Why do we get motion sickness when we are riding a moving vehicle?
Our sense of balance relies on an elaborate system. Our eyes give us visual information about head position and if it is moving in relation to our surroundings. Our inner ear contains delicate tubes (vestibular system) that act as gyrometers, indicating if our head is tilted or moving. Our brain synthesises the data from these two systems to know where we are in three-dimensional space and how we are moving within it.
The problem is that these two systems give conflicting information sometimes. For example, when you read in a car, your vestibular system senses that you are moving, but your eyes tell your brain that you are still. Conversely, when you watch a fast-paced action movie or playing a virtual reality game, your eyes will sense movement but your head will feel no movement.
When your brain receives conflicting information, it becomes confused; which information should it trust? The brain assumes that one of them must be wrong, possibly because you have been poisoned. The sensory mismatch results in nausea and you may start to vomit because the brain tries to get rid of whatever “poison” may be causing the problem.
In essence, motion sickness is caused by a mismatch between what the brain perceives and expects versus the reality.
Similarly, we can experience a form of “mental motion sickness“. Our brains are designed to predict the future, but the side effect of this is that we tend to form idyllic, simplified expectations. A good example is our tendency to hang our happiness on a future moment.
When we are unhappy or going through a hard time, we are prone to thinking that changing something will result in happiness. Some people change jobs or escape to another city (the “geographic solution“). Some people eagerly await for a holiday or for a deadline to be over. Some people start or end a relationship. We expect a drastic change in the future, even though the reality is that most things in life take time to change and happiness is not a switch you turn on, but a steady state that you build up to.
Eventually, when we realise that we are still unhappy, our brains become confused why reality is so different from our expectations. It makes us nauseated and want to reject our reality, frustrated that we are still miserable. But reality will not change just because we will it to.
The only solution is to manage our expectations. We need to accept that change happens gradually and that changing our environment will not necessarily change our headspace and perspectives. Our miseries will not disappear without us trying to improve our wellbeing. Instead of expecting a magical fix, we need to be mindful of our reality and find peace with the fact that it is okay not to always be okay.
We have evolved to improvise, adapt to and overcome changes and challenges. So instead of wallowing in self-pity that things did not turn out as expected, we must accept that things are as they are and keep fighting on to find our inner peace and happiness.