Despite its name, hurry sickness isn’t an actual medical or mental health condition. Still, a pressing need to hurry through tasks and make the most of every moment can represent a legitimate concern for many people.
This time urgency, as it’s also known, often partly relates to the ever-increasing variety of technological devices designed to make life easier:
- With so many tools to help you get things done, you have plenty of time to take on additional tasks, right? (Probably not.)
- You’ve got a laptop and a smartphone, so you can respond to work emails anytime, can’t you? (Actually, no.)
- Shouldn’t it be easy to complete a full day’s work, cook meals, exercise, do chores, connect with loved ones, and still devote 7 or 8 hours to a good night’s rest? (When you do the math, you certainly won’t get a number below 24.)
The more that’s expected of you, the more you might agree to take on, pushing yourself harder to complete every “essential” task.
Yet rushing through life can affect physical health and leave you feeling unfulfilled and unable to devote attention to the people and things you care for most.
Hurry sickness can show up as a driving need to make the most of every second.
“We’ve come to know this habit as multitasking,” explains Rosemary K.M. Sword, author and co-developer of time perspective therapy. “Many people who’ve incorporated multitasking into their life are proud of their ability to do more than one thing at the same time.”
When hurry sickness masquerades as efficiency, you may not realize anything’s wrong.
People with children, for example, often balance a number of duties by necessity, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, Sword notes.
You might toss in a load of laundry, make sure your older child is still working on homework, stir the soup that’s about to boil over, and remove something from a younger child’s mouth, all while having a work-related conversation on the phone.
When you juggle too much at once, however, you might forget or neglect important things — even while in the middle of them.
Case in point: Distracted by something your colleague has just said, you forget about the soup. It scorches, setting off the smoke alarm and ruining lunch.
Other signs might include:
- speeding, both in your car and through conversations, the grocery store, or meals
- rushing through work tasks and household chores, to the point where you sometimes make mistakes and have to do them again
- frequently performing time calculations in your head to see whether you can fit in another task
- feeling irritable when you face delays
- constantly trying to find ways to save time
- endlessly running through your to-do list in your head to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything
Or maybe you quickly become anxious when you find yourself stuck in traffic, early for an appointment, or waiting for something with nothing to do in the meantime.
Hyperaware of the seconds ticking by, you fixate on all the things you could be doing with the wasted time.
The belief that you don’t have time to handle daily responsibilities or achieve more distant goals can create plenty of stress. Packing the tasks you want to accomplish into the time you have available, you worry whether you’ll ever get them all done.
Living with anxiety always simmering on the back burner generally doesn’t feel very pleasant. This anxiety presses you to keep moving, to keep doing, to attach more urgency to your to-do list than it requires.
As you rush from one thing to the next, you might notice trouble concentrating, since you’re always worrying about the next item on your list.
Neglecting to give your work the attention it deserves means you either have to:
- do it again, using up more time
- leave it as it is, knowing you could’ve done better
Either option can leave you facing more stress, Sword notes, along with feelings of inadequacy, failure, or diminished self-esteem. You might also feel irritable, tearful, and guilty.
“We might give ourselves a hard time when we drop the ball by doing a bad job or failing to finish what we were striving to complete in the impossible timetable we set for ourselves.”
Anger, toward yourself or toward others, is another common component of hurry sickness, she explains. This anger could show up as outbursts, even road rage.
“Hurry sickness can eclipse what’s really important in our lives — our relationships with others,” Sword says.
Perhaps you don’t listen to your partner because you’re worrying about everything you have to do, or you snap at your children when they’re slow to get moving.
You forget important dates, push others aside because you lack the time to offer emotional support or physical affection, and find it difficult to keep hold of the frayed edges of your temper.
In short, you struggle to remain present and engaged with your loved ones, which can do lasting emotional damage to all involved.
Spending your days hurrying often means you devote less time to self-care.
Relaxation and alone time might be the first “unnecessary” activities you scrap when you feel busy, but many people with hurry sickness also start to ignore things like hydration, balanced meals, physical activity, or sleep.
- trouble sleeping
- changes in appetite
- stomach issues
- decreased immune health
Researchers looked at five traits in more than 3,000 adults between the ages of 18 and 30:
- time urgency
When researchers followed up with participants 15 years later, they found that 15 percent of the participants had developed hypertension.
Study authors say competitiveness, anxiety, and depression didn’t appear to increase hypertension risk. Known risk factors, including lack of exercise, alcohol use, or obesity, also didn’t seem to affect the results.
What did appear to increase risk were two specific traits: Time urgency/impatience and hostility. What’s more, those who experienced these traits more strongly showed greater risk for hypertension.
At first, slowing down might feel impossible — you’ll never get anything done, and thinking about the tasks waiting will only add to your stress. But remember: You can work much more efficiently when your mind isn’t bogged down by racing thoughts.
