Overstimulation

By Jay Jamison

A big wasp was angrily buzzing at my kitchen window in my efficiency apartment many years ago. I knocked on the door of my neighbor’s apartment and asked if he had some bug spray. He came over to my place with a can of spray and gave the wasp a tiny spray. The wasp began shaking and dropped from the windowsill in convulsions and eventually it died. “It was overstimulated,” my neighbor said, pointing to an ingredient listed on the can. He was studying entomology and said that the ingredient was a cholinesterase inhibitor. An ancient memory of my college biology class reminded me that cholinesterase regulated nerve impulse transmissions to the brain, without which we would die of overstimulation.

We seem to be living in an age of anxiety, even though there seems to be little outward reason for most of us to be anxious. The economy is doing well, our enemies have at least been checked, unemployment is low, wages are beginning to rise, there are more available jobs than there are applicants, overall crime is trending down, and there are many other measures of better times. So, why are so many people acting as if times are bad?

I suggest one possible explanation for heightened anxiety is because we are told on a daily basis that disaster is just around the corner. The greatest disaster for 24/7 cable news broadcasters is the looming possibility that there will be no disaster in the offing. Imagine their consternation at the prospect of informing their viewers that things aren’t so bad after all. Five hundred years ago, Machiavelli wrote that it is safer for a prince to be feared than to be loved, which implies that fear is the stronger emotion upon which to play.

So, fear it is. If you’ve had a chance to watch any of the cable business news channels, it has become increasingly clear that the stock market overreacts every time the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board clears his throat. Meanwhile, when the cable, and even the broadcast networks, go to a commercial break, we are informed about every imaginable fatal disease and the prescription remedies that come with possible awful side-effects — some including death — so, ask your doctor. Now, back to the screaming, hair-on-fire hysterics, who predict a looming financial collapse. Of course, we can always turn off the TV and consult our smart phones. Well, maybe you can, but I can’t because I don’t own a smart phone. I spend too much time staring at computer screens (writing stuff like this), so I refuse to carry a mini computer around with me wherever I go. The simple truth is many of us are overstimulated. Hardly a waking moment goes by when many of us are not bombarded with texts, e-mails and phone calls, while the continuous loop of disaster plays on the TV in the background. We are implored to hurry and buy this or that product now, because supplies are limited, and by the way, this is also a limited time offer, so call to order now! Is it any wonder so many of us are anxious and constantly exhausted? Unlike the unfortunate wasp, we can actually decide to slow things down from the hectic pace and set aside a little quiet time for ourselves. There, that’s better.

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