It's hardly the most dramatic complaint in the world, and it's true that compared with not having enough to eat or facing a serious illness, being "scattered" or "frazzled" isn't that terrible an issue. But these days among professional Americans, it is a really, really common problem.
"We now have a Western and especially American culture of busyness. If you're not busy, you must not be important. If you don't have a lot on your mind, you must be underperforming. If your kids aren't busy with homework and after-school activities, they won't get ahead. If you don't look busy, someone will ask you to work harder, etc.," writes neuropsychologist and author Rick Hanson in his latest Just One Thing newsletter.
More and more of us are feeling like our attention, energies, and selfhood are divided and out of our control. Not only is the feeling contagious (as we send each other messages at odd hours and egg each other on), Hanson points out, but over time it can leave us with the sense that we're missing out on our own lives or that the color has drained slightly out of the world. How do we fight back?
Hanson offers plenty of suggestions in his weekly happiness newsletter. Among them:
1. Savor pleasure
"As the brain evolved, pleasure and its underlying endorphins and other natural opioids developed to pull our ancestors out of disturbed fight-flight-freeze bursts of stress and return them to and keep them in a sustainable equilibrium of recover-replenish-repair. Let physical or mental pleasure really land; give yourself over to it fully rather than looking for the next thing," he writes. That's definitely not the most unpleasant homework assignment you've ever been given!
Hanson is hardly the first expert to promote the positive effects of regular exercise, but he is yet one more PhD to add to the growing list of those who do. And no, if you hate the gym, that isn't an excuse. "Dance, exercise, yoga, walks, lovemaking, play, and athletics reset the body-mind," he says.
3. Get wild
"We evolved in nature, and multiple studies are showing that natural settings--the beach, wilderness, sitting under a tree in your backyard--are restorative." Looking for more information on this research? Inc.com has you covered.
4. Enjoy art
Hard-nosed business leaders don't always prioritize the fluffy and aesthetic, but engaging in an artistic hobby, from listening to music or baking a cake to doing crafts or reading novels, has been shown to boost your empathy and improve your critical thinking and social skills. According to Hanson, it can also fight that frazzled feeling.
5. Get disenchanted
Don't recall your wicked stepmother cursing you with a poison apple? We might not live in a world with that sort of magic, but our always-on consumer culture can weave another kind of unhealthy spell.
"This means waking up from ... the enchantments woven by the wanting mind in concert with culture and commerce. We normally pursue hundreds of little goals each day--return this call, organize that event, produce these emails, get across those points--associated with presumed rewards produced by ancient brain centers to motivate our reptilian and mammalian ancestors. Let the truth land that these rewards are rarely as good as promised. Again and again I've had to remind myself to quit chasing the brass ring," Hanson writes. Instead, try to practice gratitude for what you already have and stay in the present moment.