Multitasking. In our rat race society, it seems like a valuable skill. Yet it can be an exhausting skill to utilize, especially if you are battling a mental illness.
The term multitasking, I recently learned, came from early computers (think of the room size monstrosities that we once cutting edge). The term multitasking was exactly what it sounds like, giving a computer two or more tasks. Yet early computers would have to switch back and forth from one task to another, slowing them down greatly. And it turns out our brains work the same way.
Multitasking means never giving full attention to the multiple tasks being done. If I am tuning my radio while driving, part of my attention is on that and not on the road, which is how I once found myself rear-ending the car in front of me when it stopped unexpectedly. From an efficiency standpoint, it is always better to focus only on one task. For example, waiting until I am at a stop light to change the radio station would have been better.
Yet multitasking can also hold us back in our mental health journey. At least it does for me. Because the more tasks I have crowding my mind the less available space I have to be mindful about myself. Furthermore, as tasks pile on my anxiety starts ratcheting up. And if I’m not mindful of what my anxiety is doing, that can be a recipe for serious trouble.
And as I multitask more and more, it takes more and more energy, leaving me with less spoons for other things. This can lower my defenses, making it easier for the demons of my depression to slip in and wreak havoc.
Of course, sometimes it is unavoidable to multitask. As I am discovering, that is especially true when you are a parent. Yet the truth is that multitasking is unavoidable for all of us, regardless of circumstances. Sometimes a friend calls in the middle of an important task. Sometimes you are running late for work and need to get your breakfast as you are getting dressed, whatever. Yet being mindful of those multitasking moments, how the multitasking is impacting your mental health, and being mindful of knowing when you need to take time for yourself to recover from multitasking, are all self-care routines that help me, and can help you, avoid some of the harms of multitasking I talked about above.