We live in a culture that glamourizes and glorifies being busy and living an accelerated daily life. Every single day our American culture reminds us in some way that being busy is a badge of honor and that if we want to experience “success”, constant productivity is the key. This cultural value originated in large part during the Industrial Revolution when men and women could not compete with the higher efficiency of machines and were quickly replaced. And with more women entering the workforce, time to take care of the household became more scarce and eat away at leisure time. Today, as book and magazine covers read “achieve greatness” or “build better habits” we are still enticed to learn how to create routines that maximize every second of our days.
When we miss an event or can’t reply to a text right away, we almost automatically respond with “sorry, I was busy.” We say this, in part, because we know that busy is the one state everyone else can relate to, and in part to avoid problems or more responsibility. We know that others will understand our busyness- after all, we are all busy people. However, being busy has become such commonplace that we now use it to mean our regular daily lives, not actually being busy with an activity or project.
Busyness = Productivity
One of the biggest myths of busyness is that it means productivity. Our obsession with being busy leads us to create more work for ourselves by searching for the next project or filling our time with tasks that do not add value to our daily lives instead of enjoying some idle time. In turn, we feel like we do a lot but do not actually accomplish that much. The problem is that in order to be productive we need more than time: we also need good mental capacity, physical energy, and intentionality.
Successful people are always busy, working hard.
We all want to be successful in one way or another, but does success have to look the same across the board? When we consider what it means to be successful we also have to take into account individual differences because no two people may define success in the same way. The constant need for “doing” something take away our ability to “be”- be with ourselves, our thoughts, our imagination. Isaac Newton would not have been able to develop the law of gravitation if he had not taken the time to sit under the apple tree and contemplate the gardens.
How being overly productive can impact you
It seems counterintuitive to many - the idea that slowing down can get you farther in life. So, we continue staying as productive as possible until it leads to feeling overwhelmed and stressed. Eventually, our constant busyness takes a toll on our mental, emotional, and physical health. Like the hare who was overly concerned with doing too much rather than focusing on the path, you may also have trouble crossing your finish line.
Feeling overwhelmed can lead to burnout, negatively affecting everything from your health to work performance and relationships. Being overly focused on being productive can ultimately cause you to feel too exhausted to perform basic tasks that require minimum attention, like having a conversation.
Ironically, our high levels of motivation and drive can lead to a loss of both of those - and a loss of joy and passion. And when you begin to feel depressed or empty, it can contribute to sleeplessness and neglect of your self-care and personal needs.
If instead of prioritizing your health, you prioritize adding more to your plate, this can take a significant toll on your physical health. It’s not only the stress in and of itself that can cause muscle tension, fatigue, headaches, digestive issues, and a compromised immune system. The stress coupled with (and that leads to) the lack of self-care, regular sleep, and exercise can trigger or worsen your symptoms.
Because we glamourize busyness, we tend to overcommit, becoming burdened by responsibilities, appointments, and obligations. This can lead to us feeling overwhelmed, anxious, stressed, and angry. We may even feel guilty at times when we fail to uphold our promises. What’s worse is when these perceived failures lead to feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy.
It is also common for people to correlate their self-worth to their perception of how busy they are. Others tend to compare their level of busyness to others, which causes them to feel incapable.
Learning to slow down and say “no”
If you are feeling overwhelmed or can relate to any of the above symptoms, please, slow down!
Unhealthy amounts of busyness can lead to actual problems with your mental health. While therapy can help you address any of these issues should they develop, the symptoms become harder to manage the longer you go without help. Before you end up feeling overwhelmed, be proactive and choose therapy to help you learn how to set boundaries or practice techniques for slowing down like mindfulness.
Not sure how to actually slow down? Try these:
Next time you are asked to do something or invited to attend an event and you feel completely overwhelmed by the ask, gently decline by saying “I am not able to ___ without feeling overly stretched. Perhaps next time”
Walk outside for 5 minutes each day and take in the sights, smells, and sunlight.
Drink your coffee or tea each morning without scrolling through your phone.
Go to bed 10 minutes before your regular time and just lay there (also, no phone).
Before walking into your home at the end of the workday (or after running errands), sit in your car and take 20 slow breaths.
Take some time for yourself each week to simply sit with your thoughts – you can look over a garden, lake, the ocean, flowers, your pet, your children… anything that pleases the eye.
Take an extra 3 minutes at the end of each meal to feel the sensations of nourishment in your body.
Remember: you are a human BEING, not a human DOING.
Priscila Norris, MS, MSW, LCSW, RYT
Psychotherapist, Yoga Teacher.
Slow living advocate.
E. P. Thompson, TIME, WORK-DISCIPLINE, AND INDUSTRIAL CAPITALISM, Past & Present, Volume 38, Issue 1, December 1967, Pages 56–97, https://doi.org/10.1093/past/38.1.56
Gefter, A (2010). Newton’s Apple: The real story. New Scientist. https://www.newscientist.com/article/2170052-newtons-apple-the-real-story/