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Has Multitasking Become a Bad Word?

By Amy Austin, RN, Psy.D., LMFT

Do you recall early television shows called The Bionic Woman and The Six Million Dollar Man? The characters transformed into super-powered heroes who were able to perform feats of intuition, strength, and stamina not possible for mortal man or woman. The television audience was transfixed into flights of super-hero fantasy.

Today we have computers, cell phones, social media, over-scheduling, long hours, apps, and multi-tasking which can make us feel super-powered, but can often create added stress.

Stress management is a rather new term and concept. On one end of the spectrum, stress can be a motivator for great ideas and the application of those ideas. On the other end, the need to manage stress connotes that stressors have ultimately created negative consequences in mental, emotional, academic, occupational, and relational areas of life. How did we become so overwhelmed? Why are we stuck in overwhelm mode?

Recently, a segment of 60 Minutes discussed the addictive qualities of computers and phones. The tech giants know and use this to keep consumers tied to their phones waiting for the next ding which creates a release of the hormone cortisol. The release of cortisol numerous times a day can keep a brain excited and possibly needing more of that excitement when the phone is silent. Software companies can even track and save the Likes, delivering them in volume to individuals to keep them engaged, or essentially, dependent.

If you’re experiencing “mind-full” multitasking symptoms such as free-floating anxiety and stress, here are a few tips for more mindful multitasking:

  1. Explore the reasons for multitasking: Are you driven by outside pressures or internal pressure to over perform to make sure others approve or validate you? Are you into people- pleasing behaviors when you say yes much too often when a polite no might do? If you choose a more consciously intended life with the ability to choose what you will do and be, you’ll be a much more contented and balanced person.
  2. Long lists: Are your daily lists too long? Visualize a list that is doable and know that not everything needs to get done in one day.
  3. Is your family over-scheduled? Is it possible to slow life down a bit to balance a hectic life?
  4. Take a few minutes each day to close your eyes and breathe deeply, taking five breaths in and five out. This can help to oxygenate the brain and slow you down. Be more gentle and compassionate with yourself.
  5. Monkey See, Monkey Do syndrome – Your children aren’t aware of their over-scheduled lives. It’s their norm. New, healthier behaviors can start with parents and flow down gently to children.

We don’t yet have the data of what overuse of phones and computers is doing to our brains, behaviors, and relationships because we are essentially the guinea pigs, but awareness if the first step.

In recovery, life one day at a time is called slowbriety. When you find yourself anxious, reactive, impulsive or otherwise stressed, try to think of yourself as a human being and not a human doing.

If you’re going to multitask, do it with intention and choice practicing a more heart-full and grateful way of life.

Dr. Amy Austin is a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFC # 41252) and doctor of clinical psychology in Rancho Mirage. Dr. Amy can be reached at (760) 774.0047.

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