Kris Oser, 37, of Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., is an email fiend. A single
mother and director of communications for a market research company, she has to
be immediately accessible to executives and the news media.
That means Oser is often on the phone and messaging several people at the
same time -- and that can lead to trouble. In one recent gaffe, she mistakenly
emailed a reporter at The Wall Street Journal instead of her best
friend, asking her to pick up Oser’s daughter from school.
By Beth Levine
So stressed you could scream? This simple strategy can take you from panic to
peace in a single phrase.
We all know what it's like to be on the brink of losing it. Overstuffed
schedules, the competing demands of family and work, the sting of setbacks and
disappointments, and the trauma of a troubled economy can gang up to push us
near the edge of the ledge. But a surprisingly easy and effective technique can
help us avert meltdown. Repeating a positive, personal phrase — a meaningful
“Speed is the modern, natural high,” says psychiatrist Edward Hallowell, MD,
director of the Hallowell Center for Cognitive and Emotional Health in Sudbury,
Mass. But he insists that true multitasking is a myth. We may feel we’re doing
two -- or more -- things at once, but it’s an illusion. Instead, we’re quickly
switching our focus back and forth.
That’s because the cerebral cortex can pay attention to only one thing at a
time, says Hallowell. “What people really do is shift their attention from one
task to the next in rapid succession. That reduces the quality of the work on
any one task, because you’re ignoring it for milliseconds at a time.”
The cortex handles “executive control” -- that is, allocating the mind’s
resources and prioritizing between tasks. However, there’s a lag of up to
several tenths of a second each time it handles a switch, according to a
University of Michigan study completed for the Federal Aviation Administration.
This tiny bit of time can add up to big inefficiencies, the study shows.
Multitaskers Are Distracted
Distraction can also be dangerous. David Strayer, a professor of psychology
at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and an expert on driver
distraction, has found that a motorist talking on a cell phone is every bit as
impaired as someone who’s legally drunk. And there are health costs: Stress,
including the self-imposed kind, means more cortisol into the bloodstream.
Chronically elevated levels of cortisol can damage the heart, cause high blood
pressure, suppress the immune system, and make you susceptible to type 2