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4 Ways Modern Life Is Messing With Your Brain and Body

How modern life isn't exactly aligned with the way you’re really wired.

Deborah L. Davis
Source: Deborah L. Davis

Modern life can be rich and full. And with all the advantages we enjoy, you'd think life would be, well, more enjoyable. But instead, most of us feel busier than ever, our bodies are more out of shape than ever, and our brains are more frazzled than ever.

What gives?

Compared to just 100 years ago:

Modern transportation can get us places in a mere hour that would’ve been a grueling week-long journey.
Modern communication keeps us instantly in touch over vast distances.
Modern convenience means that daily, we might spend an hour or two on housekeeping, instead of the entire day.
Modern energy means that our homes are well-powered and plumbed, instead of cold in winter, hot in summer, dark at night, and water far away.

This sounds fabulous, but actually, it’s messing with us. We simply aren’t meant to live this fast or go that far with so little effort and so bereft of direct social interaction!

Deborah L. Davis
Source: Deborah L. Davis

The Disconnect

The bottom line is that all this modern living actually disconnects us from our bodies, our senses, our circadian rhythms, our loved ones, nature and its resources and seasons. This disconnect is a major source of our stress and dissatisfaction. Here’s how that happens.

Transportation: We are meant to move across the land at a pace that keeps us connected to the terrain, vegetation, and wildlife, rather than zooming around inside metal boxes. We’re missing out on moving our bodies, we’re cut off from nature, and jet lag messes with our circadian rhythms and our sense of time.

Communication: We are meant to be connected to each other by warm face-to-face interactions rather than reaching through a cold phone or computer screen. We’re missing out on infusions of feel-good hormones like oxytocin, which are gained by touch, eye contact, and the clarity offered by in-person interaction. “Reach out and touch someone” needs to be literal instead of a phone company slogan.

Conveniences: We are meant to gather and prepare our food. We're meant to be connected to the labor of keeping our bodies, property, and possessions fed, clean, and tidy, rather than considering these activities a waste of time. Now, we’re missing out on the stimulation, exercise, and handwork of food prep and tidying up. We don’t enjoy the simple satisfactions of savoring and appreciating each morsel, lingering around the hearth with loved ones, and using our bodies in meaningful ways. Instead we burden our bodies with processed, fast foods and sedentary indoor lifestyles—including, ironically, injuries from ill-advised gym workouts.

Deborah L. Davis
Source: Deborah L. Davis

Energy: We are meant to gather our water and fuel, staying connected to the earthly source of these valuable resources and the labor it takes to harvest them. Now, we tend to wastefully take them for granted. With many thermostats set to 72 in winter and 65 in summer (shouldn’t it be the opposite?), we’re missing out on the health advantages of inhabiting spaces that are closer to the outdoor temperature. Electric lights disrupt our natural sleep cycles. And while we definitely benefit from clean water, we don’t need to let the water run while we brush our teeth and we don’t need 10 minute, soapy showers, which harms the microbiome on our skin. And when we insist on green, manicured lawns, we disconnect ourselves from local habitats and vegetation, and pollute our world with chemical fertilizers and gasoline powered mowers.

Modern life isn’t all bad, and it's certainly aligned with our nature to strive for improvement. But we've been robbed of what nourishes us. So how can we reap the benefits without paying the price of stressed bodies and busy brains?

Adopt habits of daily living that support the way you're wired, so you can thrive.

In short, do what truly calms your brain (sleep!), nourishes your body (move it everyday and feed it nutritious foods), connects you to loved ones (eye contact and touch), and practice gratitude for the amazing life you lead. My next post will outline these habits of daily living.