What do Italian, Chaos and Compassion Have in Common?
I’ve always wanted to learn Italian. I LOVE that language. In fact, one night, while sitting on my couch live streaming an NFL game from the comfort of my own (German) apartment, I scrolled through my App Store, tapped on the app, paid with my PayPal app, and thirty seconds later I was practicing saying “Buongiorno” and quizzing myself on basic vocabulary involved in cooking pasta. I was well on my way to learning italiano, all within a matter of seconds.
“Can you speak Italian now?” you might ask. Well, here’s the thing. No. I got a notification every single day at 7pm. It had a nice cheery, Italian-sounding bell. And I ignored it. Every evening the bell sang, and I’d say, “OH! My Italian lesson that I never do is ready!” Eventually my kids started mocking me. The bell sounded, and THEY would jump ahead of me and say, “Oh! Mom’s Italian lesson that she never does is ready!” Oh, how they laughed, and laughed. I laughed with them, but a little something inside of me felt pressured, stressed, and quite frankly, like a big fat failure.
You see, I really wanted – and still want – to learn Italian. But I also wanted to see what my friends on Facebook were doing, read the news from the USA, UK, and Germany. I wanted to read up on the latest mindfulness science and maybe watch a couple of inspiring videos too. I needed to cook dinner for my family. I had to read and to respond to many emails for work, and WhatsApp with my friends, family and some clients too. I was so connected you couldn’t pull me apart from the world if you tried. It’s really hard to keep up with everything, isn’t it?
Do you sometimes feel like everything is completely out of control? Like, everything is going too fast and you almost feel dizzy by the tempo? It’s no wonder! We live in a digitally fast-paced world where we are bombarded with distraction upon distraction, overstimulation, fake news, social media, and what sometimes seems to be a machine-gun spouting of notifications from all angles.
Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that digitalization is a terrible thing. I don’t want to sound like an old lady lamenting the good old days, when we didn’t have color televisions, or light bulbs. There are indeed boundless rewards created by digitalization.
For example, more people are connected than ever before. The world has become very small! People in New Zealand can read about what’s going on in the local newspaper of Buxtehude, Germany. Different cultures are learning about each other in both word, sound and video, all in real-time. Imagined borders are dissolving.
We have access to every single recipe that was ever documented in the entire world. We can find our ancestors and even know what boat they were on when they emigrated to America! We can literally learn ANYTHING on the Internet. Any skill you want to learn, you can! How cool is that?
It’s stressful to feel like you have to keep up with everything. And let me be clear: This stress creates a fight or flight reaction in our minds and bodies. We are forced to react instead of responding. This sets off a stream of hormones in our bodies that, at first, mobilizes, provides energy, but then quickly starts to harm our physical – and mental - health.
When we’re stressed out, or in fight or flight mode, we are not able to access our executive functions as well. Executive functioning includes working memory, flexible thinking, regulation of emotions, and self-control. Our executive control function is involved in all kinds of skills that are essential to our success as human beings, for example:
Paying attention (for longer than a few seconds)
Organizing, planning, prioritizing
Starting tasks and staying focused on them to completion
Understanding different points of view
Self-monitoring (keeping track of what you’re doing)
These are just a few of the skills that are impaired by stress hormones and negatively affect our psychological health, our relationships, and our functioning as human beings within society. In fact, all of this overstimulation has another effect besides stressing us out and creating chaos in our minds.
It wears down our compassion.
When we see too much, it wears us down. Remember that little Syrian refugee boy who washed up on the shore? Remember how outraged the world was? Remember how we all looked on in horror at the global refugee crisis? Remember how we shared, liked and commented all over social media about it?
Yeah, when was the last time you thought about that? Sometime back in 2016?
When was the last time you contributed to a refugee fund somewhere? I’m not trying to make you feel guilty at all. In fact, it’s quite normal for our compassion to fade. You see, when we’re confronted with images or news about humanitarian crises, our first reaction is, well, humanitarian. We feel outrage, sympathy and compassion for those individuals or the impacted society. We want to join together in solidarity to help. But then that compassion and outrage is met with distress, fear, and anxiety brought on by our compassion, and brought on by the unrelenting images being thrown at us on social media and all the many news outlets. When we continue to see distressing images, but feel individually incapable of taking real action, our stress response goes from “fight” mode, to “flight” mode. We feel helpless, anxious and distressed, and thus, start to avoid the entire crisis entirely. We literally mentally and emotionally flee from it.
Thus, all of this connectedness is ironically DISCONNECTING us. You’d think a perceived “smaller world” would create a greater sense of common or shared humanity, when in fact it does the exact opposite.
So how can we finagle our way around in this new world (dis)order?
It is imperative to find our own center within the storm. We have to find our calm in the midst of the chaos. Finding our calm will recalibrate our inner compass. We will find our own sense of humanity and we will start to act on it. We will be less swayed by social media posts, and we will be acutely clear about our values at any given moment.
This clarity and focus will help us make decisions based on our own values, without being influenced by outside forces. We will be clear, focused, and centered. Not only will we be centered, but this sense of centeredness, in fact, makes us less reactive to stressors. We are less swayed by outside influences and less influenced by our own random thoughts. We are better able to respond instead of reacting to everything and anything. We need to have the ability to manage our attention in order to sift through all the nonsense.
With so much external stimulation and distraction, we need to find our center. With so much information and particularly contradicting information, it is crucial to be centered, grounded in our own values.
The good news is: There are techniques to find your calm, firmly rooted center. It takes regular practice, but science has shown these techniques to be effective in creating this internal change. These techniques and tools will help you find your center despite the chaos around you.
Interesting in finding out more? Contact me at www.mind-bar.de, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org