A friend of mine started feeling on edge all the time. His nerves frazzled he told his wife that he thought he needed to start drinking some tea before bed to get some sleep. This surprised her since he had never needed something like this before. She also noticed that when he was playing a particular game on his phone, he seemed awfully intense about it and mentioned that maybe it was the game that was making him feel on edge. So he stopped playing for a while and realized he no longer needed any help calming down at the end of the day.
Sometimes the things we do to relax evoke the opposite feeling, often times without us even being aware. Next time you’re watching television, count how long the camera holds a particular perspective before they cut to a new one. Often it’s little more than a second. When they do this, it causes our brains to enter a mode when we are reorienting which rivets our attention. The result is that even though we think television is relaxing, it can often be taxing on the very system we are trying to give a break to. Worse, we don’t even realize this is happening leading us to want to watch even more television because we feel so tired.
Similarly, video games can create an intense feeling of flow because they can match the challenge of the game with our skill level. This makes them incredibly engaging, but this flow comes cheap. We don’t have to work hard to find ourselves distracted by the game, and when the game’s over, we have nothing to show for it. As a result, we may find ourselves once again lured by the distraction that feels real, rather than recognizing its true nature.
I’ve gotten trapped in this downward spiral from time to time. Sometimes I’m feeling like I want to escape by killing just a couple more dragons, but also know that no matter how many I kill it won’t satisfy my desire for accomplishment. If I detect it, I instead decide to take a week off dragon slaying and spend my down time doing other things – getting a side project done, reading a book, learning something new. Almost immediately, the need to escape decreases. Even though it’s harder to get started, the projects end up being more rewarding and satisfying. Don’t get me wrong, I still love to play a few video games which provide a sense of accomplishment where so much of my work lacks immediate feedback, but I have to be careful about digesting the artificial thinking it’s real.
Next time we feel like we just need a break especially after we just took a break, maybe it’s time to reconsider what we’re doing to relax and reject the negative flow.