Are you addicted to being busy?

3 min read

TwitterLinkedInFacebookEmailCopy LinkPrint

Stand in the reception area of any office and listen to people greet each other. After the mandatory ‘hello’, the next question is ‘’how are you?’’. The answer, at least 50% of the time is, ‘’Busy’’. Why do we answer a question about our health and state of mind with a response about our productivity?

Busyness has become a signifier of social status. If we are busy, we must be needed, be valuable, be in demand…We have become trained to see busy as good. But is it? Are there costs of being perpetually busy? Could busyness be a socially sanctioned addiction which keeps us too busy to notice what is happening in our lives. Could busyness operate the same way as other addictive substances, like alcohol, which temporarily numbs the pain of an imperfect life or reduces anxiety? There is increasing evidence that busyness can be used as a way of medicating depression and anxiety. *A UK-wide stress survey has found that almost three-quarters of adults (74%) have felt so stressed over the past year that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.

In Brené Brown’s book ,Daring Greatly, she writes: “One of the most universal numbing strategies is what I call crazy-busy. I often say that when they start having twelve-step meetings for busy-aholics, they’ll need to rent out football stadiums. We are a culture of people who’ve bought into the idea that if we stay busy enough, the truth of our lives won’t catch up with us.”

There is a fine line between being busy to stay productive and using it to avoid your feelings or make you feel better about yourself, at which point it becomes an addiction.

Here are some signs you might be a busyness addict:

  1. Whenever you begin to feel unpleasant feelings, you dive into staying busy.
  2. When stopping your ‘busyness’, your feelings immediately return, leaving you sad or depressed.
  3. You find yourself feeling angry, frustrated, anxious or short-tempered.
  4. You no longer have time to take care of yourself or slow down.
  5. You find other people commenting on your busyness and asking if you’re okay.
  6. Your schedule is completely full.
  7. You feel exhausted because of your packed schedule.
  8. Your emotional reaction to life does not mirror the events of your life. For example, you are going through something painful, sad, or even joyous and happy, yet your feelings are neutral. You aren’t “feeling” anything.
  9. You are obsessed with ticking things off your to-do list.
  10. You are always multitasking; if you are watching TV, you are on the computer; if you are talking on the phone, you are making dinner. You can’t stand to do one thing and just engage in that activity.
  11. You check your phone, email and social media obsessively.

The key thing that all of these have in common is that they pull us into more and more busyness. And when we are in busy mode, we don’t have to FEEL anything–which sadly is the goal. 

There are some serious costs of a busyness addiction. Numbing always comes with a price. The most unappreciated costs are how much less intelligent and aware it makes us. It means that we do not fully ‘show up’ in our own lives. Over time, suppressing your unwanted feelings results in a buildup of emotions that can manifest in anger, frustration, resentment, isolation, and other unhealthy mental states. You can only avoid your emotional wellbeing for so long before it affects your mental and physical health. The problem may result in burnout , severe depression and relationship breakdown as others feel that you are never fully present or not present at all.

What can you do to reduce busyness in your life and set healthy boundaries?

  1. Recognise your ‘busyness’ signs and triggers. Do specific challenging emotions or events prompt you to fill up your calendar?
  2. Eliminate activities that leave you feeling overwhelmed.
  3. Include natural check-in points throughout the day.
  4. Making rest time a priority in your schedule.
  5. Ask friends and family to help you stay accountable.
  6. Remember, this is a process and like any addiction, you can’t fix it overnight.
  7. You may benefit from counselling to talk about the feelings that you are suppressing.

Author Debbie Dudley

Source: *Mental Health Foundation Survey