Multitasking Can Be Harmful to Your Health

The ability to multitask is now included in many job descriptions as a desirable skill. In fact, studies of the brain have established that there is no such thing as "multitasking." Except for completely mechanical actions such as walking or chewing gum, everything you do requires your full attention, if only for a split second. When you switch mental focus from one task to another, without concentrating on any of them for any length of time, none of the tasks are done efficiently, and they all take longer than if they were done one at a time.

Attempting to do several things at once, especially if you do it all the time, negatively impacts your health in several ways. Constantly shifting your attention from one situation to another creates stress. The mental effort required to retain information while you continually refocus takes a physical toll. One study found that employees who received a constant stream of emails throughout the day at work had consistently elevated heart rates, while those with restricted email access did not.

When you eat while you watch TV or work on your computer, you tend to overeat because you are not as aware of your physical responses to food.

Doing several things at the same time makes you less aware of what is happening right in front of you, and more likely to have an accident. In one study, 10% of adults and 20% of teens who were struck by cars while walking had been talking or texting on their phones at the time. A hands-free phone conversation while driving can be just as distracting as holding a phone to your ear. Elderly people are more likely to fall while they are multitasking. 

Interrupting one activity to focus on another disrupts your short term memory, especially as you age.

Multitasking reduces your creativity and your ability to solve problems, because your brain is too occupied to process information well..

Numerous studies have been done on the effects of media multitasking—responding to social media while studying on a computer, or watching a game while you converse on the phone and answer emails.

Scientists found that the gray matter in areas of the brain related to the regulation of motivation and emotion is significantly reduced in people who are frequent media multitaskers Heavy media multitaskers become easily distracted and less able to set priorities. They are also more likely to suffer  depression and low self-esteem.

Media multitasking affects your relationships. How often have you watched a toddler whining for attention from a parent talking on a cell phone? Many couples experience difficulties because one or both allow social media interruptions when they are interacting with each other.

Do not allow your health to be sabotaged by the many demands that are made on your attention every day. 

  • Step back and watch yourself in action. Try to see yourself from your family's, your partner's, or your co-worker's point of view.
  • Accept that you are not a superhero. It is better to do a few things well than to take on more responsibilities than you can handle successfully.
  • Decide your priorities and stick to them. Exercise, healthy meals, academic success, family time—whatever is most important to you takes precedence over other demands on your time.
  • Organize your day. Set aside blocks of time for important tasks, and finish one job, or reach a stopping point, before you start another.
  • Set boundaries. Limit phone calls to certain times. Look at your emails once a day instead of all day long. 
  • Don't let social media become a mindless habit. 
  • Enjoy the moment. Focus on the person in front of you. Look around and appreciate your surroundings. Invest in whatever you are doing now. Not only will you become more productive; you will experience more satisfaction and fulfillment from your activities and your relationships.

Further reading: 

Guy Winch Ph.D., The Squeaky Wheel, 10 Real Risks of Multitasking, to Mind and Body (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201606/10-real-risks-multitasking-mind-and-body)

Amanda MacMillan, Health, 12 Reasons to Stop Multitasking Now! (www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20707868,00.html/view-all)

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