Pace of life has increased beyond recognition in the past century and arguably more than any other time throughout history. There is very little we are actually forced to wait for these days; tv series’ can be binge watched, Amazon deliveries can arrive the same day and the closest taxi can be summoned from around the corner. The world’s cuisine is ready to eat 24/7 and even a date can be arranged with a simple swipe right. Can you imagine how incomprehensible Prime, Uber, Zoom, Tinder or Deliveroo would have been to Maggie Smith’s Downton Abbey character – Lady Grantham – in the previous ‘twenties’. Commercial air travel was only just taking off at that point and the individuals who pioneered the internet, were yet to even be born. The world was a much bigger place and days passed at a significantly more leisurely pace.
Despite the rapid rate of changes in technology, culture and lifestyle over the previous century, as Stephen Jay Gould famously declared in 2000 ‘there’s been no biological change in humans in 40,000 or 50,000 years.’  Sir David Attenborough concurs in a Radio Times interview, arguing that humans have ‘stopped evolving’ physically altogether: ‘We stopped natural selection as soon as we were able to rear 95-99% of our babies that were born’. He was keen to point out however that cultural evolution is proceeding with ‘extraordinary swiftness’. 
It makes sense then that if the hardware of our brains hasn’t changed, our software may struggle to cope with the rapid increase in speed and volume of information we are attempting to process. The world has shrunk, and all its news and affairs are being streamed to us in the palm of our hand – continuously. All the timesaving and benefits our smart phones, computers and modern services offer us is clear – and not something many of us would like to sacrifice – but what is the cost to our mental health and how do we ever switch off?
National Simplicity Day is a day celebrated every year and designated for doing just that – switching off. To unplug, connect with nature, reconnect with ourselves and embrace the simple life. This year more than ever – it might be worth indulging.
National Simplicity Day Origins
You may not be familiar with the day celebrated every 12th July – as the day is rooted in traditions from across the pond. But it falls on the birthday of Henry David Thoreau – an American author, philosopher, naturalist and lifelong advocator of simple living – best known for his bookWalden.
Waldenwas first published in 1854 and is a reflection on simple living in natural surroundings – detailing Thoreau’s experiences living for two years, two months and two days in isolation in a cabin beside Walden Pond in Massachusetts, USA. He encourages us to step back and look at ways we can simplify our busy lives.
The Effect of Lockdown
The Covid-19 pandemic has – in a lot of ways – slowed our physical pace of life as shops, restaurants and offices have closed and we have all stayed home. However, for a lot of us it has fast-tracked an increased virtual reality, which has made us even more connected via technology than ever. Perpetuating a constant stream of stimulation often accompanied by an overload of stress. As video calls replaced family gatherings, work meetings and gym classes; the boundaries between public and private, work and play, have all taken a hit, and the pace of life more relentless than ever.
Author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek compares our reliance on technology and social media with addictions to alcohol, smoking and gambling. In his talk on ‘Millenials in the workplace’ he says that receiving ‘likes’ and ‘followers’ on social media releases a hit of the chemical dopamine, in the same way it would for an alcoholic having a drink. He claims entire generations are growing up with lower self-esteem than those before them, because of the effects of managing such ‘addictions’ during their formative years.  With the average person checking their phone no less than 58 times a day and Millenials spending an average of 5.7 hours a day on their device , this certainly sounds plausible.
A Mental Health Crisis
Combined with the inevitable increase in anxiety and stress surrounding the health and economic implications of the current pandemic, it doesn’t paint a very positive picture for mental health in the months and even years to come. This week the British Health Association published a report warning that the UK is facing a ‘mental health crisis’ and that ‘the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health could be considerable’. They have said ‘some could develop a mental illness for the first time, and some with existing problems could find their symptoms worsening.’ They also point out that, ‘Prior to COVID-19 mental health services were often unable to provide all patients with the level of care they required because of a lack of resources,’ and they are concerned that the anticipated increase in demand on services could make that provision worse still’. 
Among the recommendations, the report suggests: ‘Mental health spending should be doubled over the period of the Long-Term Plan, alongside increased investment in primary care.’ 
Prioritising Our Health
We must prioritise our health – mental and physical – and not allow the ‘open windows’ in our internal computer to distort our priorities and leave us eternally distracted. Join us in taking this opportunity this weekend to switch off and re-charge.
Thoreau may have been ahead of his time – as such modern technologies were of no concern to him in the 1850s. But the principles remain the same – that we are at our best when we – in Thoreau’s own words – ‘Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit and resign yourself to the influence of the earth’ 
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