I’m a person who has always loved being busy. In high school, I thrived on keeping a full slate. I was president and vice president of several clubs, and I played multiple sports and did lots of volunteer and other extracurricular activities. I kept a grueling academic schedule and, of course, a part-time job as a lifeguard. This all kept me constantly on the go.
In college, I continued my pace, fulfilling my scholarship requirement, starting an on-campus organization, studying abroad, working two jobs, and basically packing every minute I could full of busyness. When I became pregnant with my first daughter my senior year, my life kicked into warp speed. In a matter of months, I was married, moving, graduating college, having a baby, and starting my first job as a night-shift nurse while still working another job on the side. I needed to support us as my husband finished up school.
Every other year for the next few years, I had another baby. And through it all, I continued at a frantic pace. I was trying to prove to the world (and myself) that having a baby young, having a lot of little kids, and working wouldn’t ruin my life. I was determined to be successful — to break the mold of the lazy, shiftless millennial who feels like she’s owed something. Instead, I worked nonstop to build up my own business, logged countless night shifts, and survived on little sleep as our family continued to grow.
I prided myself on my ability to do it all and kick butt at motherhood and my business. I worked from home and quickly surpassed my husband’s income. This allowed me to not only be home with our four kids, but also pay off almost all of our debt. I was, I told myself, succeeding.
That is, until everything fell apart on me. I can’t say for sure if it was one thing, a collection of realizations, or just the gradual build-up of exhaustion. But whatever it was, I soon found myself sitting in a therapist’s office, sobbing and dripping snot all over as I admitted that I felt like I had created an impossible life for myself.
Breaking down busy
My therapist gently, but firmly, guided me to dig a little deeper and take a close, hard look at why exactly I felt the need to stay so busy and constantly in motion. Did I ever feel anxious if my day didn’t have a plan? Did I frequently think about my achievements whenever I was feeling down? Did I constantly compare my life to other people my age? Yes, yes, and guilty.
Being busy, I’ve discovered, can keep us from stopping to really face our own lives. And that, my friends, is not a pretty thing at all. Underneath all of those “accomplishments” and outward successes and itineraries, I was not facing the almost crippling anxieties and depression I had struggled with since I was a child. Instead of learning how to manage my mental health, I had coped by staying busy.
I’m not saying that working — even working a lot — is bad or even unhealthy. Work allows us to be productive and, you know, pay our bills. That’s both healthy and necessary. It’s when we use busyness as a deflection for other issues or as a tool to measure our own self-worth that busyness becomes a problem.
Busyness as an addiction
There are many resources and experts who remind us that busyness can be an actual addiction, just like drugs or alcohol, when it’s used as an unhealthy coping mechanism to deal with stressors or unpleasant situations in our lives.
So how do you know if you have the disease of being busy? Well, it’s actually pretty simple. What happens when you have absolutely nothing to do? You can either actually clear your schedule for a day, or just imagine yourself clearing your schedule for a day. What happens?
Do you feel anxious? Stressed? Worried that you’ll be unproductive or waste time doing nothing? Does the thought of having no plan make your stomach turn a little? What about if we add in the unplugged factor? Be honest with yourself: Are you even able to go 10 minutes without checking your phone?
Yeah, it’s kind of a wake-up call, isn’t it?
The good news is, any one of us (myself included!) can make a commitment to stopping the disease of busyness with a few simple steps:
- Admit that we are addicted to the disease of busyness. Admitting it is the first step!
- Take time to examine the “why” behind our busyness. Are we using success or work or outward successes as a way to measure our own self-worth? Are we trying to avoid a problem in our personal lives? What are we replacing through our busy schedules?
- Analyze our schedules. What do we absolutely have to continue doing and what could we cut down on?
- Seek help. Talk to a therapist – there are so many avenues to get professional help, from online sessions to even texting. Many insurance plans also cover therapy, so it’s worth exploring how closely your mental health is affecting your physical health.
- Slow down. Even if you have to set a timer on your phone, take time to check yourself throughout the day. Pay attention to your body: Are you tense? Breathing? How do you feel in this very moment?
If you find yourself running at a frantic pace, the easiest thing you can do is to literally take a moment to just breathe and focus on the present, no matter what you are doing. One breath can make a difference against the disease of being busy.