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Too Many Open Tabs

Updated: Dec 11, 2023

The concept and cost of uncertainty is an idea that I’m continuing to explore with my clients. Areas of uncertainty can feel like having 42 tabs open with no concrete plan to look at them, but the awareness, stress or distraction coming up any time the browser is open. Or it might feel more like having a bunch of sticky notes, lists and phone reminders to get a large number of important and necessary tasks done, but feeling too overwhelmed to start. The lists tend to get longer, and more tabs tend to open, contributing to a cycle of overwhelm and procrastination.

I recently had someone describe the frustration they experience when items on a meeting agenda were not fully resolved, and instead pushed forward meeting after meeting. This meant that they had to ‘keep these tabs open’ week after week without the ability to resolve the outstanding issues (i.e. close the loop). This significantly added to their cognitive load, and caused substantial stress in their day-to-day. We may often come across similar situations that are not within our control. So it’s important to find strategies around closing the tabs or tying up the loose ends that are within our control, while also finding ways to manage stress around the agenda items are not within our control.

These approaches are often nuanced and change from person-to-person, and between situations. Generally speaking though, identifying areas of uncertainty, or open loops or tabs, can be a first step. Once we have an awareness of what’s producing stress and anxiety in our lives, it becomes easier to take small but important steps towards creating predictability in these areas.

I often talk to my clients about the impact stress has on the brain, which can make it even more difficult to engage in the tab closing process. That’s why practical organizational strategies and routines might not be enough to feel more in control and less overwhelmed. When these loops and agenda items are not within our control, finding ways to reframe the situation, take things less personally, sooth our bodies and process what we find stressful can be an integral part of the self-care and therapeutic process. Even when we do have some control over these situations, the stress and overwhelm can often keep us from getting started.

If you’re not sure where to start, sometimes writing down steps to get started or saying them out loud can be enough to move in the direction you want. It’s not uncommon for me to spend a session listening to a client talk through their to do lists, and then come up with their own strategy or solution (with just a gentle nudge or reframe here and there from me). Having a friend, partner or pet as a sounding board can allow those creative juices to flow in the direction you want. I also often recommend taking time to have a preparation stage or set up step before getting started on more stressful tasks (hello taxes and paper filing!). This might look like having a cup of tea or coffee made, wearing comfy clothes and having your favourite playlist or podcast going in the background. Our environment and how we feel can have such a substantial impact on our ability to get things done.

Remember that closing those tabs or tackling your to do list doesn’t have to happen all at once. Completing part of a task, or taking a step towards closing that tab or loop, can help to reduce feelings of stress and overwhelm. As always, I’m here to support and answer any questions you might have. I can be reached at I look forward to connecting.

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