Yesterday, I was on a conference call regarding one of my businesses and I suddenly realized I hadn’t completed any of the tasks that I was supposed to because life has 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 have so much work to do this summer while simultaneously keeping my children fed, occupied, and organized. Not to mention the fact that we will be traveling around Europe for a few weeks.
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. However, 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 decided that I needed to assess the current state of my life and realised that there is way too much going on in terms of stimulation. No wonder my anxiety levels have risen. My every day 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 1-10 it isn’t just annoying, it makes it impossible to concentrate, relax, or decompress. With a household of 7 people I don’t expect it to be quiet. It is completely unfeasible. 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 respite have been few and far between. 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 into 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 correlative effect on our mental state. Cluttered spaces leave you feeling overwhelmed and uneasy. 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 propels me into a cloud of despair. I have to actively retrain myself to focus on one thing at a time.
If I had to pick the prime reason that 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 half the time you are awake, 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 on flight mode by 9PM so that I can unplug from the world. I’m also working on lessening my TV time. Next up will be reducing my Facebook time, although that will be my biggest challenge as the bulk of my work necessitates me being on social media.
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 actually being mindful. I have read that when your brain is trained to be mindful, you are actually modifying the physical configuration of it. But boy do I have a long way to go.