We need to learn to manage ‘choice overwhelm’

This is something that’s really been on my mind lately. Having many choices is very much a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s good to have options, but, on the other hand, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and over-stretched, never feeling like you have enough time for anything. I think some people are more prone to this than others.

It is often assumed that a benefit of the free market is having lots of choice. I’m sure it’s better than having no choice, but at times I do wish there was a bit less choice. I’ve often spent hours trying to find the best price or the best product, and it was tedious and exhausting. I felt, somehow, obliged to do it. If you enjoy shopping around, or, alternatively, don’t feel obliged to do it, I envy you!

A writer in the Economist seems to agree with me, saying “The explosion of available goods has only made time feel more crunched”. [1]

A gender thing?

Women seem to be more prone to this than men, as we find ourselves traipsing round all the shops to be sure we’re getting the absolute best deal on something, whereas men seem to find it a lot easier to just buy the first suitable item. I remember a journalist once saying the same difference applies to holiday booking. Of course, browsing and getting the best deal can be really enjoyable, if you like that kind of thing… But, if you don’t, how do you drop the habit?

Never enough time, and FOMO

And it’s not just shopping that can be plagued by choice overload. Our leisure time can often feel fraught as we struggle to juggle invites, events we want to attend, chores that need doing and hobbies we’re struggling to keep up with, not to mention exercise and spending time with friends and family. When did having lots of wonderful options turn into feeling like we never have enough time and always feeling like we’re missing out?

child-in-maze

The vast, messy, ever-present internet

Obviously, the internet has a lot to do with choice overload. It offers almost infinite resources including blogs, vlogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and news websites. I was wondering the other day whether teenagers are allowed to have their phones at school lunchtimes. Our hour-long lunchtimes seemed to last forever and were usually very boring; I feel like I could’ve had a better time online. Most often though, I reminisce about an era when people didn’t check their phones during our lunch date, an era when I seemed to spend a great deal of time enjoying the outdoors… It comes as no surprise that 60% (or more) of British 16−24-year-olds visit a social media site several times a day. [2] Ultimately, I think the internet is a good thing, but how can someone who used to read magazines from cover to cover get the most out of a great resource without feeling overwhelmed?

Netflix and such

The same issue can arise with things like Netflix: in the olden days, we had a choice of 4 channels and recording something to watch later was a bit of a pain. You went to a shop to hire videos. Now, we are faced with a huge choice of material, on demand. But we simply don’t have time to watch it all so, how to choose?

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Thanks to the internet, our leisure options now look a bit like this. (Photo of 7 doors from Pixabay)

The pain of prioritising

The obvious answer to the ‘too much choice’ problem is clear: prioritise. For years I somehow didn’t realise this was necessary, accepting invites in a first-come-first-served manner, planning my life with a scattergun approach, lacking any ‘white space’ to reflect on life or make decisions. At one point, I actually had to pencil in my diary a slot to make a decision on some big issue, because otherwise the time didn’t arise! Looking back on that time, I’m so glad that my life is now so much more spacious.

Prioritising has a big place in my life now: in my work and professional development, in my personal admin time and in my leisure time. I’m the kind of person who finds many things interesting, so prioritising is, frankly, often quite painful, especially when it means saying ‘no’ to something. Ultimately though, time is finite and I don’t want to be one of those people who is completely over-stretched, never really listening to anyone or having time to reflect on their relationships and lifestyle. So, I’ve chosen my key hobbies (three of them), I’ve narrowed down my areas of work, and I prioritise friends based on how much they seem to care about our friendship.

Other strategies to manage choice overload and overwhelm

I’m thinking aloud here. Feel free to help me in the comments section below! This is very much a work in progress for me.

