Multi-tasking vs. Mindfulness: The Science of Stress

Let’s face it… we can keep saying that we are going to start taking care of ourselves more when things “go back to normal”, but our lives are just getting busier and more chaotic.A few years ago, I was spending 12 – 20 hours on a plane each week for my job.  For those 5-6 hours flying from Newark to San Francisco, I had undistracted time to work, nap, read, watch a movie or whatever!  The point is, no one could reach me.  Now, we’ve got internet access on planes, there is an app for just about everything, people are sadly texting while driving more than ever despite the harsh fines.  We are living in a world where multi-tasking is more commonplace than ever before.
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I read an interview with a pioneer in the field of research, Dr. Earl K. Miller, Picower Professor of Neuroscience at MIT.  He shares with us that there is really no such thing as true multitasking.  For example, when a teenager is doing homework, texting friends, and watching TV at the same time, these things are not actually being done simultaneously!  Actually, our brain switches focus from one thing to another, often resulting in loss of focus, and decreased quality of work.

No wonder we are exhausted!  That brings me to the subject of mindfulness.  Mindfulness meditation is defined as the practice of bringing an open and receptive awareness of the present moment to experiences, avoiding thinking of the past or worrying about the future. It is thought to reduce stress and improve health outcomes across the board.  Stress is a known contributor to diseases such as depression and can exacerbate chronic disease such as heart disease, autoimmune disease, and some types of cancer.

While meditation is not for everyone, we can introduce mindfulness in small doses without being a master yogi or meditator.  Here are a few easy tips that have worked wonderfully to give my brain a break and reduce stress.

  • Ditch the TV during dinner time and eat your meals at the dinner table.  You actually taste your food while you are eating it, and it is much easier not to overeat when you eat mindfully.
  • Put down the cell phone while you are driving!  Hands-free chatting is a law now in many states, and texting is just plan dangerous.  We are all guilty of doing one of these things at least one time or another, but really… it’s not worth the risk to your life or someone elses.
  • We love our music when exercising, but every once in awhile leave the iPod at home.  Check out the scenery, breathe in the fresh air, and be alone with your own thoughts.  You may be surprised what you learn about yourself when you are listening.