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SENSORY
OVERLOAD
& STRESS

Did you know your brain can process up to 11 million bits of information per second?

That number alone is mind-boggling, but consider this, researchers estimate that only 50 of the 11 million are processed consciously…which leaves a lot of information that’s processed on an unconscious level, or simply discarded.

SUMMARY

Information overload is a contributing factor to the exponentially rising numbers of people worldwide experiencing anxiety, depression and stress in general. The good news is that although the conditions and situations that trigger these physio-psychological responses may be beyond our control, we can make small changes to the way we receive, interpret and respond to all this information. In this article you are invited to consider how sensory overload may be negatively impacting your life, and I share a very simple, no cost, 3-minute practice that can provide stress-relief the very first time you try it. Practiced consistently it’s positive effects build as it becomes a daily habit.

 

ALTHOUGH these numbers aren’t new news, I’d forgotten about them until I was doing some research a couple of months ago on the effects of stress on the brain. In my quest for science-based data I read an article about the theory of information processing and the brain. Those numbers popped off the page and captured my attention. I couldn’t help but wonder what information I’m unconsciously missing, editing, discarding or using for some confirmation bias or other.

Not only is this happening in the sphere of our own unique experience, it’s happening with every single human being. Yep, all 7,800,000,000 of us.

PERCEPTION VS. REALITY

Our 5 basic senses — sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell — all contribute to shape our experience, understanding and interpretation of life and its events.

Our bodies and brains are ingenious and highly adaptive, so even if we lose one sense, the others will adjust and become even more finely attuned. Our senses greatly influence and impact our physiological, psychological and emotional states. The thoughts you have, the words you use, and the actions you take, all shape your perceptions and experience of the world. Not only that, through these forms of subtle and not-so-subtle communication that you consciously and unconsciously influence the perceptions and experiences of others around you, and beyond.

Our senses greatly influence and impact our physiological, psychological and emotional states.

 

It’s reassuring to know that our amazing mind/body complex filters and handles the deluge of information for us with such efficiency, but that doesn’t mean that we need to put that kind of processing demand on it all day long.

You know, it’s kind of like on these hot summer days if you were to you run an old air conditioner day and night, eventually it’s going to rattle, groan and simply stop working. Sure you can probably repair it, but oh the discomfort of having to sweat it out while you wait for the repair person to show up.

When we’re looking at stress and it’s impact on our overall sense of balanced well-being, resilience and strong immune function, information overload can be a factor that contributes to throwing our mind/body system off-balance. And, just like that old air conditioner, we too might begin to rattle, groan, and want to stop working.

FOOD FOR THE MIND, BODY & SOUL

You can think of all these bits of information received through our senses as ‘food’ that feeds our mind, body and soul. The images we look at and our physical environment matters. Our interactions and the words we use with others matter. What we read, listen to and focus on all matter. Each contributes to our inextricably integrated mental, physical and emotional health.

We’ve moved beyond the world of Descartes mind/body dualism, we can’t neatly package and parcel up each component that shapes the human experience. John Muir simply and eloquently summed it up: 

  When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.

 

…and the same concept applies to the multitude of complex components that form the human being, and the experience of being in a multi-faceted world. Key word: BEING (not ‘doing’).

 THE POWER OF THE PAUSE

 Each day we need to take time to pause and simply be. Become aware of our breath (great time to pause from reading this and take 3 deep inhales and exhales…), our body (how about a nice big yawn and stretch?) and notice how we’re actually feeling. Whether it’s bored, frustrated, anxious, maybe happy, calm or joyful, our feelings and emotions is our body/mind complex communicating with us.

Another thing to remember though is that feelings and emotions is they are pretty much guaranteed to fluctuate and change. Each of us can cultivate our own sense of agency by understanding how to work with them and how make conscious choices that take us in the direction we want to go.

I’ve been working with groups and individuals for well over a decade and the power of the pause is an easy, no-cost tool that just about anyone can integrate into everyday life. No app, no tech required. With consistent practice it just becomes a healthy habit.

Ahhhhhh…
feels so good to just…
let…go.

AWARENESS, CLARITY & NOMOPHOBIA

If you’re out of touch with how you feel, if you’re not clear about your life values, and if you don’t hold a clear vision of who you want to be and how you want to be, whether or not you realize it, you’re leaving it up to other people to define these things for you. And rest assured, they will.

Sure, working on a daily awareness practice can mean you’ll sometimes face truths that that are uncomfortable, things you’d rather ignore, or pretend aren’t there. But ignoring them won’t get rid of them. Left unattended, over time they can and will disrupt your overall sense of balanced well-being and happiness.

What would it feel like to simply pause, walk away from your tech (yes, that includes your phone), and walk outside for a few minutes to gaze at the trees, the sky, notice the birds singing, feel the breeze, and take a few easy, relaxed breaths?

The power of the PAUSE is an easy, no-cost tool that be integrated into everyday life. No app, no tech required.

Even if you just do it for just 3 minutes, that’s enough to experience an easing of tension and stress. Now if you had a twinge of anxiety about leaving the phone behind, you’re not alone, it’s called nomophobia, and pretty commonplace. I’ll leave that topic for another time.

THE FLIP-SIDE OF FABULOUS TECHNOLOGY

Speaking of technology, it’s undeniable, we have reached fabulous advances through technology. We can use it to create, connect with others, to be of service, to educate, inspire and empower others, as well as ourselves. As with anything, in moderation and with conscious awareness it can be used to benefit and enhance our lives tremendously. And then, as with all things in life, there’s the flip-side.

Continual sensory input from technology is a factor to consider when looking at the rising and deeply disconcerting numbers of adults and teens experiencing anxiety, general stress and depression worldwide. Those statistics aren’t just numbers, they’re people. Probably even people you know, love and care about, and maybe you would include yourself.

  Every day we need to turn the volume down on our nervous system and brain input, figuratively and literally.

CONSCIOUS CHOICES VS. AUTO-PILOT

What you look at, watch and focus on matters. The music and lyrics you listen to, the shows you watch, the social media you engage in, and news you take in matters, they all influence you in subtle and not-so subtle ways. We’ve all heard about the dopamine hits that keep us on social media for so long, or that relaxing trance-like state we enter from Netflix binge watching. Nothing wrong with either of those…in moderation and taking into consideration the content and how it makes you feel.

Every day we need to turn the volume down on our nervous system and brain input, figuratively and literally. Create a daily habit of building in time to pause, to reflect, to daydream about things that are uplifting, and to let natural things fill our senses. We are not separate from nature, we are a part of nature.

Our senses work together to guide us, inform us, protect us. Continual sensory overload with tech devices, with ‘being busy’, can prevent us from noticing the subtler signals from our body, until they get loud enough for us to take notice. You know, headaches, sore back, feeling irritated or depressed, maybe a relationship or two that’s veered off-course can make us feel tense or anxious. The variations on this theme are many and I’m sure you can fill in the blank with your own signal.

YOUR 3 MINUTE PRACTICE
Consider, for just 3 minutes a day — which still leaves you with 1,437 minutes in your day — pause, walk away from your technology, step outside, stretch your body, look up at the sky, and take an easy, deep inhale and a slow, relaxed exhale.

Welcome to the present moment, the only place where life is actually happening, and the place from which we can make conscious choices about what our next action, word or thought will be. And this my friends is the power of pause, breathe and be. Enjoy creating a meaningful life you love!

photographer: Daniel Lincoln / Unsplash

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