All of the advances in our society in the last 50 years have come at a heavy price to our psychological wellbeing. We have so many choices: what to do, where to go, what kind of running shoes, what to learn, what to eat, and on and on. The technological advances that have occurred since the middle of the last century have been staggering, but have also brought a bevy of other issues with them. How much time do we spend on our phones or our computers or our other devices? When is it appropriate to let children start using a cell phone? How do we monitor the content on our home computers? What toll does being constantly available to everyone and anyone take on the quality of our relationships, our work life, and our family life? No wonder we feel overwhelmed and stressed!
Modern conveniences are wonderful, of course. The joys of central plumbing, heat, air conditioning, and automatic transmissions cannot be overstated. On the other hand, when things that are supposed to make our lives easier create additional stress in our lives, something is way out of balance. For example, has your spouse or one of your children ever said to you, “Please put that down. I want your full attention.”? Have you ever had to say something along those lines to a member of your family? I imagine most of us could come up with several examples where an obsession with a particular device or fad has gotten in the way of authentic relationships and dealing with life.
Do we really need 80 different brands and types of running shoes? Is it necessary for the advancement of civilization that we have the choice of over 100 kinds of breakfast cereal? And do we really need a cell phone, a laptop, an iPad, and an iPod Touch? There is an awful lot of duplication in all of those devices. Wouldn’t one – OK, maybe two, tops – be enough? Let’s take a practical look at how we might lower our stress levels by implementing a few simple rules.
If you are the grocery shopper of your family, don’t make your life complicated by buying four different types of cereal (or lunch meat or laundry detergent or whatever). Trying to keep track of everyone’s favorites can be exhausting, and buying all of those things gets very expensive. Select the favorite du jour and buy that. Once that item has been consumed or needs to be replaced, you can get a different favorite. Family members may grouse a bit in the beginning, but they will get used to the change. After a while, the change may not even be noticeable anymore.
Give yourself and your family limited choices. Rather than asking, “What would you like to do this Saturday?” try asking, “Would you rather go to the movies or to go bowling Saturday afternoon?” The difference is you are limiting the universe of choices to something much more manageable than the whole array of options available. If someone complains, “I don’t want to do that,” simply suggest that their preference be included in next week’s “menu” of activities. The idea here is not to be cruel or mean-spirited; rather, it is meant to simplify the decision making process.
Place some limits on technology use. You most likely wouldn’t pet your dog 12 hours a day, or whenever he wanted some affection from you. The same notion applies to our electronics. Except in extremely rare circumstances, no one really needs to be connected to a device 16 hours per day. Generally speaking, put a curfew on device use – perhaps, say, not after 9:00 pm. A couple of other restrictions might also be useful: No phones, computers, iPads, etc. at family meals. No electronic game playing until after all responsibilities have been met (homework done, garbage taken out, dishes done, etc.) Only one or two hours of video game or television per day during the week. If there is extra time in the evening, perhaps a friendly family game of cards or Monopoly could help fill the time gap. And, perhaps, we might even relearn the art of conversation with each other.
Try some of these ideas over the next few weeks and see if there is an improvement in your overall stress level and relationships at home. Don’t try everything at once – that would be too much at one time. But, by making small, seemingly insignificant changes over time, we all might learn that simplifying our lives really can make a world of difference in our emotional lives.