The big apple

The Times Square effect

As I was walking through the streets of Manhattan, I experienced what I call the “Times Square effect”: too many things to sense at once. It put me in this contemplation state where I am both fascinated and overwhelmed by my surroundings.

This post is also available in Dutch.

First, I wondered why. Why am I liking this state of overstimulation? My brain currently feels like a mashed potato, my body is in automatic mode, responding to my primary instincts only. A flash of light, a powerful color or shape, an oddball sound, the smell of fried food : could not resist it. This is what Times Square feels like when you experience it for the first time, both chaotic, stressing and yet irresistible. What happens in the brain reflects well the mess intrinsic to the information overload that warns all of your senses simultaneously. 

Brain’s response to overstimulation ensures control over the effects of mental and emotional stress on our system. A cocktail of chemicals involved in stress management, excitement and pleasure are almost instantaneously produced. This includes adrenaline, the fight-or-flight hormone ; cortisol, the stress hormone ; dopamine, the pleasure hormone. In response to acute stress, our system can self-regulate very well, enabling us to handle a constant flow of new information, while experiencing pleasure and excitement. However, when the stressors become chronic, the ongoing activity results in a depletion of glucose and dopamine supplies, causing neurotransmitter imbalance. Without the dopamine, suddenly, everything seems a lot less enjoyable. At this point of brain fatigue, only the negative sides of overstimulation are felt, making it harmful for your attention, mood and stress tolerance. This is what would happen if I was living in Manhattan for example, walking through Times Square every single day… Such a nightmare!

I don’t see the bad in fully enjoying the Times Square effect from time to time. This state feels good only once in a while, it is like living in a Disney movie, where magic is everywhere and nowhere at the same time, exciting for sure, tiring as well! However, some people, informally categorized as “adrenaline junkies”, become addicted to intense emotions and thrilling activities that generate a rush of adrenaline and dopamine. It can get to a point where one would need to reach a state of emotional and mental saturation in order to feel fully alive . On top of being exhausting, constant overstimulation is a terrible environment for our attention and efficiency. Let’s say we have a limited time to execute a concrete task, this means that we will literally need to fight against our natural instincts in order to ignore the surrounding sea of information. This will cost a lot more energy and time than usual. 

It takes a rested brain to enjoy a moment of excess, and a soothing period to restore a tired brain. That’s the story of adrenaline and dopamine level ruling our world.

Featured image from Adam Nir

Author: Kim Beneyton
Buddy: Viola Hollenstein
Editor: Elena Markantonakis
Translation: Eline de Boer
Editor translation: Maartje Koot

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