  • Think about how you fill your time. Rank the activities, from ‘favourite’ to ‘not that keen on’. Can you cut anything out? I realised I don’t really enjoy eating out: now I only do it for special occasions like birthdays or when a friend suggests it. Can you increase your favourite things? Maybe you just need to suggest them more, and people will be as keen as you are.
  • Narrow down the apps and social media. Do you really need to be on them all? Decide which ones are of most benefit to you and your network, and bin off the rest.

daria-nepriakhina-unsplash-woman-looking-at-phone

One study shows that young adults use their smartphones roughly twice as much as they estimate that they do (an average of five hours a day). [3] Photo by Daria Nepriakhina (Unsplash)

  • See the bigger picture: It’s not all about you. When you prioritise, factor in the feelings of relevant people. And give yourself enough time to help a stranger on your way somewhere, or do something for a friend at the weekend. Life isn’t a hedonistic pleasure spree, even if advertisers want us to think it is.
  • Narrow down your hobbies to the two or three most important ones. Combine them with socialising if appropriate e.g. in art clubs, book groups, dance groups, Meetups etc.
  • Learn mindfulness and slow down. Give up the frantic pace and really get the most out of what you’re doing right now.
  • Accept that life is full of obstacles and other people’s inefficiencies. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do, so take a deep breath and let go. Don’t resent the ‘wasted time’ − it would only make you angry.
  • At the risk of losing email subscribers to this blog, I’m still going to say it: subscribe to only a select few things. 
  • Set limits: decide in advance how long you’ll spend looking for the best deals (or whatever it is you’re doing), or limit yourself to looking only at a certain number of websites, for example.
  • Whatever you do, don’t get emails and Facebook notifications popping up on your laptop or phone screen!
  • In your free time, try thinking ‘what do I actually feel like doing now?’ Learn to go with your instincts instead of following a habit to go on Netflix, Facebook or whatever. Maybe you’ll actually feel more like going for a walk, painting, calling a friend, baking a cake…. Don’t know about you, but too much time online makes me feel bug-eyed, zoned out and drained.
  • Keep some white space in your diary. 
  • Look for recommendations g. try the Good Garage guide if you need to choose a local garage and consider subscribing to Which?

Share your ideas and reflections below!

Related links:

http://liveyourlegend.net/the-art-of-slowing-down-12-simple-ways/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/turning-straw-gold/201109/4-tips-slowing-down-reduce-stress

http://bemorewithless.com/artofslow/

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/105969207/posts/274 When choices become clutter

 

References:

[1] http://www.economist.com/news/christmas-specials/21636612-time-poverty-problem-partly-perception-and-partly-distribution-why

[2] 2014/15 Department for Culture, Media and Sport https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/476095/Taking_Part_201415_Focus_on_Free_time_activities.pdf

[3] http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0139004

 

 

 

Chronic pain: an unrecognised taboo

On the whole, talking about the chronic pain I experience tends to be greeted with a resounding silence, and/or rapid change of the subject.

If you’d asked me ten years ago to name taboos in the UK, I’d have said things like ‘female masturbation’ and ‘being transgender’. Twenty years ago, I might have said ‘being homosexual’. Particularly in some circles, these things are still somewhat taboo, but much less than they were. Now I’d include chronic pain, but only because I live with it. If you don’t, you’re probably happily oblivious of the awkwardness around the topic.

The Cambridge UK dictionary defines ‘a taboo’ as ‘an action or word that is avoided for religious or social reasons’. Having suffered from chronic pain for several years now, I’ve only gradually become aware of how often I refrain from mentioning pain, and why. On the whole, talking about the chronic pain I experience tends to be greeted with a resounding silence, and/or rapid change of the subject. No doubt this is why I often avoid mentioning it, or mention it briefly and rapidly change the subject myself.

unsplash-jules-fuchy-man-alone-dark-sky
Living with chronic pain can be a lonely experience when it’s hard to talk about it.

Why the awkwardness?

Are people awkward about chronic pain because they don’t know what to say, like when someone’s parent has died? Or is it because they think you shouldn’t mention it; you should be pretending everything is fine? Hard to know really. Here are my thoughts on possible reasons why people react strangely to talk of pain:

  • Chronic pain, like death, old age and hospitals, is something most people prefer to ignore until forced to confront it. Discussion of these topics causes a sense of unease that people want to avoid.
  • People want to ‘save’ those with chronic pain from talking about something that seems very personal, so strive to change the topic.
  • People are worried about either sounding pitying or heartless, so say nothing or change the subject.
  • Actually, people are only a little awkward but the chronic pain sufferer is expecting awkwardness and that magnifies it in his/her mind.

There’s always the worry that silence means something negative like ‘you need to man up’, especially after actually receiving some rude and inconsiderate comments along these lines in the past.

