Welcome to my latest blog post on mindfulness, and the relationship between technology and stress.
When I was 17 years old, my dad insured me on the family Citroën C5 and taught me how to drive from scratch. He bravely occupied the passenger seat while I took control of the car for the first time, stuttering around Perth College car park and the deserted roads of the local industrial estate.
My dad displayed almost infinite patience as we moved out on to the open roads of Perth, with me gradually mastering my gears, hill starts and building up my experience behind the wheel. There were a few meltdowns along the way but, on the whole, I look back on those months with great fondness. My dad has been instilling his values in me since the day I was born, and that process continued when he taught me how to drive. Consideration. Efficiency. Sticking to the rules.
Tailgating is one of my pet hates. I always drive at an appropriate speed for the road conditions and observe the speed limit. I find it infuriating when I’m doing 30mph in a residential area and, all of a sudden, there’s a car bearing down on me; so close that I can’t even see the number plate in my rear-view mirror. I’ll switch on my hazard warning lights for a few moments and, if the driver behind doesn’t have the courtesy to drop back, then I’ll make my point by lifting my foot off the gas. Since when did life get so busy that people think they can justify speeding past a primary school?
I consider myself lucky that the digital revolution happened after my childhood. My parents read bedtime stories to me from books. I owned beautifully illustrated encyclopedias. I experienced the joy of owning a typewriter; the keys clattering and the bell pinging when I reached the end of a line. Bullying was endured in school, not cyberspace. I played safely in the streets and green spaces near my home. I survived my teens without a mobile phone welded to my hand. The family computer and games console were used in moderation and we explored the great outdoors without documenting our every move on social media.
Technology and stress
Don’t get me wrong. I love the convenience of having the world at my fingertips, being able to communicate with my brother in China, and having more than four channels to choose from on TV! But, don’t you think that, despite being convenient, technology has added to our stress levels? The dreaded ‘blue screen of death’ on my laptop induces temporary heart failure. I feel mildly irritated when my Fitbit won’t sync with my phone or when the memory card on my dashcam reads full. A few months ago, I lost the plot when our internet router died when I had a deadline to meet.
The 1990s exist in my mind like some sort of golden age. Life was so much simpler then. The digital revolution struck when I was finishing secondary school and preparing to begin university; around the time my dad was teaching me how to drive. I had to get to grips with new vocabulary as well as multi-tasking behind the wheel. Email. Modem. ‘BlackBerry’ with a capital letter in the middle. Life seemed to pick up pace, and not just because I was able to drive faster than a bus.
“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated”Confucius
My inbox has become something of a pet hate in recent months. I don’t want my laptop or phone beeping at me at all hours of the day and night. What happened to traditional working hours? I felt a bit swamped in October and November, delighted to have a good amount of commercial photography work on the books but struggling to retain a work-life balance.
Deciding enough was enough, my husband and I took a couple of days off work together and enjoyed trips to Elgin and Grantown-on-Spey. We explored some of my old haunts and searched for the headspace I enjoyed on childhood summer holidays in these locations.
A day off certainly helps to restore my sanity, but the downside is the emails piling up, even with the automatic ‘out of office’ reply turned on. Switching off the laptop is one thing, but switching my brain off is another challenge altogether.
The final straw came last month when a bunch of unwelcome email reminders crashed into my inbox. I often find myself unable to get near the task at hand due to unnecessary email clutter. I narrowly avoided a Basil Fawlty-esque meltdown and, in that moment, it struck me that I need to respond to the email tailgaters in the same way that I respond to the ones on the road; by switching on the warning lights in my head (the hazard being stress) and slowing down.
Although I’m grateful for every opportunity that comes my way, there is still a work-life balance to be struck. I’m the boss; the master of my own destiny. Unnecessary stress isn’t part of my game plan. I’ll continue to respond to high priority emails when they land in my inbox but I’ll read and respond to the rest at my convenience.
I was alarmed to read recently that the average person checks their mobile phone 85 times a day. What a waste of time! Life is short. It’s not easy but I’m gradually mastering the art of choosing the silent mode and physically turning the phone over to hide the screen and avoid distractions.
Since writing a first draft of this post a month ago, I’ve received the devastating news that my dad’s cancer has returned. Despite only finishing chemotherapy in August, his brain tumour has grown again, further adversely affecting his speech and mobility, and preventing him from driving, among many other things.
