Being excessively busy can get in the way of you living your best life
How many times have you started your day looking at a long to-do list, checking numerous emails, forecasting multiple appointments and obligations for the day and wondering how you are going to get it all done? Our world is busy and continues to place demands on our time like never before. We are often juggling responsibilities at work and at home, trying to find time to take care of ourselves and maybe even have fun once in a while. As much as we may complain about being busy, we seem to not be slowing down at all. What is the appeal of being busy and how might it be getting in the way of you living your best life?
So often we tend to view being busy as a badge of honor or a way to establish status and a sense of worth. This line of thinking tends to make sense in our society because, for the most part, it is still fairly individualistic and no one wants to feel like they are being left behind. We are wired for connection and want to not only belong but feel important, as if being perceived as important or needed better secures our connections with others.
What We Think of Ourselves
Living in the world means that we are interacting with others. From an early age, as we are learning about the world and how we fit into it, we begin to look at what others are doing as a point of reference.
Psychology Today describes social comparison theory as, “… determining our own social and personal self-worth based on how we stack up against others we perceive as somehow faring better or worse.”
As we go through various seasons of life we look around and, not only notice what others are doing, but place value and meaning to what we see. We then use this value and meaning to look at ourselves and what we’re doing to determine where we stand.
In our observations of the world around us, we might start to notice patterns of what seems to help people gain things like:
As we notice these patterns, it is common to naturally incorporate that information into our narrative of who we are, who we want to be, or who we believe we are supposed to be. The values of society start to integrate with our development of values and tend to guide our decision making.
If our desire is to feel connected, successful, accepted and influential, then we are going to look and see what seems to work to help people achieve those things.
In our society, one of those behavior patterns we are likely to notice could include someone who is always on-the-go, over scheduled, and moving in a variety of directions at once. Naturally, our observations tell us that is what we should be doing as well if we want success, connection, acceptance, and influence.
What Others Think of Us
As a human being interacting with other human beings, it is fair to say that we are apt to consider what others think of us. Admittedly, we are looking around observing others and placing meaning and value to their behavior and assume others would be doing the same with us, observing our behavior and placing value to what they see us doing or not doing.
We learn that how we show up in the world seems to matter. If we have learned through our own social experiences that certain patterns of behavior, such as being extraordinarily busy and constantly on-the-go lead to being successful, connected and accepted by others, then we may find it appealing to engage in those behaviors.
Harvard researcher and professor Matthew Lieberman, Ph.D., studies the neuroscience of human connection and suggests that our need to connect is as fundamental as our need for food and water. He states in his book, Social, “We intuitively believe social and physical pain are radically different kind of experiences yet the way our brains treat them suggests that they are more similar than we imagine.”
In other words, when we feel social pain, such as feeling judged or rejected, it matters to our mind, heart and our bodies. We want to avoid that kind of pain, so we do what we can to avoid having to experience it.
Being busy can possibly offer us a sense of assurance that we have secured a social place within our community. We see ourselves as plugged in, connected, and valued and assume other people likely see us the same way as we continue to demonstrate our excessively busy behavior.
However, the pain of rejection or disconnect that we are trying to avoid may not outweigh the pain we put our minds and bodies through by glorifying busyness and being constantly on-the-go.
Busy vs. Productive
Many of us have been in situations where we have gone through the day feeling extremely busy and overcommitted in our scheduling and obligations, yet look back on our day not feeling particularly productive.
Being busy and being productive can often be confused with one another. However, being productive means more than running around endlessly and feeling over-extended. Merriam-Webster defines the word productive as, “Yielding results, benefits or profits.” Essentially, it means that we have something to show for our hard work. Being busy has to do with an amount of time, where productivity has more to do with our use of time.
Impact on Emotional Health
When we glorify busyness we are likely to overextend ourselves with varied obligations, appointments, commitments, and responsibilities.
There are many ways in which this lifestyle can impact our emotional health, such as leaving us to feel:
In our attempts to preserve connection and secure our sense of value by being overly busy, we end up taking on too much and can easily become flooded with negative emotion and even feeling isolated from others.
When we are unable to complete tasks or adequately fulfill the many obligations we have dedicated ourselves to, we can feel guilty and ashamed for letting people down or letting ourselves down. The reality is that our expectations were likely unrealistic and the ability to follow through successfully would have been impossible.
Over time, the experience of these emotions can leave us feeling as if we will never be enough. People who glorify busyness tend to find self-worth through tasks, performance, and accomplishment.
