Multi-tasking. Is it draining your energy?

Raise your hand if you are tired all of the time, and feel like you could get so much more out of your day if you only had energy!

If the current medical research is a correct reflection than approximately 50% of you just sighed out of exhaustion.

Fatigue is one the of most fascinating states, in my opinion, because there are any number of things that can be contributing to it. Everything from small day to tasks, all the way up to chronic multi-system illnesses could be at the root of this symptom. Whatsmore, is that even in the face of a multi-system illness, we are still doing things every day that are aggravating our fatigue levels. Over the next few weeks we will address some of the most common fatigue offenders and give actionable steps to help you feel more energetic and vibrant!

The first, and often most surprising, energy sucker is Multi-Tasking!

Multi-Tasking is so ingrained into Western culture that we often times don’t even realize that we are doing it!

  • Have you ever walked and checked your email, or walked and checked your Instagram?
  • Worked while listening to a Youtube video or the television?
  • Do you regularly have somewhere between 5, and maybe 100, tabs open on your computer? (Guilty!)

There are many more examples of multi-tasking, we all know it! And we all do it!

Why is Multi-Tasking so Bad for us?

Aside from the fact that research shows that even people who defined themselves as ‘efficient multitaskers’ were not as efficient at task completion as they thought1, multi-tasking can also change our neurotransmitters and hormones!

When we are multitasking our brains increase the release of a neurotransmitter known as dopamine. Dopamine is involved in the sensation of reward, and triggers both the pleasure center in our brains as well as addictive tendencies. That is why we tend to feel so good when multi-tasking, and also become addicted to it! Despite these positive sensations, multi-tasking is also a stressful experience to our brains and bodies! In fact, it can increase our levels of cortisol (one of our stress hormones) and also increases norepinephrine and epinephrine, which cause our hearts to race and your mind to cloud2,3. These stress hormones were historically released in the face of danger, in a situation where we need to run away, so they can also increase your blood sugar levels, even though you are sitting at your desk!

That is a double whammy on our energy level, the energy depletion of the stress response, and also the energy depletion of your body working to stabilize your blood sugar (more on that later).

What Can Be Done?

Well first of all, the simple thing would be to increase your level of mindfulness, recognizing how often you multi-task during the day. When I did this I was admittedly shocked at how much different my work day was, and frankly how much multi-tasking I was doing in my life! Not only did I get more done, but I also decreased that, “Did I drink too much coffee?” feeling.

  • Tools to Help Break the Addictive Cycle of Multi-Tasking

Freedom (for PC users) and Self Control (Mac users) are two apps that help lock you out of time sucking, and energy sucking, websites for a set period of time. You can start with locking out Facebook for one hour for example, and see if that improves your focus.

Headspace is a meditation app that helps with focus and energy. If you are nervous about starting a meditation practice then headspace is the app for you. The 10 day meditation challenge is a great way to learn what meditation is all about in a safe, guided manner.

What if You do Have to Multi-Task?

I acknowledge that there are many jobs in which multi-tasking is an expectation, so although working on decreasing it is still important you may also want to consider other options to help mitigate the fatigue sucking effects.

  • Chewing Gum

Chewing gum has conflicted results in the literature as to whether or not it can decrease cortisol levels, associated with multi-tasking4,5. Clinically, some people have reported this to be helpful, where as others feel that it just increases their levels of bloating due to the swallowing of air when chewing. If you are choosing to try this method make sure that your gum does not contain artificial sweeteners or sugar!

  • Tyrosine

Tyrosine is involved in the synthesis of thyroid hormones as well as neurotransmitters. Research suggests that tyrosine can have a positive impact on your working memory during periods of multi-tasking6,7. This can help you to be able to increase what you can take away from a day of work, but keep in mind that it has not been found to help with cortisol release that can happen associated with multi-tasking.

  • Take Breaks!

No matter how much, or how little, you are multi-tasking it is critical to remember to take breaks to stretch, move your body and unwind during the work day!

Do you think multi-tasking is sucking your energy?! Let us know below!

References

  1. Ophir, E., Nass, C. & Wagner, A. D. Cognitive control in media multitaskers. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 106, 15583–15587 (2009).
  2. Levitin, D. J. Why the Modern World is Bad for your Brain. The Guardian (2015). at <https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/jan/18/modern-world-bad-for-brain-daniel-j-levitin-organized-mind-information-overload>
  3. Miller, E. K. The ‘working’ of working memory. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience 15, 411–418 (2013).
  4. Scholey, A. et al. Chewing gum alleviates negative mood and reduces cortisol during acute laboratory psychological stress. Physiol. Behav. 97, 304–312 (2009).
  5. Johnson, A. J., Jenks, R., Miles, C., Albert, M. & Cox, M. Chewing gum moderates multi-task induced shifts in stress, mood, and alertness. A re-examination. Appetite 56, 408–411 (2011).
  6. Steenbergen, L., Sellaro, R., Hommel, B. & Colzato, L. S. Tyrosine promotes cognitive flexibility: evidence from proactive vs. reactive control during task switching performance. Neuropsychologia 69, 50–55 (2015).
  7. Thomas, J. R., Lockwood, P. A., Singh, A. & Deuster, P. A. Tyrosine improves working memory in a multitasking environment. Pharmacol. Biochem. Behav. 64, 495–500 (1999).

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