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Does Multitasking Affect Your Blood Pressure?

Does Multi-tasking Affect Blood Pressure?

Do you ever find yourself multi-tasking because of your incessantly long to-do lists? How do you feel while you're doing all that multitasking? Are you successfully getting a lot done without getting stressed, or do you feel like you're spreading yourself too thin and at the end of the day there's not too much crossed off of your to-do list? You need to actually give yourself permission to focus; read to end to see why if you don't, it will affect your blood pressure.

Multitasking can make you lose focusWhile for many years, the norm has been to brag about how many things you can be doing at one time, research is now showing that by focusing on one thing at a time, then moving on to something else, not only gets more done, but it's more likely that it will be done better.

When Your Brain Just Really Wants that Cookie!

That's because according to Etienne Koechlin and Sylvain Charron, who are neuroscientists at the biomedical research agency in Paris called Inserm, there are only two hemispheres in our brain. When we focus on a task, the anterior part of the prefrontal cortex of one hemisphere makes the decision, such as "I want that cookie." The posterior prefrontal cortex of the brain tells a part of the body what to do, such as reach for the cookie.
multitasking and time management
While using imaging that measures changes in brain activity, the researchers at Inserm watched 32 men and women, ages 19 to 32, while they were tested by being shown letters on a computer screen. The letters were either all uppercase or all lowercase and while shown to the volunteers randomly, the letters spelled the word "tablet." The volunteers had to figure out if two successive letters were in the same order as in a particular word. That part of the test was for doing one task.

When they switched to multitasking, they were shown both uppercase and lowercase letters which were then matched to all uppercase or all lowercase words.

Then on a third test using different volunteers, a third task was given.

The Results, Please

The results showed that while doing one task, both hemispheres of the brain were being used with both the anterior and posterior parts of the cortexes. While doing two tasks, one side of the brain did one task, and the other side worked on the other task. On the third test where there were three tasks, one task was consistently missed, and three times as many errors were made as well.

Since there are two hemispheres of the brain, we can actually switch between tasks, but the brain can only concentrate on one at a time. The exception to that is when we are doing something that is a routine to us, such as eating while watching tv.

Does Your Child Try to Get You to Multi-task When You're on the Phone?!

You know...talk to him and the person on the phone at the same time?

Multi-tasking or task switching

If you have kids, you probably have experienced the case of the child who suddenly needs your attention when you get on the phone. Sound familiar? 

I certainly saw it when my kids were small, and even when I get on the phone now with my daughters, the same happens on their ends. 

Somehow the child thinks the mom has supernatural powers to be able to hear him (or her), as well as hear the other person, and respond to both while making sense to everyone!
Let me tell you, it can sort of be done, but not well. I usually ended up making the person on the other end repeat what he or she said, while my kid got more and more frustrated.

 AAAAGH!!@! Needless to say, there was a "stern" conversation (to put it nicely) afterward with the child.

That's kind of what our brain is doing when we try to throw another task at it to show our multi-tasking macho-ness – thinking AAAAGH!!@!

Seeing the Brain Struggle While Multi-Tasking

Earl Miller, a professor at Picower, one of three neuroscience groups at MIT, says that one reason the brain has to switch between tasks instead of actually multitasking is because some of the tasks are usually using the same part of the brain, such as writing an email and talking on the phone at the same time.

Professor Miller says they can actually see the brain struggling with interference between the tasks.

Multi-tasking + Blood Pressure? Why?!

Time management vs multi-taskingSo why am I writing about multi-tasking on a blood pressure blog?
It's because while we are busy trying to multitask, we are also causing our bodies to release those nasty stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. This all translates to chemical changes in the brain.       

Dr. Alan Keen, a behavior scientist at Central Queensland University in Australia, says, "Such changes – including chronically raised levels of the stress hormone cortisol – can make us more disposed to being more aggressive and impulsive, as well as raising our risk of cardiovascular disease."

Personally, one thing I've noticed is that on days when there are several hours scheduled for one specific project, such as writing, or even cleaning (which I love), it's as if I can feel an inner sense of peace while working on the project, and can actually see more results at the end.

Moral of this long story – get back to basics and give yourself permission to only focus on one thing at a time. Your blood pressure will thank you for it!

Images courtesy of Jim Roseberry at Creative Commons, and Ohmega1982, Arvind Balaraman and JSCreationzs at Free Digital Photos.net.


Hamilton, Jon. NPR News. Think You're Multi-Tasking? Think Again. October 2, 2008. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=95256794.
Lapowsky, Issie. Time. Don't Multi-Task: Your Brain Will Thank You. April 17, 2013. http://business.time.com/2013/04/17/dont-multitask-your-brain-will-thank-you/.

Naish, John.. Is Multi-tasking Bad for Your Brain? Experts Reveal the Hidden Perils of Juggling Too Many Jobs. August 11, 2009. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1205669/Is-multi-tasking-bad-brain-Experts-reveal-hidden-perils-juggling-jobs.html.
Telis, Gisela. Science Now. Multi-Tasking Splits the Brain. April 15, 2010. https://www.science.org/content/article/multitasking-splits-brain