Instead of coming to a screeching halt, it’s often more helpful to slow down, well, slowly.
These strategies can help you push back the urge to keep rushing and get in the habit of taking life as it comes.
Take a walk
Putting down what you’re doing and temporarily changing your environment can help you counter the need to hurry, even when you feel most rushed.
Walking gets you moving, which can help improve physical health, but it can also help
As you walk, take deep breaths to ground and refresh yourself. Aim to walk for 30 minutes, if you can. A half hour spent stretching your legs, breathing fresh air, and getting some sunlight can energize you and even boost creativity, so you might find yourself returning to your responsibilities with a renewed outlook and improved mood.
Mindfulness — whether it’s meditation or just taking a few deep breaths — helps you focus your attention on the things happening in the moment, so it’s an important skill to develop when trying to manage hurry sickness.
Trying to multitask and jam several activities into one short span of time can leave you distracted and frustrated:
You’re replying to an email from your boss while making a doctor’s appointment over the phone. Since you aren’t entirely listening, you end up needing the information repeated before you can accurately note down the time and date of your appointment. When you finish the call, you notice you’ve typed some of the receptionist’s words into your email, so you have to review it again to check for other errors.
When your awareness remains with your current task, instead of wandering along to everything else you have to do, you’ll probably notice you do a better job and feel more satisfied with your results.
You’re cooking dinner. Instead of rushing through the chopping and slicing your finger open, you slow down and focus on the rhythm of the knife and the uniform shape of the vegetable slices. Putting more of your attention into the meal allows you to take more pride in your work when it comes out just as you envisioned.
Mindfulness takes practice, and you might notice worries and distracting thoughts keep popping up.
But instead of fixating on the slipping sands of time, acknowledge those thoughts and then let them go. Accept that yes, you have other things to do later, and remind yourself you’ll get there when you get there.
Take care of important needs
There are certain physical needs you simply can’t neglect, no matter how busy you become.
Your body needs fuel and rest to function properly. Without food and water, quality sleep, companionship, and exercise, you won’t be able to maintain your top speed for very long. Eventually, you won’t be able to maintain any speed at all.
Instead of denying your body’s essential needs because you’re in too much of a hurry, remind yourself investing in your body helps prevent hunger, exhaustion, and burnout, making it possible to keep going.
Sleep, hydration, nutrition, and exercise make up the basics of self-care. Other key components, including relaxation, can improve quality of life along with physical health.
Making time for yourself makes it easier to show up as your best self and stay present as you move throughout the day. Balancing your responsibilities with enjoyable activities also makes it easier to remember that you don’t always need to hurry.
Relaxation might involve quiet moments sitting alone, an hour of online shopping, an afternoon with a good book, or a long talk with your best friend. How you choose to unwind matters less than the fact that you do find time to unwind.
If you struggle to find time to relax or can’t justify taking that time, aim for just 15 minutes to yourself each day. As you begin to notice the benefits, finding longer periods for relaxation may prove less of a challenge.
Learn to recognize your limits
People often get stuck in the hurry cycle because they have a hard time saying no. When you accept more responsibilities than you can realistically handle, you’ll almost certainly find yourself rushing to cram everything in.
You might worry saying “no” will upset loved ones or create difficulties at work, but consider another possible outcome: You say “yes” but end up not having time to get to the task or do a good job with it.
Setting healthy boundaries for yourself (and sticking with them) can help:
- “I won’t take on extra work when I have more than one current project.”
- “I’ll make time for a walk every day so I can relax and recharge.”
Prioritization can also make a difference. You probably can’t refuse every task you’d like to turn down. Instead, evaluate your responsibilities and identify which need immediate attention and which can wait.
Remember, too, that it never hurts to ask for help. If you truly can’t let anything go, a good next step might involve seeking help from a co-worker or loved one.
It’s not always easy to break free of long-standing patterns. If you just can’t seem to slow down, a therapist can offer guidance and support.
Sword recommends talking to a professional particularly when you find yourself doing dangerous things, like speeding, or struggling to control irritability or anger toward others.
Therapy can also help when a sense of time urgency fuels anxiety and other emotional or physical distress. A therapist can teach mindfulness and relaxation techniques, along with other tools to help manage hurry sickness.
Support from a therapist can also make it easier to identify potential contributing factors, such as people-pleasing tendencies or a fear of failure. By addressing hurry sickness at the root, you’re more likely to see lasting improvement.
Pressing the “pause” button and disrupting the hurry cycle is often easier said than done. But living your life on fast-forward won’t do much to support long-term wellness.
“Stop and smell the roses” might be a cliche, but that doesn’t make it bad advice. Taking life at a more gradual pace leaves you with more time to enjoy important relationships and savor everything life offers, both large and small.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.