What is “Information Overload” and what can I do about it?

Have you ever felt like your brain is going to combust?  Like if you have to listen to one more piece of information or read one more text, your head is going to explode?  This experience is becoming increasingly familiar to people and it can cause discomfort, distress and negatively impact your brain’s ability to process information and make good decisions.  Before the days of the internet, cell phones and 24 hour TV, our days consisted of higher and lower brain activity demands.  We could focus on one task at a time while taking scheduled breaks throughout the day.  We had less “noise” to manage.  The “noise” I am referring to is the constant pinging of our phones and computers, letting us know we have a text, notification or email to review and respond.  Information is available to us all throughout our day, on our way into the office, while we are lunch, on our drive home, when we get home and are sitting down to eat.  Our brains are being bombarded all day and night.  This creates Information Overload.

Who is susceptible to Information Overload?  You may be surprised to learn that everyone is.  We all have a max when it comes to how much information our brains are able to process.  Certain factors can either increase or decrease that maximum level so it’s important to understand what those factors are, understand how to recognize and ultimately manage them.  An injury to your brain, such as a concussion or stroke, can reduce your ability to process visual and/or verbal information.  Not getting enough sleep can also reduce your brain’s ability to process information.  Emotions related to depression, anger, frustration and excitement will often decrease your ability to concentrate and reduce information processing.  Increased pain also impacts information processing.  Pain is a distraction and often increases fatigue, thus reducing your ability to attend and process information.  Anxiety can also decrease your threshold for Information Overload.

What can you do to decrease Information Overload?  First, you need to recognize when it is happening.  Start to look for symptoms such as feeling as though the task complexity has increased but you know it hasn’t.  Do you feel your frustration/anger/anxiety beginning to increase?  Does it feel as if the person you are speaking with has begun to walk away and their voice is becoming less clear?  Do you need to read the same sentence or paragraph multiple times or re-listen to a message?  These can all be signs of Information Overload.  Once you recognize the Overload, you need to STOP!!!  Yes, STOP!!!  and take three deep breaths.  This is generally the hardest thing for people to do.  Their instinct tells them to just “push through” and finish, however, you have now entered the “I am more likely to make an error zone.”  At the point of Information Overload, your brain is no longer able to take in any more information and process it efficiently and accurately. This obviously leads to mistakes which will take additional time to go back and fix.  In our “hurry up world”, going back to have fix mistakes is not a welcome occurrence.  I use printed STOP signs with my clients as a visual reminder to look for signs of Information Overload and when they are noted, to stop working and taking three deep breaths.  These three deep breaths allow your brain to re-set and re-focus.

Keep a log of when you recognize Information Overload.  Very often you will see patterns related to it and you can then focus on those situations which create the Information Overload.  For example, you may find that when you are in a noisy environment you experience it.  Or when you are completing a task that requires a certain skill set.  Some people experience it more when they feel there is a time pressure related to the task.  Once you can identify the factors that increase the Overload, you can begin to identify solutions and strategies to manage it more effectively.  You may change your dinner reservations to a quieter restaurant or go before/after the crowd, you may begin to break down more challenging tasks into smaller pieces or be prepared to ask for help.  The solutions are endless but the awareness is key.

If you or a family member would like to discuss more about Information Overload and how to effectively manage it, please feel free to contact me.



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