Rushing frantically--too much to do, too little time. Driven by demanding schedules and deadlines, our bodies respond with alarm. Hearts racing, we feel like we’re fleeing from some dangerous predator. And we are. Our fast-paced lives just may be our nation’s greatest health risk.
You know that adrenaline rush when you’re running late. Rushing throws your body into the classic stress reaction: fight or flight. Your digestive and immune systems shut down, muscles tense, heart races. Epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol churn through your system, preparing you for an immediate threat to survival. But most daily stresses can’t be resolved by fight or flight.
So the stress reaction becomes chronic, taking a toll on our bodies. Meditation teacher Eknath Easwaran called it “the hurry sickness” (Easwaran, 2008, 98). Chronic stress causes back, shoulder, and neck pain, headaches, and insomnia as well as asthma attacks, gastrointestinal upset, memory lapses, skin problems, chronic inflammatory response and insulin resistance. Losing our emotional balance, we become impatient and irritable; relationships and job performance suffer. We can experience clinical depression and anxiety. And long-term stress is associated with serious disease--hypertension, heart disease, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancer, and dementia (see Lehrer, Woolfolk, & Sime, 2007).
Look around you at the walking wounded: anxious, exhausted, sleep deprived. “Are you crazy busy?” I recently heard one campus administrator ask another with a laugh. But the hurry sickness is no laughing matter.
Causes of this sickness are many—the escalating pace of modern life, technology, the myth of multitasking, economic pressures, corporate greed and downsizing, when mindless managers tell exhausted employees to “do more with less.”
Stopping this epidemic could boost our nation’s economy, resulting in fewer costly mistakes and miscommunications, greater creativity and innovation, and dramatically reversing escalating health care costs. Healing the hurry sickness would bring us all greater health, serenity, and personal balance.
So how can we heal the hurry sickness? Let’s share strategies. What do you do to get out of the speed trap and into a healthier life?
Easwaran, E. (2008). Passage meditation. Tomales, CA: Nilgiri Press.
Lehrer, P. M., Woolfolk, R. L., Sime, W. E. (2007). Principles and Practices of Stress Management (3rd ed.). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
Diane Dreher is a best-selling author, positive psychology coach, and professor at Santa Clara University. Her latest book, about living with greater power and purpose, is Your Personal Renaissance: 12 Steps to Finding Your Life’s True Calling.
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