Anna Badkhen in Guernica:
Scientists say busy minds make us sad and less alert. This holds true for me. What causes my cognitive overload is probably what causes yours: deadlines, ambitions, chores, parenting worries, and how all of these often seem impossible to juggle. When my mind is crowded in this way I fail to notice the beauty that nurtures it. A cardinal’s enchanted scarlet flight on a monochrome winter run in Philadelphia. The hollow flutter of a moth wrestling out of a cage of agave. The unfathomable embrace of the universe that accommodates tigerfish teeth and the electromagnetic song of the comet 67P both. A friend’s kindness. I grow too hard-pressed to be astonished by the ineffable in the world, my well-being withers, and I become terribly blue, sometimes for days, for weeks.
Mental health scholars and practitioners in industrialized countries have come to identify overachieving work ethics, the 24-hour news cycle, our pandemic connectedness, our desire for instant gratification, and our growing practice of multitasking as the main sources of cognitive pressure. They say it is a side effect of modernity and link it to an array of emotional and somatic disorders: ulcers, migraines, hypertension, heart disease, anxiety, clinical depression. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise that “the nature of work is changing at whirlwind speed,” and that “now more than ever before, job stress poses a threat to the health of workers.” The extent to which fast-paced lives jeopardize our mental hygiene has become a kind of present-day platitude, a Gospel of Rushed Living. Carl Honoré’s book In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed is an international bestseller. We live, according to Honoré, in a world that is “time-sick.”