“I am so busy.”
Those are words we’ve probably all heard or said too often.
Working, volunteering, caring for kids or parents, running errands, socializing, tweeting and liking, the list goes on and on.
But do we really have to do it all or are we somewhat attracted to the chaos of busyness?
“Our addiction to busyness masks underlying chronic stress that affects your physical and mental health,” stress expert Kathleen Hall, founder of the Stress Institute and Mindful Living Network, told Healthline. “The themes that rule our lives today are not having enough time and being exhausted.
We’re overbooked, overworked, and overwhelmed. Getting done what we must do fills our days and the notion of finding any time to create balance, reduce stress, and feed our souls is out of the question.”
Besides eating up our time, it’s not good for our health. Chronic stress is linked to depression, diabetes, heart disease, and other serious ailments.
So what’s behind our willingness to cram our lives so full?
Technology Puts Us into Overdrive
The same opportunities that technology presents can also cause us to commit to do more and learn more, said psychiatrist Dr. Edward Hallowell, author of “Crazy Busy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap!”
“Electronics have introduced a turbo-charge to our lives and we’re habituated to it,” Hallowell told Healthline. “There are many more things people can say ‘yes’ to and we’ve become victims of our own enthusiasm.”
Emailing, talking on cell phones, texting, tweeting, browsing Facebook, and other social media sites takes time away from things we need to do. That all adds to the feeling of being busy, Hallowell said.
Hall agrees and adds that we can also experience a backlash toward technology.
“We fell in love with it, but we also feel owned by it. Technology was supposed to make our lives easier so that we had more time to do things we want to, but it’s created a crucial problem of letting us do more,” she said.
It’s also messing with our circadian rhythm.
“Say our bodies are cars and they should go 55 miles per hour for the perfect balance of a healthy immune system, but most of us are going anywhere from 90 to 110. Just like technology goes from megabytes to gigabytes, there’s some kind of phenomenon that we think we’re the same,” Hall said.
She adds that technology also feeds busy intentions to avoid unpleasant things or problems you don’t want to face.
“Maybe you’re in a painful marriage, or are having money issues, or have a child who’s struggling, or want to forget a painful past,” she said. “Volunteering for a million things or working or browsing social media becomes a diversion from the reality of your life. Once you slow down, you have to face all of these issues.”
Part of the American Dream
The reason so many immigrants are attracted to the United States may also be at the heart of the problem.
After all, the American dream is based on the notion that every person living in the U.S. has an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative.
“We were raised from this ethic of landing in this country for opportunity, whether your ancestors are Jewish or Irish or something else, and we still live out that cultural ethos of work. If you’re not working, you’re lazy,” Hall said.
This is also rooted in the country’s Christian-based culture, she adds.
“One of the seven deadly sins is sloth,” Hall said. “It’s very much ingrained into the Christian religion to ask yourself what you’re doing to be productive.”
For younger generations, Hall says it’s simply a fear of doing nothing.
“I see this with millennials and the generation after them. They are afraid to do nothing and afraid of silence and reflection,” she said. “This is due to an onslaught of TV and media and over the top loud and busy access to things 24-7. They never stop the busyness.”
A Need to Out-Busy Others?
While Hall says technology creates an easy way to compare everything people do, from how many friends they have to how much socializing they do, Hallowell doesn’t think out-busying others is at the core of the problem.
Instead, he points to neurological seeking and pleasure seeking.
“It’s fun to be busy even though it’s stressful. It carries with it a type of excitement and up to a point that’s good. Beyond a certain point, your performance tails off, your stress levels rise and you enter into a danger zone,” Hallowell said.
He stresses that people want to be useful and helpful.
“It’s all a function of our best side. It’s not to feel important. It’s to contribute and we feel good when we contribute,” Hallowell said.
The problem is when people become involved in too many things and begin to resent them.
“I advise people that rather than saying ‘yes’ to another committee or party, say ‘let me think on it and get back to you.’ That gives you time to really think about whether or not you have the time to do it, instead of impulsively committing,” he said.
A Mindful Solution
Both Hallowell and Hall agree that busyness is an imminent issue that needs to be addressed.
“Of the mental health and physical health concerns, this is at the top of the list because it drives all the big killers,” Hallowell said. “People are all over the place. They’re stressed out. They’re not doing what they want to do. Their lives are losing meaning.
But the good news is there’s an easy solution. We just need to take back control of our time and attention.”
This involves finding a good balance of being stimulated enough, and busy enough, he adds.
“I call this staying in a C state not a F state,” Hallowell said. “C stands for cool, calm, concentrated, careful, creative, and courteous, and F stands for frantic, frustrated, feckless, forgetful. You want to stay in the C state.”
He suggests starting with human connection.
“The heart and soul of life is getting that daily dose of connecting with those you love and if you don’t get it, you don’t feel as vibrant and alive as you want to,” he said. “I call this the human moment versus the electronic moment. The human moment is face to face and is so much more powerful than email or Facebook.”
Hall says making time to reflect and pull away from the busyness for as little as five minutes in the morning and five in the afternoon, allows your brain to reboot and changes the physiology of the body. This could include turning off devices, meditating, going for a walk, listening to music, taking a nap, or exercising.
Developing the practice of moderation is also critical, Hallowell notes.
“For some addictions, the antidote is abstinence, but you can’t completely abstain from commitment, electronic usage, taking on new tasks, serving on committees, having another child, or whatever it is you’re drawn to,” Hallowell said. “You have to learn to prioritize and moderate.”
Hall concurs, stating that research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the National Institutes of Health shows when mindfulness is taught to children in schools, the children and their families are more content and happy.
“Reflection is key to a hopeful, happy, rich, and soulful life, not the action part,” Hall said. “We need new organizing principles and to develop a new type of relationship with ourselves, families, work, society, and the earth.
If you are aware that every word and every action you have has an effect on everything around you, then you are going to raise an awareness that everything you do has consequences. Raising self-awareness leads to the ability to self-regulate and create less busyness.”