days devoted to stress awareness: International Stress Awareness Day on Nov. 2, and National Stress Awareness Day on Nov. 3.

As a physician, I’ve been warning patients, friends, and family members for decades that the stress contemporary humans are subject to is so constant and pervasive that, like the air we breathe, it has become part of the environment in which we live. I call this phenomenon Cultural Stress—the never-ending, constantly increasing stress of modern living.

Cultural Stress differs from the acute stress of our ancestors. They might have faced a fire, a flood, or a predator; a high-stakes job interview or performance evaluation; an accident, an injury, an illness; a death in the family, a job loss, a divorce. Any of these events might have caused intense stress and anxiety—but for a limited time, after which the body had a chance to recover.

Cultural Stress is different, however; it might not be as intense, but it never lets up. It keeps the body in a constant state of uncertainty or anxiety, which results in the near-constant release of stress hormones. These stress hormones circulate in the body, causing chronic low-grade inflammation, which damages cells, alters DNA, and over time, results in the degenerative diseases we associate with aging.

That’s why medical researchers now understand that stress underwrites the development of virtually all of the leading diseases of our times: from diabetes and kidney disease to cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and stroke.

One of the key ways that Cultural Stress invades our lives is through “device dependency”—our reliance on electronic communication devices every waking moment. This 24-hour connectivity makes it harder to:

  • Take time off from work (we’re always just a text or phone call away)
  • Be present with our friends and family (we’re constantly distracted by incoming phone calls, messages, and alerts)
  • Be aware of ourselves (we’re literally addicted to focusing our attention externally)
  • Be focused on our own goals, aspirations, feelings, and needs (our attention is constantly drawn away from us)
  • Feel gratitude and confidence (we’re continually subjected to new and increasing forms of peer pressure—from cyber-bullying to FOMO to subtler forms of self-doubt).

This is all bad enough; unfortunately, it’s not all. A friend recently sent me this excerpt from Glennon Doyle’s best-selling memoir, Untamed:

“There is so much about phones and children that parents worry about. We worry that we are raising children with commodified views of sex, lack of real connection, filtered concepts of what it means to be human. But I find myself worrying most that when we hand our children phones we steal their boredom from them. As a result, we are raising a generation of writers who will never start writing, artists who will never start doodling, chefs who will never make a mess of the kitchen, athletes who will never kick a ball against a wall, musicians who will never pick up their aunt’s guitar and start strumming.”

And it’s not just doing it to our children.

Real life—not a digitized version of it—requires being bored sometimes. That’s often what motivates us to try something new, take a risk, make a mistake, look foolish, create a mess, get dirty, wash the make-up off our face. In other words, be imperfect. If you’re unwilling to do any of these things, you’re not giving yourself permission to LIVE. You’re missing out on all the blood-and-guts, thrills and chills, ridiculous face plants, and terrifying near-misses on the way to relative success.

So, this week, in honor of Stress Awareness Days, I encourage you to mitigate the 24-hour nature of Cultural Stress by putting down the phone and considering any or all of these Insights:

  • Be imperfect; live longer!
  • Get in touch with your Inner Toddler!
  • Give yourself permission to…(fill in the blank)!
  • Take a chance
  • Try something new
  • Make mistakes
  • Get dirty
  • Look foolish
  • Have fun!

I also encourage you to remember the healing power of touch, especially for calming the ravages of stress. So, give or receive a hug (it’s hard to do one without the other), and consider treating yourself to a facial or a massage this week. It’s good for your stress levels, and it’s good for your skin.

In the end, your life will not be measured by who took the best selfie or the best Photoshopped-vacation pic. It will be measured by how fully and deeply you lived each imperfect moment.

That’s Modern Wellness.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider, who should also be consulted with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.


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