Then there are other reasons why people with chronic pain don’t talk about it:

  • Fear of sounding like you’re complaining and fishing for sympathy.
  • The complexity of the subject, which can only really be covered fully by a long conversation.
  • Fear of sounding ‘soft’.

This article sums up brilliantly the many reasons why revealing a chronic pain condition can make a person feel very vulnerable: it can feel like you are in a no-win situation. But the less you say (or are able to say, before the topic is changed!), the more likely people are to jump to the wrong conclusions. The more you can explain, the more people are likely to gain understanding.

Why we all need to help end this taboo

The trouble with any taboo is that it creates repression and shame. People feel abnormal and are unable to obtain the benefits of discussing something important to them, such as compassion, getting useful suggestions, and that feeling of carrying a lighter load. And the subject of the taboo remains poorly understood, shrouded by prejudices. Estimates of those living with chronic pain vary, but it is undoubtable that the percentage is high: about 7.9 million people in the UK experience moderately or severely limiting chronic pain (between 10.4% and 14.3%) [1]. How many people do you know with chronic pain? Does it match these statistics? If it doesn’t, then maybe you know some people who are living in the silence of this taboo.

back-pain-pixabay
If chronic pain were visible, perhaps life would be easier for those living with it…

We Brits are well-known for a ‘grin and bear it’ attitude and for euphemisms. We say things like ‘things have been better’, when really we mean ‘things are terrible’. Is this helpful when it comes to chronic pain? Well, there’s certainly a need for much ‘patient endurance’, as chronic illness writer Toni Bernhard puts it. And sometimes we do smile, in spite of the pain, and we must. But we shouldn’t feel pressurised to pretend everything is fine if we feel unhappy. We shouldn’t feel unable to set boundaries, to pace ourselves, and to use mobility aids or other aids which ease our burden. Most importantly, we should feel ok about sharing this struggle, this massive part of who we are.

And with 69% of those with the severest level of pain experiencing anxiety or depression [2], improving the social conditions faced by these people should be a high priority. Feeling that pain is taboo isn’t going to lift anyone’s mood – quite the opposite.

hailey-keen-unsplash-woman-on-floor-in-agony
69% of those with the most severe pain experience anxiety and depression, which could be reduced if there were sympathetic listeners on hand!

How can we get there? If you live with chronic pain, try to start sharing when you can. And if you don’t live with chronic pain, be ready to listen, to show some sympathy, and to discuss this issue which has been pushed into the shadows for far too long.

I’ve started talking more about pain, talking about it whenever a good opportunity arises. I’ve started resisting the urge to not talk about it. And you know what? It feels good. It feels a bit revolutionary. It feels like being myself and like opening the door of understanding, even if merely by an inch.

Related links:

http://sufferingthesilence.com/#sthash.QJKIOsPo.dpbs

http://blog.allsup.com/2014/09/nfmcpa-stigma-persists-for-people-with-fibromyalgia-chronic-pain-conditions/

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3204061/Young-people-invisible-chronic-illnesses-like-HIV-Lupus-reveal-conditions-world-new-portrait-series-prove-don-t-suffer-silence-shame.html

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/120574110/posts/996 a personal description of the advantages of telling people about a health condition

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/67332141/posts/796   on the stigma of autism

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/116356880/posts/220  on the stigma of mental health issues

Scholarly articles/research related to this topic:

http://anthropology.mit.edu/sites/default/files/documents/jackson_Stigma.pdf

http://etd.lsu.edu/docs/available/etd-11182013-152753/unrestricted/rlang.pdf

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24548852

Other references to chronic pain as a taboo:

http://mikscarlet.com/the-last-taboo-pain-why-does-it-hurt-us-to-admit-to-it/

http://leeockenden.com/specialties/chronic-pain/

http://www.canadianpaincoalition.ca/media/chronic_pain_final_2.pdf

If you would like to suggest a related link, email me!

References

[1] Prevalence of chronic pain in the UK: a systematic review and meta-analysis of population studies by A Fayaz, P Croft, R M Langford, L J Donaldson, G T Jones, http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/6/6/e010364.full

[2] The Health and Social Care Information Centre, Sally Bridges, 2012 http://content.digital.nhs.uk/catalogue/PUB09300/HSE2011-Ch9-Chronic-Pain.pdf