Too Many Open Tabs!

Do you ever find yourself with way too many open tabs on your computer or phone? Have you noticed how it slows everything down? Do you ever feel the same way about your brain? If so, the Mental Health Mamas are right there with you! Listen in as we talk about brains full of open tabs and some of the ways we’re learning to manage all those open tabs.

Notes and Mentions

Multicosts of Multitasking

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Serena: Hey Everyone, I’m Serena.

Tina: And I’m Tina and we are the Mental Health Mamas.


Serena: Welcome to No Need to Explain, we are so glad you’re here.

Tina: First, as always, a quick disclaimer.

Serena: We come to you NOT as mental health professionals or experts in the field, but rather as the parents of kids who struggle with their emotional health.

Tina: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, please seek professional support. You’ll find a variety of resources in our show notes and on our website,

Serena: Tina, as we said in our first episode back after out break, summer has been busy!

Tina: It certainly has! Among other things, my family has moved yet again and hopefully that’s it for a while.

Serena: Right. Moving is such a huge transition and it’s incredibly exhausting and such a great example of something that takes a lot of our emotional and physical energy.

Tina: Yes, exactly. Sometimes we think about this in terms of a computer with open tabs, so let’s start there.

Serena: OK, so I’m totally guilty of this on both my computer and my phone. I tend to have SO many tabs open at a time. And what about you?

Tina: Yes. In fact my son has often said to me, “Mom, you have so many things open,” on my phone and I didn’t even know that was a thing. And on my computer? 98 tabs open.

Serena: Hmmm. So, as strange as it sounds, it’s actually for me a function of attempting to stay focused. I often leave a tab open with an article I want to read later or a website with something I want to explore when I have more time. The problem is that it not only looks cluttered, but we know that it totally slows down our computers and phones.

Tina: Right. Those programs running in the background take power away from what we’re trying to do and all the tabs can be totally overwhelming and I never get to them!

Serena: Mmhm. Yeah, exactly. Totally overwhelming! My husband tried to show me a trick for grouping the tabs so it looks like fewer overall, but I told him, I was like, no no no, don’t show me that because I knew that meant I would just open more of them.

Tina: It’s so tempting to do it! So let’s shift this to what we really want to talk about and that’s the idea that we have too many tabs open in our brains most times.

Serena: Yeah! So a good friend of ours shared this analogy with us and it, gosh it really speaks to me. She said to me one day that she was feeling like she had a lot of open tabs in the background running and that those tabs were draining her energy.

Tina: And we love that analogy and it really, it totally speaks to me too! Please keep in mind that the conversation we are about to have is not a sciency conversation but more about our experiences and observations like much of what we do here on the podcast.

Serena: Right. So, that being said, we can imagine that many of you can relate to the feeling of having too many open tabs or however you want to think about it. Multi-tasking and doing ALL the things is valued by our culture. It makes you feel, maybe important to be busy, right? We think we are really good at multitasking and often pride ourselves on doing it.

Tina: Right. And this IS backed by research. Our brains are not designed to do this.

Serena: Here’s a quote from an article posted on the National Center for Biotechnology Information which we will link to in the show notes. It reads, “The scientific study of multitasking over the past few decades has revealed important principles about the operations, and processing limitations, of our minds and brains. One critical finding to emerge is that we inflate our perceived ability to multitask: there is little correlation with our actual ability.” Then it goes on to say, “We have a hard time multitasking because of the ways that our building blocks of attention and executive control inherently work. To this end, when we attempt to multitask, we are usually switching between one task and another. The human brain has evolved to single task.” (

Tina: OK, so our brains are not designed to multi-task, yet we know that we often have lots of different things going on in our brains at the same time. While this may not exactly be multi-tasking, we do know, again from our own personal experience, that all of these open tabs in our brains are draining our energy and using brain power that we might want to be using for something else.

Serena: Yes, I totally agree with that. So let’s talk about those open tabs. Tina, can you share some examples of some of the open tabs you might have right now or maybe some that you’ve had open this summer?

Tina: Yeah. So, as you loyal listeners know, I have older children and adulting adults is a challenge. And the worry that goes with that is a challenge and they both have been transitioning into new jobs and that’s been, certainly, a bunch of open tabs. I had a car accident and that has been taking a lot of my time and energy. Moving, of course. The pain and the medical challenges from my accident. Yeah so, a lot, a lot, a lot going on. So what about you Serena?

Serena: Yeah, so I would echo about the kids. You know, my kids are a big one and maybe that’s just how it is for parents. I feel like each of my kids has a tab open and sometimes more than one if there are particular challenges that they’re facing. Another open tab that I find particularly challenging is any time I’m waiting for something whether that’s an answer to something, information I need to move forward on something else or simply being unable to move forward in general. I don’t like being stuck so this tends to take up a lot of room in my brain and it feels like there’s been a lot of that lately...lack of information and uncertainty. So right along with that is any sort of problem or challenge that I’m struggling to solve. It’s like my brain is constantly running through ideas to find a solution whether I want it to or not.

Tina: I know what you mean and sometimes all of these open tabs lead to a sense of paralysis or overwhelm in which we totally get stuck. A lot guilt over not remembering, not paying attention to things. The “should haves”, I “should have”. Yeah, for sure.

Serena: Yeah. Yeah so like when our computers get overloaded and they shut down, right?

Tina: Yes. Absolutely. But it’s not so easy for us to restart and renew, right?

Serena: Right, right. So before we talk about what helps, let's take a moment to acknowledge some of what are unfortunately, all-too-common open tabs for many people out there.

