The initials “DEI” have become a flashpoint for opinion. But they stand for lots of different things. What I am talking about is “Distractibility-Excitability-Impatience”. These are three states that I find myself traveling in as we enter the holiday season. And they are making me crazy!


I was enjoying a conversation with a neighbor just yesterday where we were catching up on what was happening in the cul-de-sac. Like a hummingbird, I went from weather, to high prices, to food, to people, to clouds, to my feet hurting, to why I hate Thanksgiving, to having to run errands. And that was just in the first 10 seconds! 

I am not usually this distractible. I can focus!  I am actually proud of my ability to focus. But boy, howdy, it was sure challenging to find a thread and stick with it.

Being a psychologist, I not only noticed this, but then went into diagnosis mode and tried to figure out why my brain was making popcorn. Several explanations (excuse me . . .) popped up. First was that I was tired. Second was that I had too much of a stimulant in me (caffeine)? Third was that I was spiraling into delirium or dementia that had been overlooked by medical professionals and successfully hidden by myself, and fourth, well, by the time I got that far, I had already been distracted by something else.

Another explanation for this hyper-distractibility, assuming all of the preceding have been ruled out, is that I was feeling stressed. Truth be told, because of all the craziness going on in the world these days, floating anxiety is not all that uncommon. Our brain and alert systems (autonomic nervous system) get overloaded and do the best they can, but honestly, without intentional strategies to just slow down and take things one at a time, the outcome will inevitably be stress.


If you notice something like this happening to you, here is a fun strategy to unplug and just take a short time out:  Whatever you are doing – get into a safe place (in other words, don’t do this while driving or chopping wood). Then look around where you are and name five things you see (you can do this out loud or just in your head – “I see books, I see papers, I see a lamp, I see pencils, I see flowers”), then use your hands and touch four things (this can be coins in your pocket, rubbing your hands together, or touching any surface or object near you), then focus on three distinct sounds you can pick up wherever you are. Next, identify two different smells or scents in your environment, and finally find one thing you can taste (I like gum!).

By the end of this little exercise, most people feel more grounded and less stressed. That, in turn, helps to corral those racing thoughts. And, somehow, the distractibility disappears.


Which brings me to excitability. I am feeling really tired these days. And it’s not because I am doing any heavy lifting or making executive decisions about anything. I just find myself responding and reacting to things people put in writing or say on television, or (and this one really gets to me) say on call-in talk shows! Honestly, if I was hooked up to a blood pressure monitor all day long, I suspect the reading would look like the Alps!

Most of the time excitability is a good thing — A little bit of jalapeno in your guacamole or some curry in your tikka masala. Makes you sit up and pay attention. When it comes to this time of year, however, I am finding that the onslaught of Holiday Cheer, Happiness is Everywhere! Hurry-and-Get-Your-Orders-In-Now-Before-This-Deal-Ends is just debilitating!  (I have made a promise to reduce my use of exclamation points).

Again, the psychologist in me wonders what all this is about! (Dang – another one slipped in . . ..) This is the famous “stimulus and response” that Dr. Pavlov and his dogs studied. Once a behavior is established, it can easily be manipulated by repetition and, more connivingly, by withholding occasionally, so that I never really know if what you are offering is going to be there or not. This gets my juices flowing no matter what and so I jump at every chance, just in case I might miss out!  This is what all that advertising is about.


Here are three ways to help manage excitability. You may find that one works best, or you may need to use all three. First – remove yourself from the trigger. Turn off the devices; unplug. This is THE most effective AND the most challenging!  (Dang, another exclamation point). Second, reward yourself for becoming good at modulating your levels of excitement. Have that piece of chocolate, enjoy a bubble bath, listen to ABBA. Third, recognize those moments when being excited is actually enjoyable (like watching a grandchild open a present, or looking forward to sharing a meal with friends or family) and pay attention to that feeling. That is your optimal enjoyment mark; if you go beyond it, unplug!


Took me long enough to get here, didn’t it?  I have become so impatient. I hate waiting for a light to change. Folks don’t drive fast enough. Waiting in lines is unbearable. Why can’t people just plan their outings to be more efficient?  And don’t get me started about being put on hold on the phone!

At the bottom of all of this is my capacity to manage things mostly outside of my control. Waiting on the phone is really hard for me, because I can’t seem to get anything else done until that person answers my question or connects me with someone who can. At the bottom of that is my inability to get my own needs met. I have to rely on someone else. And maybe my life has been filled with folks who haven’t been all that reliable.

My impatience arises from my knowing how things are going to turn out based on my previous experience (“They always screw up!”) with the (IMHO low) probability of something different happening this time. This is called confirmation bias and is a very common thinking error that just contributes to my over-all levels of stress and anxiety.


The best tip here is just smile. Smile at yourself for being such a fuddy-duddy. When you catch yourself in this confirmation bias, it’s like finding out you are really Professor Marvel and NOT the Great and All-Powerful Wizard of Oz. Taking that moment to smile at your silly self will automatically slow you down and interrupt that feeling.

And that is a good thing.

3 responses to “D-E-I (No it’s not what you think . . .)”

  1. Geri Avatar

    Smiling at self is always a good thing!

  2.  Avatar

    Mary, you ARE a hoot (“D-E-I tendencies” or NOT)! Actually, I think that THAT (“diagnosed” as I have been, as “borderline AHDH” — BTW a pox on those jealous and far duller “diagnosers”) . . . “D-E-I” IS S-B-O-V-B (Standard Baggage of the Very Bright). After all to us, EVERYTHING “IS so interesting!” (A far better way to live than AHS [Average Human Sleepwalking].)

    Regarding your delightful BLOG today — two sayings. VOILA: (1) (which I used to have over my desk): “God Grant Me Patience NOW.”
    And (2) (on a tee-shirt once given me by mischievous friends): “I like peanut butter. Can you skate?” Here endeth my Wise Reply.

  3.  Avatar

    Smile; I laugh out loud at my Self as much as possible! I like the helpful tip in the Distraction section!