Too much stimulation leads to too much stress

You don’t have to answer every email sent your way or keep your iPhone ringer on 24/7

Special to The TribuneFebruary 12, 2014 

20110809 Tech addict


We’re all familiar with the clutter we find in our glove compartments and closets, but there’s a second kind of clutter that occurs in our thoughts that is equally disruptive to our lives.

This psychic chaos stems from a variety of causes. The first is excessive external stimulation. Seeing 20 unanswered emails every time we check our iPhones high alert. We think, “I need to take care of those when I have a free moment.” Tensions invariably mount. We feel pressured and overbooked.

Electronic media are a virtual petri dish of hyper-stimulation. Every tweet, Instagram or text clamors for attention and quickly hogs our emotional bandwidth. Sure, lots of screen time is required for work, but equal parts are devoted to pleasure. While it’s fun to hear about friends’ antics and see photos of your niece’s new baby, too much leads to internal anarchy.

How we think affects our mind-set, too. If we tell ourselves, “This is the worst outcome possible!” or, “I’ve always got too much to do!” then our brains go into overdrive. Thoughts start firing at breakneck speed. We’re immediately overwhelmed.

Certain mental conditions are well known for their chaotic thought processes. People with phobias have recurring, irrational fears about specific situations, such as flying or receiving injections.

Those with generalized anxiety disorder perennially fret about the next awful event on their horizon. Those with attention deficit disorder flit from one thought to the next and are easily distracted by external stimuli.

Whatever the source, the outcome is the same. Psychic chaos interferes with our ability to focus. We feel pulled in a hundred directions at once. Stress levels soar, and we feel chronically out of control. Insomnia is rampant; it’s impossible to turn the chaos off.

Fortunately, all clutter is similar, whether it’s on our desktop or in our brains. Recognizing its existence and clearing out the psychological trash makes room for what’s important: a calmer, saner life.


• Change your thought patterns. Tune in to your internal dialogue. Is it filled with high drama? Do you frequently make a bad situation seem even worse? Then consider different verbiage. Phrases such as “I’m going to be fine” and “that’s not my problem” help you relax and think more clearly.

• Leave your cellphone at home. You don’t need to be reachable 24/7. Plus it minimizes the temptation to update your status every 15 minutes. Take periodic breaks to reclaim a sense of balance.

• Cut down on emails. We all get too much email. Luckily, we can sort out which to keep and get rid of all the rest. Unsubscribe whenever you can. Send unwanted email to the junk folder. Better yet, be judicious about who gets your email address. Avert headaches before they start.

• Get control of screen time. Decide how often you check your email. Once or twice a day may be enough. Also, cease computer activity after 8 p.m. You need personal time for yourself and family. You’ll also have more time to wind down before going to bed.

• Disconnect from unnecessary electronics. Do you really need Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and texting? Make a conscious decision where to expend your energies. Leave Farmville and Words With Friends to someone else.

• Learn to meditate. Meditation is the simplest way to cleanse your mental palate. Start by sitting still with your eyes closed in a quiet place. Notice thoughts that arise. Don’t judge or try to control them. Focus attention on your breathing. Allow it to slow down. Practice this exercise for 15 minutes every day. You’ll be amazed how uncluttered you’ll feel.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit

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