Odds are you’re reading this article on your phone while standing in line somewhere. Or maybe you’re skimming it while waiting on an email from a colleague to come through. Perhaps you’re sitting on the couch, TV on in the background, checking your phone periodically and browsing this in your pre-scheduled free time. If any of those scenarios sounded accurate, then congratulations, you’re just like the majority of people who can’t help but try to multitask.
Unfortunately for multitaskers, and if I’m being honest I’m one of them, studies show multitasking is a myth. The human brain cannot do many things simultaneously. Instead, focus is shifted from one thing to another extremely quickly. So what does it mean if instead of focusing on many things at once you’re really changing focus rapidly? It means that you are not paying as much attention to everything as you think. Tasks may not be completed as well as if you had focused your attention on them entirely. Beyond the risk of producing shoddy work, the myth of multitasking, and cramming as much as possible in to every day, may be hazardous to your health.
“If being overly busy interferes with getting an adequate amount of sleep, exercise, eating well or managing stress by recovering from the adrenaline response then there would certainly be a negative impact on one’s physical health,” said Licensed Mental Health Counselor Brooke Randolph. There is a risk that if the body is perpetually stressed, it never bounces back from the “fight or flight” reaction. This can create stress-induced exhaustion which removes the body’s ability to react properly to stress. We know that too much stress can cause heart problems, pain and depression among other problems, so imagine what being constantly stressed out can do to the body.
Stress doesn’t just have an adverse effect on your physical health either. Mental health can also be affected. “In addition to the physical taxation, workaholic tendencies tend to over-utilize mental energy and possibly existential energy,” Randolph said. “When we strain ourselves mentally without taking a break, we begin to think more slowly and make more mistakes.” When you over utilize any kind of energy, be it physical, mental, emotional or existential, you become drained and tired. In the case of the mental toll of stress, this exhaustion can’t be fixed simply by getting more sleep. Individuals who are perpetually stressed or overly busy have to try to find time to relax.
“For those of us with workaholic tendencies who are motivated by achievement or recognition, it is essential to take time to rest our brains so we are doing our best work,” Randolph said. “This can be in some form of meditation or physical activity” Taking the time to relax is easier said than done for some people. They have become so used to having an over-programmed life that even making the tiniest change can seem impossible. Randolph suggests taking it one baby step at a time. “I know we must start with where you are comfortable to make changes rather than asking for a major, overnight change.”