The joke goes that a lady boarded the Tube and was offered a seat by a courteous man. “No thank you!” she said curtly. “I have no time to sit!” She got off, 20 minutes later, at the same stop as the man who had offered her his seat.
Though it’s an old one, this little tale is as an example of how stress and feeling overwhelmed can mitigate common sense. It is usual for us, these days, to have super-packed days and to feel overwhelmed by all we are supposed to do, or at least how much we think we are supposed to do. Individual differences apart, there are several factors that contribute and build to this state of mind. Identifying them more clearly, may help us make more conscious decisions.
Never before, in the recorded history of humankind, have we known of external technology that can connect us so quickly to all and sundry, for both better and worse. Over and over again, we are told that speed is good. First it was 2G, then 3G, now 4G, with 5G in the making.
Gandhi, as a seer-philosopher, warned against this trend in general, which he thought might swirl out of control in the future. “There is more to life than increasing its speed,” he said. “Speed is irrelevant if you’re going in the wrong direction,” he warned.
While speed may be just a facility, what is making us most anxious is the fear of missing out. In a well-recognised strategy, companies, which have products to sell build on our fear of missing out. So, we may buy these products to feel less inadequate. We give our 10-year-olds smartphones, so that they don’t “miss out” on what is happening in and to the world. What it does to their mind-brain-psyche is stuff we are just about beginning to deal with.
On the fear of missing out, in the recent film, The Circle, scripted around a giant tech company, the young protagonist is asked why she wasn’t on campus over the weekend. “Was there work?” the young girl asks, dismayed. “Oh no!” say her two supervisors. “Of course it’s not mandatory, but you’ve missed out on all the activity that we did here. You have 8,000 messages on your social circuit to read, to catch up on. The point is to stay connected. And remember, it’s all for fun!”
State of mind
Feeling overwhelmed is a state of mind that can feed on itself. Here’s a probable trajectory. Stress often starts from feeling tired or hungry. Because we are not up to it, from lack of sleep and rest or not eating on time, the work we need to do seems like a burden. In a short span of time, this burden increases in the mind, because, once stressed, the mind has a tendency to think of all that one has to do—in the day ahead, in the week or the month ahead, and sometimes, even in one’s whole life ahead. We envisage everything, together, and drive ourselves round the bend in our minds.
The trick to break out is this: First decide that it is okay to be uncool. It is okay not to have the latest smartphone or app; it is okay not to be signed into social media every hour of the day. Now, it helps to do what needs immediate attention at work or home, this day, this moment, to start with. Everything else can wait. Including the inane chats on WhatsApp.