Tina: Yeah. I think in some ways we can start by looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. And while some of Maslow’s research has been questioned we know that if your needs are not met in terms of the basics; sufficient food and water, housing, shelter and sleep; there is no room in your brain for anything else. You are totally in survival mode.

Serena: Yeah. And right next to that is a sense of safety. If you are feeling unsafe in any way, and this could be actual danger or simply a perception of danger, fear rules your brain. Nothing else.

Tina: And we can also add childhood trauma, racism, microaggressions, living in poverty, caring for others whether that’s personally, professionally or both, dealing with grief and as we said before even just trying to do too many things at once.

Serena: Phew, that’s a lot of tabs open and I’m sure we’ve missed many!

Tina: Yeah. So what do we do about it? How do we manage all of these open tabs? Clearly it’s not as easy as just closing them.

Serena: Right, I wish it were that easy. Just shut it down, right?

Tina: Yeah, I mean, when you’re exhausted, you’re exhausted right?

Serena: Yep.

Tina: Yeah, it’s hard.

Serena: So I will share that one of the things that I find helpful is to write things down. There are a couple of ways I look at this. There are times when I’m just trying to remember lots of different things and I realize that I don’t need to be holding all of that in my head. So, I’m curious. Do you ever find yourself thinking, “I can’t forget to…?”

Tina: Yes. In fact I have three lists right now in front of me that I’ve been jotting things down. Yeah, for sure. So yes I do that too.

Serena: Right. I do it all the time and I know that the best way to remember is to get it out of my brain and onto paper or even use my technology to help out by sending myself an email or recording a voice message. The other piece of writing things down is if I feel like I’m holding something heavy, like emotionally heavy, by putting it down on paper I can lighten the load a bit. So Tina, what’s something that works for you?

Tina: Yeah, those are great and I might have mentioned this before and I’m gonna mention it again, my therapist helps me. The hardest tabs to close are my worry tabs honestly. Things I have zero control over. Things I’m helping other people hold like you say. And here’s a little: worry is a terrible cycle of escalation that does not get you anywhere, right? It doesn’t get you anywhere. So my therapist Mary, BetterHelp, and totally not just plugging it. She is awesome. She taught me this tip which I love. It’s a little mantra, right? Hold the vision. Whatever you’re worried about, hold that vision of what you want to happen. Second step is trust the process. Trust that whatever is going to happen is going to happen and again you have no control over that. And third, get out of the way. Kind of think of it like a balloon, like a helium balloon that you’re letting go. Letting go of the worry. My problem is I wanna grab it back because I want that control. So I also saw a sign the other day that said, “Pray, Trust, Wait” which is a simpler way to think about it.

Serena: Yeah. I need some of that in my life right now.

Tina: Good tip. Good tip!

Serena: Yeah. Thank you. I appreciate you sharing that. So are there other things that work for you?

Tina: Yes. Totally asking for help! And I am terrible at actually doing this. Serena, you are one who constantly reminds me that it’s ok to ask for help. And I know that asking for help is one of the best ways to clear some tabs in my brain.

Serena: Yeah, I can totally relate to that. It’s hard to ask for help, and maybe we can think of it like delegation sometimes. And so I have an example of this. The other day I realized I was trying to remember to complete a form for my oldest but then I realized that tab didn’t really belong to me; it belonged to her. So, I handed off the task to her and I still had to follow up, you know, those young adults still learning, but it did make more manageable. Does that make sense?

Tina: Total sense. Total sense. I think that sometimes just realizing that you’re running things in the background and acknowledging them, call them out for what they are, that can really go a long way toward lightening your load. There are times when I have things running and I don’t realize it and just get frustrated with myself.

Serena: Right. And that’s another good point. Self-compassion and forgiving ourselves is huge. I think we all struggle with the open tabs and beating ourselves up about it doesn’t work. Instead, we can accept that they’re there and learn how to feel better about them.

Tina: And right along with that is perhaps lowering our expectations. We really can’t expect to remember backs this up, for sure. It’s not possible to do all the things well or perfectly. And I say that as someone working on my perfectionism problem.

Serena: That is definitely something I’m working on too! And I think especially when things are extra challenging you might consider delaying any major decisions. If possible, I try to wait until I feel like I can think more clearly.

Tina: Yeah, so funny. When, you’re not old enough yet Serena, but I have gotten a colonoscopy and they tell you when they give you that twilight sleep, do not sign any important documents. Do not make any life decisions, right? Yeah, you’ll get there. But anyway.

Serena: Yeah. Something else I’m thinking about is completing the stress cycle. So, in other words, going for a walk can go a long way towards clearing my head and helping me to think more clearly. Or just getting some physical movement in some way.

Tina: Absolutely. That was an Emily Nagoski...remind me of the book Serena.

Serena: Burnout.

Tina: Burnout! Right, Burnout. It’s on my shelf right beyond me. So, yeah.

Serena: And to bring us full circle, you know, maybe close some of those computer tabs as well. Bookmark them or just get rid of them!

Tina: Yes, yes. Absolutely. I have already done that. Truly. Yes.

Tina: So podcast friends, we are, as always, grateful for all of you listening and supporting us. You can help us out by visiting Apple podcasts, leaving us a review, subscribing and please share with others. You will find more content on our website, You will also find an email address and we would love to hear from you by email. And as a quick reminder it’s not too late to claim our free self-care workbook by signing up for our mailing list which you can do right on our website.

Serena: Absolutely. And right with that, this is your gentle reminder to take good care of yourself while you are also taking care of your people.

Tina: Thanks so much for listening!

Serena: Bye!