Too Many Tabs: A Friday Chat About Anxiety, Overwork, & Dolphins

Living with the dolphins

Nicole: Happy Friday! Does it seem like the weeks are getting longer even as the days get shorter?

Ester: SIGH, YES. It’s enough to make one fantasize about swimming with dolphins, unless one finds that ethically unacceptable. Maybe swimming with them is okay, actually; I could see their tolerating our presence. It’s just riding them, or pretending to, that I find objectionable.

Nicole: It’s not quite riding, even though I can see why so many people on that survey you shared on Twitter said they had “ridden” a dolphin. On the JoCo Cruise, they call it a “dolphin pull.” You hang on, and the dolphin swims you around.

Here’s a video from another cruise line showing the dolphin pull in action:

The dolphins look happy! So do the people. It’s hard to say if a dolphin is really happy, though.

You know what? It’s hard to say if a person is really happy, too.

Ester: Dolphins are superior beings. They are smarter than we are and also more playful and joyous-seeming, presumably because they don’t have to think about presidential primaries. We have no business doing anything but admiring them from a respectful distance. But that makes me think about your piece on anxiety from this week. How did it feel, putting that up, and reading reactions to it?

Nicole: I have rarely put up something honest where the reaction hasn’t been some variation of “thank you” or “me too.” So I wasn’t thinking about whether people would get it, as it were. I was just thinking “okay, what do I actually do when I feel anxious?”

I’m pretty sure there are other anxiety-based tics that I do that I’m not even aware of. Like refreshing social media when I feel like I don’t know what part of my to-do list to tackle next. Do you do stuff like that too? Do you recite song lyrics when you are having trouble calming down your brain???

Ester: You mean, do I lie awake at night with my mind alternatively racing and regurgitating lyrics from musicals? Yes, yes I do. And during the day, I find myself opening tabs and more tabs when I’m feeling overwhelmed, as though that will somehow counterintuitively calm the anxiety. Needless to say, it doesn’t.

Nicole: How many times have I frantically searched the internet for the answer to the question of How To Live? I’m not sure frantic is the right word, because there’s a leisure element to it too, but I’m always looking up people’s blogs and Ask Reddit questions and anything else that might explain how someone else is doing it. Because if someone else is thinking about the hard problems of making a living and connecting to other people, I can both sympathize with them and learn from them.

This is also why we love advice columns so much. Right? That and the schadenfreude element.

Ester: Right. Although to me there’s also an element of exiting an active space and entering a passive one. The active space is where the anxiety is — where the anxiety is everywhere, even, like bats. When I can zone out a little bit and read about other people’s problems, or whatever, the anxiety recedes a bit. At least for the moment.

This is why I didn’t quite agree with the conclusions you came to in your piece — or rather, I’m glad they work for you, but why they don’t work for me. Making more lists, doing more things … in my case, that just feeds the bats. I need to stop altogether. Especially stop multitasking but sometimes even stop doing any one thing.

Nicole: Yeah, me too. I think about how to take a break or a day off or a couple of days off (LOL) all the time. And there’s always something that comes in to fill the space. Work, or chores, or social activities, or whatever. There are all these news stories about how people (MILLENNIALS) keep flaking on social stuff, and it’s like “sometimes we seriously just need a break, and that’s the one thing we can cut out.”

Ester: Which is unfortunate, in a way, because it’s the social stuff that can help us disengage from work and decompress a bit. Whereas even if you tell yourself you’re ditching your plans to give yourself some much needed R&R, in a lot of cases, don’t you end up doing the same stuff you would be doing on an ordinary night: opening tabs, etc?

Nicole: My brain associates “opening tabs” with “relax time.” Even though that isn’t always true! It might be very rarely true! I feel much more relaxed if I read a book.

Ester: Of course you do. And your eyes are probably so grateful. There are times I need to get away from screens altogether. Maybe our heads should come with little temperature gauges that emit little warning signals when we’re getting up into the Orange danger zone or even into the Red because we’ve been looking at screens too long. My anxiety would appreciate that.

Nicole: You know there are like a dozen apps for that, right? There are the basic ones that send you a note to “rest your eyes” for five minutes every hour, and there are the super-complicated ones like the Oura Ring.

Ester: Not the same. I don’t want some app to tell me; I want a chip in my head. I mean, I guess you could say I already have that in the form of a brain and I still find a way not to pay it any mind …

Nicole: We know what is best for us and we cannot bring ourselves to do it. We have so many studies showing that sleep and relaxation and social time and rest time and huge chunks of non-work time are beneficial, and they even make us more productive, and we STILL DON’T DO IT.

Ester: It’s because “feeling better” is somehow an insufficient incentive. Even though people will straight up ruin their lives with drugs and alcohol in order to feel better. Paradox. But yeah, I blame capitalism. It’s the same reason caring for others is undervalued; we can’t even properly value caring for ourselves.

Nicole: Exactly. Also, if somebody overworked a dolphin, everyone would get angry. If somebody overworked a cow, some people might get angry but other people would go, “Eh, meat industry’s what it is.” And if we overwork humans … we think of it as normal.

Ester: Ha: “if we overwork humans.” But on that note, have a relaxing weekend! I hope you doing something fun and outdoors, maybe pumpkin-related?

Nicole: I will probably be outdoors! But I’m still on my spending freeze, as it were. Are you hanging out with pumpkins this weekend?

Ester: For at least part of it, yeah. Wholesome, kid-friendly stuff. I hope to spend as little money as possible. We haven’t even bought a pumpkin for our front step, and I’m okay with that.

Nicole: To relaxing weekends, then! For us, and for our readers—because we know you’re watching.

Ester: Right. Go sit under your own vine and fig tree, everyone! Without your smartphones. Your brains will thank you.

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