In many dynamic ways, this season of the novel coronavirus has invited innovation at a deeper and more profound level. We have seen new ways to detect the temperature of individuals using a Bluetooth smart thermometer, burgeoning online teaching platforms to transmit information, and members of various societal organizations like the Toronto Symphony Orchestra that learned to perform together from 29 different locations using ingenuity from their smartphones. Innovation has been notably on the increase in seasons of adversity. Human progress, efficiency, speed, hyper-connectivity, and a sense of financial gain all mark these seasons of adversity and innovation. In the midst of a pandemic, many had to slow down from a frenzied lifestyle with a time-equals-money equation and acute sense of goal orientation along with a hectic inner pace for workplace productivity. 

Prior to the demand of slowing down amid a pandemic, most would find themselves agitated and at unease when waiting in the doctor’s office for more than 15 minutes. Others find it an urgent need to be interconnected through their devices at all times, even checking emails while remotely away and on vacation. We find ourselves incessantly checking our online accounts while attempting to keep up with daily appointments and navigating the nonstop stimulation of the world around us. One study that exemplifies this is from the University of Hertfordshire in conjunction with the British Council that the walking speed of pedestrians in 34 documented cities around the world had increased by a ten percent margin in a 10-year period from 1995-2005. Historians now highlight 2007 as an inflection point on par with 1440 and the year that Johannes Gutenbeg invented the printing press and gave more precise meaning to a globally interconnected world. 2007 was the same year that Steve Jobs released the first iPhone, Facebook opened its platform to anyone with an email address, the App Store invited many innovators to contribute, Intel transitioned to metal chips from silicon, and many other technological breakthroughs had their premier appearance. Quiet and an inner pace of slowness quickly gave way to the speed and noise of commerce and business at the start of the digital age. 

Even within a decade, the world has changed in just a few short years. According to one research firm, people touch their smartphone at least 2,617 times a day, and millennials put this number to twice this bracket over the span of any given day. In this age of digital capitalism and the attention economy, thousands of apps and devices are continuing to be engineered to steal our direct attention, and with it our problem-solving skills and working memory continue to diminish. With an accumulation of social media scrolling, endless notifications, increasing commitments, and workplace tasks and aspirations – it can be evident that the modern pulse of life can hinder a fuller experience of the present moment. In a sea of attention-dividing electronics and multi-billion dollar corporations that exert some form of attentional control in our current digital age, our new normal is a harrowing speed of life with continuous partial attention. We are the denizens of our own hurried pace of life in this digital revolution. 

Different psychologists and professionals in the medical community are terming this life speed that is currently out of control and dangerous as “hurry sickness.” It has been characterized as a continual rushing with anxiousness, a familiar malaise in which the person feels short of time and performs tasks faster while getting flustered when encountering any sort of delay. The cardiologist Dr. Meyer Friedman defined hurry sickness as, “A continuous struggle and unremitting attempt to accomplish or achieve more and more things or participate in more and more events in less and less time.” He noticed that those who are chronically angry and in a hurry are prone to heart attacks and display a “harrying sense of time urgency.” Symptomatic concerns of hurry sickness can include: irritability, hypersensitivity, restlessness, workaholism, emotional numbness, out-of-order prioritization, isolation, lack of self-care to the body, escapist behaviors (typically in the form of addictions), and less self-discipline and emotional energy invested in activities that promote rest and can be life-giving for the soul. 

During these more intense periods of hurry sickness, the soul will not experience being awake, rested, alert, and ready to take on the next day. An emotional crash is typically part of the experience. Busyness and digital distraction are part of its endless loop. Thomas Merton observed that “the rush and pressure of modern life is a pervasive form of contemporary violence.” Living hurried has been an ongoing threat to emotional health as well as a killer of relationships. Some indicate hurry as a sociopathic predator that has been loose in contemporary society. It destroys the quality of thoughtful work, creative enterprises, generous giving of resources, family dynamics, marital circumstances, and other values. Many note that the modern world is a virtual conspiracy against the interior life. Attention and awareness are the scarcest resources that hurry cannot establish. Hurrying through our current digital environment and living within a breakneck speed can cause attention and awareness to become stillborn and underdeveloped. 

Here are strategies to implement when needing to slow down from hurry sickness: 

  • Pursue activities that intentionally cause you to experience a contemplative state as gardening, hiking, painting, joining a book club, and other hobbies that slow your inner pace and rediscover the contentment of non-achievement. 
  • Wage war against the inner critic that keeps telling you of the “shoulds” and “oughts” that need to be done for accomplishment and productivity. Recognize when you overburden yourself to an unnecessary amount and add pressure that is not needed. 
  • Find balance between having more structure to minimize choices and having more structure to promote a feeling of restriction. Choice overload can be a very alarming reality in light of hurry sickness, and creating a routine and evading overthinking can be altogether beneficial. 
  • Practice letting go of various opportunities that come and haphazardly promote an inner disposition toward being frazzled. 
  • Develop a routine in mindfulness practices. Slowing down can lower blood pressure, enhance the capacity for effective decision-making, increase inner clarity, and restore emotional equilibrium. 

Life can become more enjoyable and freer when we learn to live unhurried. Recovery of a more slower and human pace of life takes deliberation and can prevent us from being robbed of the gift of the present. Tempo giusto, what the musical community terms as the “right speed,” in the exact time will be a required characteristic of an unhurried life. In the shadow of this pandemic, we are invited to learn how to strategically access a slower inner pace amid a culture of speed.

Life can become more enjoyable and freer when we learn to live unhurried.

By Deepak Santhiraj, Licensed Clinical Social Worker

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