It might be easy to understand how this cycle of taking on too much and not being able to adequately follow through can impact our feelings of self-worth, self-efficacy, and self-esteem. If we fear others might see us as incapable as well, our social self is threatened and the very pain of rejection or judgment that we are trying to avoid can have room to creep in.
Impact on Physical Health
Shuttling from one appointment to the next and having no time to spare in our schedule causes us to get creative in how we are feeding ourselves, moving our bodies, and resting. In other words, we end up making poor choices in all of these areas because we either don’t have time to make careful choices or our emotional reservoir is dry due to exhaustion and our impulsive decision making takes over.
Eating drive-through or quick processed foods, skipping exercise, and getting very little sleep are common practices for people who glorify busyness. The risk of not being able to socially keep up or feel valuable is too great and, in turn, our physical health and well-being can become compromised.
The ways in which excessive busyness can impact our physical health include things like:
Compromised immune system
Change in sex drive
Impact on Relationships
When we are stretched thin for time and already unable to effectively follow through on our multitude of commitments, it is understandable that our relationships would suffer as a result of being excessively busy.
As with other things, relationships need time and energy to continue growing. If you are often over scheduled and overcommitted, you likely have neither time nor energy to spend nurturing your relationships with others.
Overall, relationships can be fairly flexible. We understand when people are busy and that it can be difficult to schedule time to chat or connect, especially as adults. However, when someone is chronically busy they can appear unapproachable, detached, and uninterested to those around them.
As described in many types of couples therapy such as Emotionally Focused Therapy, there are three main components to look for in healthy, connected relationships: Accessibility, Responsiveness, and Engagement. When our relationships are lacking in one of these areas, it is likely we don’t feel very connected.
Demanding, overextended schedules leave no time for meaningful connection. In our efforts to preserve relationships, we may send a quick text or attempt to make plans. Over time, especially when attempts to get together are disrupted by last minute changes, people can feel devalued and be less willing to compromise and forgive. Patterns of broken connection lead to people feeling distant and uninterested in maintaining connections. Relationships with friends, family, spouses, and even children can be impacted by the glorification of busyness.
Benefits to Making Change
Creating change in the area of busyness can offer us improved physical health, greater peace and joy, and better, more connected, relationships. Having time for others and ourselves can offer us that sense of safety, value, and connection we were once looking for by being so busy.
Some of the benefits can include:
Improved physical health
Opportunities for self-care
Deeper connections with loved ones
Steps You Can Take
Examine the Source of Your Self-Worth
When we are excessively busy and glorify the idea of busyness, it is common to gain our sense of self-worth through tasks, performance, accolades, and recognition from others.
Most can agree these things feel good in the moment but, overall, don’t seem to fulfill our sense of self-worth in a meaningful and substantial way. The good feelings do not last long before we tell ourselves it isn’t enough and we feel pushed to move on to the next task or performance.
As we work to make intentional change in how we spend our time, it is helpful to reexamine where our sense of self-worth has been coming from and how well it has worked. Take a moment to evaluate your core values and allow yourself to be honest with what may have a longer-lasting impact on your positive self-worth. An example of this could be recognizing that over-scheduling yourself leaves you feeling exhausted rather than valued.
In exploring your core values you may find that spending time with family offers you a more meaningful sense of connection and value, and choose to set aside more time for that during the week or on the weekends.
Challenge Your Narrative
Our narrative is what we tend to tell ourselves about who we are, our worth, our abilities, and our purpose, among other things. Being excessively busy is usually a result of our desire to feel worthy, valuable, and connected but can end up leaving us feeling isolated, exhausted, and inadequate.
As you begin to make changes in scheduling and setting healthier boundaries around your time, you may find the need to challenge an old narrative that says you are not enough if you’re doing all things all the time. It can feel unnatural to slow down a bit and cause you to feel vulnerable. Allow yourself the opportunity to challenge your old narrative and update it with a healthier view of self, your worth, and your purpose.
People who glorify busyness and are chronically overscheduled tend to have difficulty setting boundaries with others and being assertive. As you learn to say no to excessive projects, tasks, and appointments, you may fear how people respond to you, especially if they are not used to hearing no from you.
Remember why you are taking better control over your time and keep the big picture in mind. Managing time and ridding yourself of excessive busyness is likely about connecting with friends and family, taking care of your physical health, and living with more peace and joy. Remind yourself of those things as you determine where to set boundaries. It is not so much about saying no to the person in front of you as it is about saying yes to yourself and the people who mean the most to you.
By Jodi Clarke, MA, LPC/MHSP, Reviewed by a board-certified physician