By Amanda Griffin Jacob
Yesterday, I was on a conference call regarding one of my businesses and I suddenly realized I hadn’t completed any of the tasks I was supposed to do because life had been so hectic since my two older kids started their summer break. A wave of anxiety started to creep over me as I realized that I had so much work to do this summer while simultaneously keeping my children fed, occupied, and organized. Not to mention, we will be traveling around Europe. My life is generally chaotic because, by nature, I’m an organized mess. It seems paradoxical but it has always worked for me in the past. But the older the children get, the more I have to manage. This strategy seems to have reached its expiration date and I need to actively practice more mindfulness in my life. I’m stressed because, right now, I’m constantly living in the future, making plans and organizing my family’s life. I’m rarely in the here and now. I’m always overly reactive and overwhelmed by everything going on around me. And I’m over stimulated. This creates an environment ripe for angst.
I briefly assessed the current state of my affairs and recognized that there is way too much going on in terms of stimulation. No wonder my anxiety levels have risen. My everyday life is noisy, there’s an inordinate amount of disorder and mess, I’m perpetually multi tasking, and I’m plugged into electrical media for most of my waking hours.
This is a big one. When the decibel levels are always at an 11 on a scale of one to 10, it isn’t just annoying, it makes it impossible to concentrate, relax, or decompress. With a household of seven people, I don’t expect it to be quiet. That’s impossible. But it is vital to have pockets of time where my ears and mind can get a reprieve. Otherwise it literally drives me crazy. Since all three of my kids are at home (thanks to the summer holidays), the noise has amped up and the moments of reprieve have been reduced dramatically. Now, more than ever, I have to be vigilant about taking my hour of yoga or working out each day to get that break from the racket.
Right now, I’m renovating my apartment in Manila and preparing to move to a new house in Singapore. This means that, for the past several months, attention to clutter has become very lax. The level of disorder in both places makes me feel perennially tired and distressed. The environment we live in has a direct effect on our mental state. Cluttered spaces leave you feeling overwhelmed and anxious. To combat living in a perpetual state of chaos, I have employed professional organizers in both Manila and Singapore to help me declutter and organize both places.
We all think multi tasking is great and it can be every once in a while, but trying to do more than one thing at a time creates quite a bit of stress. The stress hormone cortisol levels in your brain rise when you multi task which can overstimulate your brain. I always have a never-ending list of to-dos and just looking at it sometimes sends me into a cloud of worry. I have to actively retrain myself to focus on one thing at a time.
If I had to pick the prime reason I am stressed out of all those things I mentioned it would have to be the amount of time I spend on my gadgets. The level of connectedness is both a blessing and a curse. Statistics have said that Americans are on their electronic media for and average of 11 hours out of their day (I’m pretty sure Filipinos are on par with this statistic if not worse). That’s almost 50 percent of your 24 hours, so if you figure in your sleep time then you know that’s definitely way too much. Overuse of electronics has been connected to psychological disorders like anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
Neuroscientist Dr. Daniel Levitin, author of The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, states that repeatedly checking emails, texts, and Facebook constitutes a neural addiction. Recently, I instituted a new rule for myself that if I’m at home I put my iPhone of flight mode by 9 p.m. so that I can unplug from the world. I’m also working on lessening my TV time. Next up will be lessening my Facebook time (although that is tough because a lot of my work necessitates my presence on Facebook).
Reducing all of these factors would greatly help me with the issue of overstimulation in my life and would in turn lead to a cutback in stress and anxiety. At least this momentary awareness exercise was me being mindful. I have read that when your brain is trained to be mindful, you are modifying the physical configuration of it. But boy do I have a long way to go!