I’ve always known I was hypersensitive. It was commonplace to see my parents dragging me out of movie theaters bawling like a baby; whether it be Bambi or Buffy I could always find a reason to cry. When I stumbled upon the work of Elaine Aron and the Highly Sensitive Person trait I knew I had finally found my tribe. I felt relief knowing that I was not crazy overreacting to bright lights, loud noises, and emotional stimulation, and perhaps even felt a bit special or gifted recognizing how my sensitivity also enhanced my intuition, passion, and depth of connection with the people and causes I cared about.
However, being highly sensitive in an overstimulating world turns out to be more than challenging at times. Living my life as a road warrior the past 10 years exhausted me to the point of severe burnout that showed up as fatigue in every dimension: physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. What many people do every single day manifested for me crushing bouts of depression and anxiety, even though I was deeply passionate about the purpose behind my work. In an effort to redesign my lifestyle to better support the self-care I knew I needed, I shifted to a new business model that enabled me to be home more often. Little did I know that a whole new routine meant whole new challenges.
Technology is one of our greatest gifts, providing us access to more information and connection than we could ever utilize in a lifetime. As I’ve written about previously in my books and blogs, this ability to be constantly stimulated with new virtual discoveries can also be highly addictive to a brain that’s hardwired to crave it. Stress addiction is based on our deep-seeded desire for stimulation, information, connection, distraction and validation — and nothing provides us with a greater dose of these things than technology. It’s also what makes us miss it when it’s gone.
This longing for connection through our devices has become so strong that a new term, Nomophobia (or no-mobile-phobia), is being used to describe one of societies greatest fears. The word was first coined as a result of a study by the UK Post Office who found that 58% of men and 47% of women suffer from anxiety related to losing their phone, running out of battery, or not having access to a reliable network.
Herein lies the challenge.
Like so many other elements of life that provide us with nourishment there is a tipping point after which what was once building us up begins to break us down. And for those of us with a sensitivity to stress and/or addiction (often times both), we may feel an even greater pull towards the very things that cause us the most harm. For highly sensitive people, recognizing the need for clear boundaries is the first step. Pushing away from the addictive sources of stimulation is a much tougher one.
The only way to create lasting habit change is to automate processes that support our end goal. In this case, creating digital downtime is not something that sounds like a nice thing to do but it’s mission critical if I truly want to thrive. My guess is if you’re still reading this post, it is for you as well. Applying what I already know to be true from previous successes with behavior modification, here’s my game plan:
- Awareness: Identify the problem. In this case, non-stop connection to technology throughout the day is leading me to multitask, get distracted from the most high-impact activities, and at the end of the day leaves me feeling agitated, overwhelmed, and exhausted.
- Appreciation: Understand why it’s happening. For me, it’s because I think I need to be constantly connected, I’m using it as a distraction or validation, and I’m mistaking being busy with being productive. I appreciate the way my brain is trying to help me, but also see how it’s not working right now.
- Adjustment: What needs to change. Knowing I need to limit screen time to save my sanity, I plan to clearly define segments of time throughout each day where I will use tech as needed to accomplish key tasks. When not moving forward on a high-impact activity, I will not be working digitally. Although it’s hard on the part of my ego that desires to always support environmentally-friendly efforts, I will once again read and research on paper while doing my best to continue to recycle and reuse.
In time, adaptation happens and we create a new normal for ourselves. We no longer have to push away from the triggers of our addictions but rather feel pulled towards new ways of thinking and behaving that support our genuine self-care and therefore model to others that it really can be done.
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