“Please check your packing area….!” These words spoken by a disembodied computer voice can trigger so many of us. Recently a new report emerged telling us what we already suspected – self-service checkouts do not save time or money for customers or businesses. Expensive to install, they cause constant hassle for both time-poor shoppers and over-stretched, underpaid staff.
But the most important thing is what the new report doesn’t tell you - that self-service checkouts can actually be bad for your mental health.
We all like the idea of automation and the perception of how rapidly things can be done. In our busy daily lives we are under pressure from all sides, often via technology - phones always on, messaging prodding you to be here or there, emails on computers or tablets demanding our unceasing attention, to the point where we have to acknowledge that technology has trained us to respond to it, with clicks, buzzes, pings and so on, just like Pavlov’s dogs to the sound of the dinner bell. Studies show that people, ever-more locked into their mobile devices, increasingly struggle to make social conversation.
That lovely lie of technology making things easier for us has come at quite a cost, and that cost is human interaction. We've lost the interaction between ourselves and the person scanning the items we buy. Many of us with busy lives may forget that for some isolated people, an interaction with a checkout person may be their only human interaction of their day, perhaps even their week.
We are by nature social creatures. Our history is of people grouping together as tribes, settlements, communities - people with something in common (even if it’s just where they live) who create an invisible yet vital and complex support mechanism for themselves and for others. One of the key drivers of this behaviour is to avoid rejection by making connections. Those who lived an isolated life often did so by force not by choice.
Social lives help us to regulate ourselves and our actions. Unconsciously, we are checking out our actions every hour of every day against those of others, noting their reactions, calibrating our responses and actions in small but meaningful ways. The other benefits of social mixing are the imperceptible ones - at a neuroceptive (nervous system) level, just physically being with other people can make us experience a whole range of emotions including feeling safe, supported or calm. It’s all linked to our brain’s primary function, of self-preservation, to keep you alive.
We have all begun to understand the toxic impacts of loneliness - depression, low self-worth, increased rates of suicide, self-harm, mental illness, dementia to name just a few – not to mention the many impacts on our physical health too.
But what are often overlooked are the compensating habits which people often fall into – excess drinking, addictions, drug-taking, gambling, self-harm. When we lose genuine human connection with people, what often replaces that is a growing connection with things - like drink, drugs, sex, gambling, self-harm. Shockingly, everything we do - good or bad - has a positive intention.
An example: you’ve no one to talk with, so you take a drink. It numbs you a bit, eases the pain, so you take another. And another. But the effects are notoriously short-lived and get shorter every time, so that your habit simply gets more and more extreme – and more and more ingrained as a habit. And the original loneliness problem is still there.
Yet all this is reversible. All we need to do to start is to recognise what is happening. And in that, we can all make a difference, for ourselves and for others.
The often-enforced isolation that the Covid pandemic brought with it has deepened the problems we face regarding social connection, with working from home stopping us mixing with the different social groups we belong to. Because of the length of the disruption to our previous habits, these new ways of living have replaced our previous patterns of behaviour. It only takes 21 days for the mind to create a new habit - so I’m sure that you can see that our Covid ways of behaving have now become our predominant habits, our “new normal”. Which means that we need to “re-learn” our previous, more social, ways and lifestyles.
Let’s look for an upside from all this; we can be grateful that people are starting to feel less self-conscious about talking about their mental well-being, which has become more normalised in our conversations. This myth that we are all ok if we just pull ourselves together is more harmful than helpful, and those with needs must be listened to with respect and compassion, and helped in constructive ways to regain whatever they have lost sight of. Each of us faces our own battles every single day, but nobody else sees our struggle.
What to do? We must all now make concerted efforts to grow our social circles, to make new friends, to check in with colleagues and friends, for the benefits are enormous for everyone involved.
That person in the shop who strikes up an unexpected conversation with you – that may be their only human interaction that day. It won’t cost you anything to make a few words of polite conversation, but do you know - it may dramatically change their day for the better. Every one of us has the power to do this.
Let’s all try to treat others with more compassion and understanding, and hope that others will understand, appreciate - and reciprocate.
And if you feel that you want to talk with me (in confidence and with no obligation) about how my Solution Focused Therapy could help you out of damaging habits, all you need to do is click the green BOOK A CALL button on the right of this page.
Copyright ©2023 Juan Carlos Gouveia - all rights reserved
Juan Carlos is a therapist and author with over 22 years' experience as a diagnostic scientist.
All blog entries are Copyright ©2019-2023 Juan Carlos Gouveia, All Rights Reserved.
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