The disturbing sense of role reversal seems complete when I jump in the driver’s seat of my parents’ car and bring them home from hospital, or push my dad around in a wheelchair. My dad is currently going through radiotherapy but, ultimately, there is no cure for a primary CNS (central nervous system) lymphoma and my family must start to prepare itself for a future that I didn’t expect to face for another twenty years.
Life is less stressful at a slower pace, with the ability to look in the rear-view mirror to see how far you’ve traveled and with time to absorb the way ahead. I’m on a pretty bumpy road just now and feel woefully ill-prepared for the journey. I’ve reached a crossroads and, although I have no control over the final destination, I can decide what route I take to get there. I’m mapping the way forward with a combination of quality time by myself and with loved ones, mindfulness and escape. I’m hoping that will keep me on track.
“Life’s like a road that you travel on;‘Life is a Highway’ by Tom Cochrane
When there’s one day here and the next day gone;
Sometimes you bend, sometimes you stand;
Sometimes you turn your back to the wind;
There’s a world outside every darkened door;
Where blues won’t haunt you anymore”
The long haul
I’m going to need a vast amount of headspace in the weeks, months and years to come. Space in which to breathe and process my thoughts and emotions. Time to reflect.
When my brain is racing at 100mph and the stress is becoming too much, I need to move out of the fast lane and do an emergency stop. In recent years I’ve set myself the goal of enjoying every day. That’s not achievable at the moment but I still believe that the deep contentedness I used to feel can be found again in the future, but it might be a long haul before I get there.
Until then, I can still search for moments of joy in every day. A robin at the bird feeder. A hot cup of coffee enjoyed in front of the wood-burning stove. A beautiful sunset. Christmas with my family.
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I’m sorry to hear your Dad’s prognosis. I was reading your post with pleasure, but also the anticipation of bad news. I hope your family finds sources of strength and comfort in the time ahead. Kia Kaha.
Thank you so much Su. My dad is still in a bad way but is showing small signs of improvement, so things should get a bit better. I feel that I’ve started to accept everything that’s happened and I’m feeling a lot better for it; living in the moment more easily and finding some headspace. I’m looking forward to catching up on your blog soon to see what you’ve been up to. 🙂
You are right we all need to slow down and enjoyed the pleasures of life, and family is so important. By being together you will gather the strenght you need to face the uncertainty of the future.
A life-changing event certainly puts things into perspective. I feel I’ve turned a corner since Christmas and am finding it easier to make the most of the here and now, feel less worried about the future, and mourn a little less for the past. Thanks so much for your kind words. I’m looking forward to catching up on your blog soon. 🙂
Really sorry to read the latter part of your post, Karen. Sending warm thoughts to you and your family.
Thank you so much Anabel. My dad is showing some small signs of improvement so it looks as though the radiotherapy is starting to do its job. I will be sure to catch up on your blog soon; looking forward to reading about what you’ve been up to. 🙂
I’m glad to hear that.
I do know your feelings, Karen. I went through a similar trajectory with my father when I was 45 in 1995. I kept my daily comings and goings under check by avoiding the inevitable until a nurse and doctor delivered, point blank, the well…the inevitable. I cried all night and never fully believed that my dad was on his way out. I kept my fears and sadnesses on the back burner until almost the last two weeks of my dad’s life. I have no regrets for this behavior. I kept hoping and praying for a change of direction.
My dad was not ready to leave. He had much to do. These circumstances pull at every fiber we have. I found no easy answers. Now that my dad has been gone over 25 years, I still return to my precious memories of him. Those memories are what now create a warmth and a meaning as I go through my life today.
I wish you comfort in this difficult period.
You are right to focus on the present moment which is all we have!
Hi Cheri. Aw, I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve been through a similar experience. I’m sure that, even 25 years on, it will still pull at your heartstrings. I hate the thought of life without my dad but I know that I’ll treasure my memories forever and that he’ll always be with me, in my head and my heart. Things have gotten a bit easier since Christmas and I’m finding it easier to just enjoy the present moment. Thanks so much for your kind words. I’ll be dropping by your blog soon to see what you’ve been up to. How’s the painting coming on?
So sad to hear about your father. You write so lovingly and appreciatively of him, and that photo of him riding along with you on the back of the bike says so much about the life lived, and now reversing. Good luck maintiningbthe moments of joy as you go through dark places. You have a real knack for finding song-words to express the occasion.
Thank you Meg. I’ve always loved my parents deeply but this whole experience has made me aware of the true depth of those emotions. Thankfully things are a little better than they were before Christmas. It’s still tough but the passing of time is helping us all to cope a bit better.
I’m feeling a bit out of touch so am looking forward to catching up on your blog! 🙂