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I Just Can’t Take Anymore

We live in a culture of over-stimulation.  Or, should I call it hyper-stimulation?  I began thinking about this while I was standing in line at the bank.  In addition to the usual late Friday afternoon busy-ness, there was a big screen television tuned to CNN mounted from the ceiling so that we could watch it while we waited the three minutes for our turn at the teller window, there was upbeat music playing in the background, and, of course, cell-phones ringing and people talking (shouting?) into them.

At the local Albertsons grocery store, televisions have been installed to “enhance the shopping experience for customers.” There are televisions in the produce section telling us what to do with the produce, there are televisions in the meat department telling us what to do with the franken-meat, there are televisions at every check-out aisle reminding us that we haven’t spent enough money and to get out of line and get more stuff!

I live in Los Angeles where there is an ongoing battle between City Hall (after intense nudging by citizen groups) and outdoor advertising companies.  There are illegal billboards all over the place…including ads that have “moving displays” and vinyl “super graphic” ads covering entire multi-story buildings.

I can’t just go out to a quiet dinner with my husband anymore.  No, my meal has to be fun and entertaining!

I can’t just drive down the street.  No.  Now my car is supposed to turn me on when I turn it on.

And the list goes on (including how my new range has to beep at me when I turn it on or off or set a temperature or…–how did I EVER cook before without all of that beeping?)

As modern retro women, we should be very concerned about this hyper-stimulation because it causes sensory overload which leads to increased levels of stress,  feelings of overwhelm and simply being burned out. Some even believe it leads to adrenal exhaustion (but there isn’t any convincing evidence of it, yet).   And when we are in this state, our ability to focus and interact with others is greatly reduced.   Ironically, many of us retreat into technology that provides over-stimulation–which produces the level of adrenaline we are used to having– while shutting out the outside world.

The first step is to be aware of how much stimulation is being shoved into our minds and bodies.  Because we become habituated to the stimulation, we stop recognizing it as a source of our stress and overwhelm.  Once we are aware, we can start taking control of our own minds again by reducing the stimulation.  For my husband and me, that meant deciding to unplug the television from the outside world.  It meant no longer participating in the “instant news cycle” of the internet and relying on the newspaper for most of our news instead (the instant news cycle has a tendency to make everything seem hyper-important…there’s a lot of non-news being thrown at us as being urgent).  It means we exercise by walking in parks instead of going to a “fitness center.”  It means that we try to disengage from what our culture says we have to do and be mindful of what we believe is right for us.

What are some other examples of over or hyper-stimulation that our grandmothers didn’t have to deal with?  What are other examples of how can counteract the negative impact of that overload?

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  1. Ugh, I couldn’t agree more. Last month I went to my dentist–his office is in a small-ish town and has a relatively small practice, just local people, the sort of place where the person cleaning your teeth knows all about your family. For some reason, since my last visit my dentist installed flatscreen TV monitors in each room, right in front of the dental chair for the patients to stare at. All that showed on the screen were advertisements for teeth-whitening procedures, on a loop for the entire hour I was in the chair. Seriously! I was rather appalled and considered saying something about it, but decided to hold my tongue.

  2. I agree entirely. There are lots of things that I hate about this, but the first that comes to mind is how the written words and images in commercials have to pulsate because we need stimulation every single microsecond. (Actually we mostly watch DVDs of things like I Love Lucy so avoid commercials, but we’ve been watching the Olympics…I’ll be glad to go back to the DVDs to tell you the truth!)

  3. When I think of the “retro” woman, I see her as someone who has depth and strength of character. If we hope to emulate her, we can’t develop her quality of thought unless we have moments of silence that we allow to stretch into hours. It requires self-discipline, another quality that the retro woman fostered in herself. But I will go so far as to say that silence is a basic human need that is no longer recognized or appreciated.

    But — we will have to deal with it individually, I think. I couldn’t give up TV, but we have DVR and watch nothing that isn’t recorded. I believe it’s important to read and think rather than receiving info entirely by the spoken word. I think that advertising — always questionable — has now become horrific. It’s more powerful than we know, and that’s scary.

    I have a cellphone. I seldom use it — don’t even think of it. My children think it’s terrible that I am not available 24-7. I no longer multi-task well. I am easily distracted and I know it.

    What really scares me is that if I don’t keep up with technology, I will not be able to cope in the world. We are pressured to keep up, and that’s another strain on the intellect.

  4. We just got home from the Autry Museum of Western Heritage. One of the current exhibits is about the tradition of Native American basketry. One of the contemporary weavers the curators had interviewed said something that hit me dead on. She said that her grandmother had admonished her to connect with the materials as she is weaving and that if her head is too full, she won’t have success weaving that day. The weaver said that she has found the admonishment to be so true. She said that when she is having a frustrating day with her weaving, she stops and prays, meditates and empties her head before going back to work.

    We can’t “feel the materials” if we’ve got too much stuff in our head.

  5. My husband was just commenting today about the level of stress for people nowadays. Back in the day, when we were young, families had much more time to spend together doing fun things like playing in the yard or playing games or going for bike rides.
    These days we own so many ‘things’ and all of these ‘things’ need maintaining.
    For example…when I was young, our family had one car. We own three cars for three people. My husband also has a motorcylce and two ATV’s (please don’t get me started on my feelings about all of this) and all of these vehicles need maintaining. They all need their oil changed and whatever else you do to maintain cars. This takes time, lots of time.
    We all have DVD players and TVs that need fixing. All of these ‘high tech’ gadgets that we all have to have keep us so busy that we have no time anymore for relaxing.
    I’ll get off my soapbox now.

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