Can you relate to the following description? It’s been a long, fast-paced, and stressful day and you’re exhausted. It’s bedtime and you want to go to sleep, but your mind is racing, thinking of all the things on your to-do list for tomorrow. You scroll through social media in order to wind down, but it leaves you feeling even more agitated. You’re exhausted (tired) and overstimulated (wired) all at once: you’re t’wired!
In my psychology practice, my clients— tweens, teens, and adults— describe their “t’wiredness” every day. So, why are we so t’wired? First, our culture tells us that productivity and achievement equals success: we should be going, doing, and achieving ‘round the clock. We should be making money, earning stellar grades, exercising daily, keeping our house “Pinterest-worthy,” and parenting our kids perfectly. Naps are for the lazy! So, day in and day out, we push ourselves to the limit physically, mentally, and emotionally. We’re TIRED.
The second contributor to the “t’wired” epidemic is that we’re a plugged-in, over-caffeinated, overstimulated culture. This state of hyper-arousal is fueled by technology (Email! Facebook! Instagram! Text messages! Netflix!) and sustained by repetitive anxious thoughts (Did that email sound okay? Why can’t I afford a vacation like the one that Chris shared on Facebook? Why didn’t Jay text me back?). No wonder we can’t get a good night’s sleep! We’re WIRED.
From a physiological perspective, this combination of physical exhaustion and mental overstimulation causes the following: racing brain waves, increased heart rate, overheated core body temperature, and hormonal disruption. If the pattern is not broken, we can be left with insomnia, severe anxiety, depression, and other mental and physical health challenges.
So how do we break the pattern? Genuine rest is the key. Genuine rest involves intentionally cultivating a state of physical and mental peace. What does that look like in practice? Here are some specific strategies:
Give yourself a digital detox
- On average, Americans check their phones 96 times per day. That’s approximately once every ten minutes! Make a conscious decision to check your devices only at certain points in the day, such as on the hour, or at mealtimes. While this might feel very challenging at first (your brain craves that shot of Dopamine from Facebook “likes!”), you will quickly notice that you feel more calm and focused.
- Take a break from your electronic devices for one full day each week—or even all weekend! When you’re not distracted by the constant buzzes, beeps, and vibrations, you can reclaim your time and spend your energy on what really matters— your relationships, meaningful activities, and your spiritual life. You’ll quickly be shocked at how much these devices have been (a) distracting you and (b) robbing you of meaningful experiences.
Practice conscious relaxation
Conscious relaxation practices are truly the antidote to t’wiredness. They relieve stress, reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, promote quality sleep, and are associated with improved overall well-being. Specific examples of conscious relaxation strategies include:
- Taking a walk in nature (or simply sitting!) and mindfully noticing your surroundings.
- Doing a progressive muscle relaxation exercise. Progressive muscle relaxation involves gently tensing and releasing the major muscle groups. It’s incredibly relaxing! Guided practices can easily be found online and via various apps.
- Doing a guided meditation or imagery exercise. These practices give us a break from the “noise” of the outside world. Meditation allows us to tune into our five senses, while imagery takes us somewhere else (like the beach!) in our minds. Guided meditations and imagery exercises can also be found easily online and via various apps.
- Simply breathe. Sit comfortably and take a few moments to simply notice your breath. Feel it moving in and out, rhythmically. Place your hands on your belly and feel it rising and falling.
- Pray. Find a comfortable, quiet place and spend time in prayer. Reciting a favorite, calming verse or prayer can promote feelings of peace (e.g., The Lord’s Prayer, The Apostles’ Creed, Psalm 23).
Journaling is another great antidote to t’wiredness. Turn off all of your devices, find a comfortable spot, and take a few minutes to put all of your thoughts and feelings down on paper. Recent research has shown that this simple practice reduces activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for controlling the intensity of emotions. Journaling also allows us to “sort out” our experiences and emotions, promoting a sense of clarity and control.
The world isn’t going to slow down anytime soon— but we can! I genuinely hope that these calming practices bring you rest, peace, and renewal.