Taking down the unspoken culprit that’s sucking the joy, vibrancy and health out of our lives: excessive busyness — and how we can instead trade busy for full
I’m always open to chatting about busy; it seems everyone else is, too. Is epidemic too strong a word to describe the extent to which ‘busy’ is impacting our health, our happiness, and the quality of our relationships? I don’t think so.
It really hit home recently when I read these words from Dr. Suzanne Koven, physician of internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston: “In the past few years, I’ve observed an epidemic of sorts: patient after patient suffering from the same condition. The symptoms of this condition include fatigue, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, headaches, heartburn, bowel disturbances, back pain, and weight gain. There are no blood tests or X-rays diagnostic of this condition, and yet it’s easy to recognize. The condition is excessive busyness.”
Let’s make a checklist of these health symptoms:
- Bowel Disturbances
- Back Pain
- Weight Gain
If you’ve noticed that you suffer from a combination of these symptoms and struggle with saying no because of the crushing guilt or the FOMO (fear of missing out), perhaps it is time to break up with busy.
Busy: A Disease of Perception
A few years ago, my youngest daughter was in preschool. Now, if you’ve experienced the joy of watching a 2-year-old struggle to put her shoes on and the jubilance of a job well done when she succeeds, you were NOT me. I was busy. At least that’s the story, the perception, in my head. So our conversation went more like this:
Me: “B, let Mommy help, we’re in a hurry.”
B: “Brookie do it by myself.”
Me: “Honey, we’re going to be late. Let Mommy help.”
B: “No! No! Brookie do it!” (tears and sadness as she thrust her little body to the ground)
B’s Daddy enters and says to Me with genuine curiosity: “Hey Honey, what‘cha got on the go today?”
Me: “Not that much, a blog post to create and some prep for a talk on getting good at emotional stress for the school board”
B’s Daddy: “Mmmmm. That’s nice.”
I am quite self-aware so it didn’t take much more than the “Mmmmm” to stop me in my busy tracks and jolt me into realizing that I was rushing my daughter, preventing her from refining the life-skill of putting her shoes on all by herself. Not because we had to be somewhere in short order, but because of the stories in my head. The ones that I struggle with daily. The stories that tell me I’m busy, even when I’m not. This is one of the ways busy manifests as a disease of perception.
Once B’s Daddy made me aware that I was acting out the habitual story of busy that I play in my head, I was able to gently acknowledge what was happening. I was able to own that my sense of busy was a perception I was unconsciously applying to the situation with my daughter.
It happens just this innocently.
Life is rolling along and before we know it we’re in a toxic relationship with busy. I can do it all! Just watch me! The perfect seasonal house décor which you can admire when you come for the perfect dinner party where we talk about all we are able to get done in a day and still have time to binge watch the latest Netflix rage before we collapse. And when they say, “How does she do it all?” I’ll proudly display my ‘busy badge of honor’.
Your RX: Trading Busy for Full
Full is the opposite of busy. Whereas a busy life lacks any sense of self-care or allowing your needs to be in the equation, a full life is one in which you build a life you love WHILE you love and care for those around you, and not instead of.
Take my client Trish, for example, and her habit of putting everyone’s needs ahead of her own. When I met Trish at the height of her busy, we connected right away (as busy people-pleasers often do). Trish is a mom to 3 beautiful boys, a loving wife, and an entrepreneur with 2 thriving businesses. She’s never too busy to connect people in her network to help foster community. I should also include that she’s an enthusiast of local food, hostess of social events, and an all around beautiful person. Whew – I feel overwhelmed just getting that all out!
Despite all of Trish’s wonderful traits, her busy habit left her feeling depleted and reactive. By cultivating a practice of noticing when she is getting depleted, today she is successfully shifting her perception from busy to full. Here’s a reflection she recently shared with me:
“I have had so many shifts in my perceptions since working with you, Amanda. The latest a-ha moment was earlier this week when I realized how much I bend over backwards to make sure my kids get what they want, often sacrificing my own plans for rest or rejuvenation. I had a mama-sized tantrum in front of my teenager and then in a moment of clarity I named my issue — I value their happiness much higher than my own. Now that I have named that ugly truth, it is out there for me to consciously work on. Now, finally, I have a better understanding of the idea that NO is a complete sentence and that I am worthy of time to myself. Seriously, if mama ain’t happy nobody is. This is powerful work.”
This hits home for me. I was everything that Trish was, and some days I still am. Breaking up with busy is a process. It takes baby perception shifts, tiny new habits, and a commitment to taking care of your self.
Practice Makes Full
I’ve been fortunate to have birthed 3 children who are, without a doubt, my greatest life lesson teachers. As I’ve shifted my perception from busy to full, I’ve been able to really acknowledge the wisdom in our relationships and in their insightful and honest comments when I’m not showing up in the most honoring way.
“Mom, when you were busy all the time, overwhelmed and sad, I used to hide my happiness. I felt so guilty being happy around you. You have changed so much. Now that you’re happy, I get to be happy around you and that feels really good.” This is what my son, now 22, said to me a handful of years ago. It’s why I identify as a Happiness Coach. It’s why I am so passionate about sharing my journey. Its why I want everyone to have a chance to trade busy for full.
In truth, the people we love most in this world just want us to be happy. When we don’t own our happiness, when we get too busy physically and emotionally, we unintentionally become a burden to them. So if you’re ready to take a baby step with me today, let me share a little practice that offers huge return on the journey from busy to full.
The next time you are asked to do something — to organize another event at your child’s school, to attend another house party to buy products you don’t really want, to give up an early night to bed when you’re really tired but someone requests your time — ask yourself a few simple questions, then listen closely for the truth to bubble up:
- Would saying yes to (fill in the blank) be a full-body yes?
- Do I really have time to say yes to this request and feel good about it?
- Do I really want to do this?
If yes, rock-on!
If no, please — for the sake of your health, your happiness, and the relationships with those you love — just say no. I pinky-promise swear it will start a ripple of self-nourishment that could very well be the beginning of you breaking up with busy.