Slow Down: How Our Fast-Paced World Is Making Us Sick
Not so very long ago, humans — like the rest of the animals and plants on earth — moved through our natural cycles at nature’s pace. Time was marked by the passing of the seasons, the life cycles of human, animal and plant life and the yet grander cycles of the moon and the other celestial bodies.
Homo sapiens, a late-appearing species in the long history of our unimaginably ancient planet and universe, evolved during the recent (as the universe views these things!) Pleistocene era, adapted for a life intimately connected with and expressive of our natural surroundings on the African savannah and beyond.
And this is how we lived for millennia.
In the last 150 years, however, the human relationship with time has radically changed. Some say the problems started earlier, with the development of agriculture or writing, but it was really the Industrial Revolution — the rise of the Machine — that put humans in thrall to mechanical processes and machine time. And the recent exponential speeding up into Cybertime has accelerated the process still further. Industrial time was bad enough (Charlie Chaplin did a wonderful job of visualizing that “cog in the wheel” feeling in his film “Modern Times”) but Cybertime can be dizzyingly discombobulating for a Pleistocene primate.
And that’s how many modern people feel — completely frazzled and out of synch with our deepest selves.
The results of this disconnection from nature and nature’s pace show up in therapists’ and doctors’ offices every day. Living under unnatural time pressures causes a myriad of psychological, social and physical ailments. Delinked from the natural rhythms of our bodies and the rest of the planet, we struggle with diminishing success to adapt to the strange mechanical and disembodied world we have created.
As a practicing psychotherapist and ecotherapist, when I see patients who are suffering from depression or anxiety I ask them to keep a time-journal in which they record the hours and minutes spent each day outside, as well as the hours spent inside in front of a screen. My clients are often shocked to realize how disassociated they have become from nature and our species’ natural ways of living, and the effect this disconnection is having on their psyche. In fact, a 2007 study from the University of Essex shows that a daily “dose” of walking outside in nature can be as effective at treating mild to moderate depression as expensive antidepressant medications that can sometimes have negative side-effects.
Time poverty is now a recognized psychological and social stressor. In a speeded-up, highly complex society, there just isn’t enough time for everything: our demanding jobs, our interlocking bureaucratic responsibilities (taxes, insurance, legal issues), our loved one, kids, our community (including the rest of nature), plus commuting and keeping up with traditional media and endless 24/7 online communications. Constantly rushing to keep up as we inevitably fall further behind, we find ourselves destroying not only our own health, but our habitat and the habitat of the people, plants and animals with whom we share the planet.