Nicola Morgan

Author, Speaker, Supporter

Understanding and Supporting Your Teenagers – few spaces left and I’m not doing it again!

What to do when brain bandwidth is being overloaded?

One of my favourite topics to talk about is brain bandwidth, the idea that:

  • Our processing capacity (how many things can be going on at once) is finite – we don’t currently have a way to increase it
  • Every mental or physical action takes some bandwidth
  • Some occupy very little (things that we can do automatically or easily)
  • And others occupy a lot (things that are more difficult)
  • When one thing is using a lot of bandwidth, everything else happens more slowly, less effectively or not at all.

This explains why when we have something very big “on our minds” other tasks, even routine ones, become more difficult. We make more mistakes, we can’t give required attention to everything, and we can feel overwhelmed. It also explains why multi-tasking is so difficult, and why doing two big tasks at once impossible. When we have something very big on our minds we have to take whatever steps we can to help ourselves stay well, strong and functioning.

I’m telling you this because I’m currently living brain bandwidth overload.

I have a major horrible thing going on just now. I also have a major good thing and a lot of high concentration work that has to be done, despite the major horrible thing. My brain is full. No more room!

There’s a learning point to this. When stuff is going on in our lives, there are elements we can’t control. But there are others we can. And we owe it to ourselves to look after our own wellbeing by doing what we can to affect the things we can control. Although most of my work has to be done, I am cutting everything possible out: I’m not writing regularly on my website at the moment; I’m saying no to a lot of new things; I’ve explained to several people that I can’t do the thing they wanted me to do; I’ve not set myself stupid deadlines. After the last few weeks when my schedule of travelling has meant I’ve had to drop the three-times-a-week running, I’ll be building that back in from tomorrow. I will keep up with the work I have to do and will do what is necessary to promote Body Brilliant, coming out in July, but otherwise I am devoting my attention where it’s needed: people in my family and my own wellbeing.

So, if you have something horrible and overwhelming going on, here’s my advice:

  • Grab time for yourself – whether it’s a few minutes or a few hours – and do something nice
  • It’s OK – in fact it’s necessary – to distract yourself from the bad thing and think about something else. It’s OK to laugh and forget for a while, or partially forget.
  • It’s also OK to cry
  • Try to make compartments in your mind: now I’m going to focus on X and then I’ll focus on Y
  • You can’t care for someone else unless you care for yourself
  • Even if the situation doesn’t get better, how you deal with it and what you feel about it will not stay the same
  • You’ll have good days and bad days, good hours/minutes and bad ones
  • Bear in mind that some relaxing activities still allow you to focus on the Bad Thing – that doesn’t matter, in the sense that it’s OK to do so, but it’s worth bearing in mind, so that you choose an activity which will allow you to think about the Bad Thing if you want to or prevent it if you don’t. (I’ll talk more about this in a later post – remind me if I don’t.)
  • Obvious thought: happy things raise your mood; sad things lower it. Choose your activities carefully so that you don’t spend too much time lowering your mood. If you’re surrounded by sadness and fear, make sure you have some activities that are fun, joyful, exciting, or just beautiful.
  • Step away from the noise; switch off your devices; ask someone else to take your messages for a while; take a break from it all. Claim some space on your own.
  • Breathe. Breathe so your belly moves.
  • Notice beautiful things, the tastes, the smells, the colours. Feed your mind with them.

Take care, stay well, focus on the sunshine and the good things in your life. It’s Easter soon: enjoy the chocolate, flowers, lambs, Spring weather, lie-ins, books, relaxation, friends, family.

Seize the day.

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