Multitasker? How To Keep It Healthy

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How to multitask without letting it stress you out.

You begin your day by simultaneously checking Facebook, applying mascara and fixing your kids breakfast, and you end your day by watching TV, preparing dinner and returning office e-mails all at once. Is it any wonder that you don't feel calm, refreshed and satisfied?

In the information era, everyone is multitasking — and it turns out that all that activity is making us more stressed and less happy. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that when we try to accomplish too many tasks at once, our bodies release adrenaline and stress hormones, which create an anxious cycle: The more frenzied we feel, the more we take on, making us even more stressed and less happy. So how to break the cycle? Dr. Catherine Birndorf, a women's mental health psychiatrist and co-author of The Nine Rooms of Happiness, runs down some simple ways for even the most intense multitasker to feel good.

Be Present

Are you checking your e-mail while your husband tells you about his day? Texting over lunch with your cousin? Making work calls at your son's soccer match? "This can detract from your happiness because it impacts your connections to loved ones and your quality of life," says Birndorf. A study of 60,000 Germans over 25 years showed that those who prioritized relationships with their families over material success and careers were happiest. The fact is if you have one eye on your cell phone over dinner, you lose out on precious moments of real human connection. "Multitasking can really impair your ability to be present," says Birndorf. So when interacting with someone you love, focus on them only — and you may see your own satisfaction rise.

Recognize That Perfection Doesn't Equal Happiness

Multitaskers often think that if they mop the floor while overseeing the kids' homework, talking on speakerphone with their sister, doing squats and preparing dinner, life will fall into place perfectly — and will bear happiness. In fact, while ambition can have positive effects, perfectionism tends to cause anxiety and stress, which can negatively affect mood and health (a recent study showed that those with a tendency toward perfectionism have a 51 percent increased risk of death compared to those with little tendency toward perfectionism). Birndorf notes that since perfection is impossible, the endless quest for it can be only exasperating. "Happiness is not a destination that you can arrive at and sit there comfortably for the rest of your life," says Birndorf. "It comes in moments and chunks. It's about the journey, not the endgame."

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This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission from the author.

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