“No Time to Think”- A Set Up for Physical and Emotional Problems

Recently, Kate Murphy wrote an article entitled “No Time to Think,” which appeared in the NY Times Sunday Review. The piece highlighted today’s trend for people to over-schedule and over-commit, allowing little time for self-reflection.

Many of us seem to be married to our handheld devices as we text walking down the street, bumping into people and, yes, even falling into fountains. What are the long-term implications of not allowing time to process our thoughts and experience our feelings?

Risks for Individuals, Couples and the Parenting Process
Individuals run the risk of becoming alienated from themselves, which can lead to an overall feeling that something is just not right. We can then become depressed and not know why. Thoughts and feelings have energy and without a direct outlet they will be expressed either through the body by way of physical maladies or displaced onto other experiences.

Have you ever noticed that you or someone you know had a very strong reaction to something rather benign? This is an example of someone expressing unwelcome repressed feelings from a past event. It takes an awful lot of energy to keep emotions from bubbling up. Over time, repressed energy can deplete your internal reserves and lead to depression. When undesirable feelings begin to emerge, we can experience anxiety and even panic. Anxiety is actually a signal that warns us that something from either an external event or from within ourselves may soon present itself.

When we become accustomed to this way of being, we are ripe to employ certain behaviors to suppress our feelings. The Irish playwright, Samuel Beckett, illustrates this through many of his characters. In his play, Waiting for Godot, we see how Vladimir and Estragon use gesture and language to allow them not to feel. That certainly had its consequences for Estragon, as he was plagued with chronic nightmares, which were perhaps tied to the abuse he experienced as a child. Beckett himself suffered from boils and other somatic afflictions. As Beckett points out, “… habit is a great deadener.”

Closing off your feelings also has implications for relationships. When your partner reaches out for you, you may be unequipped to offer emotional responsiveness, which can leave your significant other feeling that you are not available to meet his/her emotional needs. At times, your partner may feel lonelier with you than being alone with his/her self. The person is then more susceptible to making a connection with someone else who fulfills his/her emotional needs. This is what often leads to extramarital affairs. People long to be understood and known, yet are fearful that if they let others really get to know them, they will feel naked and exposed.

Not acknowledging our feelings can also have implications when parenting children. Often, children are flooded with thoughts and feelings and need help managing a myriad of emotions. If your son comes home from school upset about an event in his day and you are not able to respond to his emotional needs, it sends the message that feelings are not acceptable and he must manage them on his own. Children need to know that their thoughts and feelings are welcome and that their parents will help them understand and express their emotions. With luck, they will come to be more connected with themselves and understand that their feelings can serve as a real navigational guide.

Give Yourself Time to Reflect
People are often very good at “doing,” but some have trouble just “being.” Take time away from your smartphone, texting and surfing the Internet. Engage in a little day dreaming, enabling thoughts and feelings to emerge. Go for a walk, sit in the park and look around you, and please leave your handheld device at home. You may find that introspection and contemplation will help you get more in touch with your creative self. At first, self-reflection may feel foreign, almost as if you are walking into a new country, not knowing the language or culture. While self-exploration, like traveling, is not always easy, it can, ultimately, be an enriching journey, offering insight into ourselves and others. Someone once said to me, “I don’t like to think about unpleasant experiences because they make me feel bad.” She finally came to understand that to obtain an overall sense of well-being, she had to allow herself to experience all her feelings so that they could eventually be integrated and worked through. This is what authentic living is all about.

NY Times article, No Time to Think

Author of above blog post: Susan Whedbee, LCSW, Psychoanalyst