Last night after hours of writing and flipping screens at my desk, I got up and feel mentally depleted. It was the exact sensation that Ana Veciana-Suarez described in her Miami Herald column today as feeling like her body had been plowed over by a tractor after too many hours in front of a computer. This affliction is not the same kind of exhaustion one would feel after running a marathon. It's a mental tax in which someone longs to do little else but veg out.
Have you ever felt that way — as if your brain is completely fried out?
Ana writes: "I find myself wanting to talk to no one, wanting to stare at nothing. The idea of sitting still, in silence as gathering twilight provides a protective blanket, has become so attractive. And comforting." For Ana it used to be that taking a walk across the hall or looking away from her monitor for a few minutes was enough for her to restore and redirect. Now, she says, that pause button no longer works. "A fried brain apparently needs more than a few minutes."
It sure does.
This is a challenging time to be an American worker trying to find work life balance — or just merely unwind from a busy day. It's getting increasingly difficult to keep information coming at us from every direction. Some of us do almost everything with our smartphones in our hands. When we're not behind our laptop monitors, we are Facebook messaging or texting from our mobile devices. The demands for our attention are accompanied by pings and rings that practically scream at us to respond. Simply walking away from our computer is not enough to relax us.
So how do we unwind when most of us have become used to exchanging one screen for another?
The answer is we must become more comfortable with discomfort.
David Greenfield, founder of The Center for Internet and Tech Addiction, explained to me that taking a tech break or completely powering down can be an uncomfortable experience the first time we try it. Imagine leaving your phone behind when you go to the movies or for a long walk. Can you do it without feeling slightly panicked? But Greenfield says, "If you do tolerate the discomfort, the next time will be easier."
In this 21st Century period when our brains are on overdrive, Greenfield points out: We are not designed to be in a constant state of nervous system arousal.
So, next time you walk away from your monitor and pick up your cell phone or iPad, think twice. There's a certain sense of relief in letting our brains focus on something other than a screen. It's the kind of unwinding that we need to get used to doing more often.