‘Hurry Sickness’ and the Power of Slowing Down

4 min read

Career Trends: June 30, 2022
Curated by the Knowledge Team of ICS Career GPS

If our technologies are continually urging us to speed up, our minds and behaviours are likely to follow orders. 

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Life feels perpetually rushed, and much of that rushedness is intentional. We go fast so that we can get more done, because getting more done = being more productive, which of course we must all strive to be. Less isn’t more; more is more. The tortoise only beats the hare in fables. Or at least that seems to be the prevailing ethos.

Around the midpoint of the last century, medical researchers were interested in a phenomenon they termed “hurry sickness.” Some described it as “an aggressive and incessant struggle to achieve more and more in less and less time,” and they believed this contributed to heart problems and encouraged an unhealthy emotional state.

Friedrich Nietzsche, noting a change in his prose after he switched from a pen and paper to a faster typewriter — a new invention at the time — observed that “our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.”  If our technologies are continually urging us to speed up, our minds and behaviours are likely to follow orders. 

Some of modern life’s pace is also a byproduct of our favourite tools and toys.

Tech Development and ‘Hurry Sickness’

  • Typing and texting are inherently quick, and online reading encourages scanning, not immersion.
  • The internet knows we’re only stopping by for brief “checks,” not leisurely visits. And so it moves fast, encouraging us to keep up (and check back again soon).
  • If our technologies are continually urging us to speed up, our minds and behaviours are likely to follow orders.
  • Our thoughts race, we talk faster than usual, and feel almost twitchy with tension.
  • All of these are symptoms of increased activation of the sympathetic nervous system (a.k.a., the fight-or-flight system), which kicks into high gear during periods of stress.

Impact of Online Tasks on Nervous System

  • While there’s surprisingly little research on the effects of different online tasks on nervous system activity.
  • Research in the journal PLOS ONE has found an association between problem internet use and heightened sympathetic activation.
  • Chronic sympathetic activation (which is what happens when we’re chronically stressed) is associated with pretty much every malady that plagues modern humans.
  • Cancer, hypertension, obesity, immune dysfunction, insomnia, depression, and anxiety all become more likely when a person’s sympathetic nervous system is continually ramped up.

Being Fast vs Hurrying

  • Being fast is not necessarily a problem.
  • Exercise is often fast, and it’s associated with improved regulation of the sympathetic nervous system.
  • Instead, it’s hurrying that gets us into trouble.
  • You can move quickly without hurrying. But spending too much of your life in rush mode — when your brain and body are trying to go go go — seems like a unifying risk factor for mental, metabolic, vascular, and endocrine dysfunction.

Slowness, An Antidote

  • Pick an evidence-supported form of stress or relaxation therapy — meditation, mindfulness, yoga, tai chi, progressive muscle relaxation, gardening — and you’ll notice that slowness is a feature.
  • All of these activities promote reduced sympathetic activity and increased parasympathetic activity, which is often described as the “brake” on the body’s fight-or-flight response.
  • I don’t think we all need to take up yoga or meditation to capture these benefits (although both are great).
  • These practices have become so popular because they counteract the freneticism that has pervaded modern life.
  • An alternative remedy — easier said than done — is to go about your usual business at a calmer pace.

“Hurry sickness” long ago slipped out of the medical lexicon. It may be time to bring it back.

Have you checked out yesterday’s blog yet?

Simple & Effective Tips for Aspiring Filmmakers

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the article mentioned above are those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of ICS Career GPS or its staff.)

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