10 Apr Busy isn’t cool!
Overwhelmed? Anxious? Exhausted?
In today’s day and age, we are beginning to live our lives at a relentless and unforgiving pace. Today, society glorifies being “busy.” Especially in the western world. Busy means powerful, important and capable. When people ask you how you are, it’s cool to say “busy.” Fuck that. Being busy isn’t cool. Is it cool to be drained, unhappy, judgemental of ourselves, forgetful and an asshole? Hell no! Cortisol is spiking, adrenaline is firing from the second we get up in the morning, we are tired when we wake up but wired when we go to sleep. Being crazy-busy implies stress, and our body can only take so much pressure before it activates its stress response and runs on “survival or panic mode.”
Saying yes to a million things and filling our calendar with “stuff” is a sure fire recipe for a disaster. This can sometimes creep up on us, slowly like rain before a flood. We travel along well for a while, managing our busy days and being ultra productive. People comment on how amazing we are, our ego loves this and we absorb a sense of pride. Then, all of a sudden, like a cyclone, something extra we hadn’t planned for blasts through our lives up and we go from being productive and happy to being overwhelmed and crying over a dirty dish left next to the sink. When we busy ourselves with task after task, we begin to see that the quality of our actions suffer. By trying to squeeze too much into your schedule, you ultimately lose the quality from those experiences anyway. You mind is churning over the next place you need to be, and you aren’t fully present. Tell me, what is the point of being somewhere and doing something, if you can’t even enjoy it or fully immerse yourself in it?
Busy is an illness. A global epidemic. I am afraid that it has hit women harder in my generation than we have ever seen before. With every year we grow older, we get busier. We get more stressed, we try to live up to more expectations and we add more and more to our load. Recently, a number of events led me to realise I had a serious case of ‘Rushing Woman’s Syndrome’ – a term coined by Doctor Libby Weaver . I hit my wall and I hit it hard. I have come along way from the person I once was. A person who ran herself into the ground regularly. This time, the sneaky sucker got me without me having an opportunity to catch it sooner. I’d had a good run of feeling positive, productive and happy. I was making great decisions, I was on top of my life, feelings, work, and friends. So, as a result of my misguided positivity, I said yes to more things. I enrolled full time in uni while working a demanding full time job. I volunteered time to a charity, I joined work networking teams that meet outside of work hours and I filled my weekends catching up with friend after friend. Every morning I set about exercising, blogging, meditating – busy, busy, busy! But the thing about this state, is that I had no emergency plan. I hadn’t thought about what would happen if my life wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies. What would happen if disaster struck? My calendar was full. I had no down time. I was ultra productive but I didn’t have a single second to sit back and savour any part of my life. In this one particular week, I got some not so great health news (bummer), I also reconciled with a friend after some time apart (amazing!). Although, because I was so full in all other areas of my life, I did not have a minute to digest either my suffering or my happiness. It whirred like an undercurrent. I knew it was there but I said to myself every morning, “Not today please, I have X, Y and Z to get through. Maybe tomorrow.” The thing about disasters is that when that hurricane hits, there isn’t any stopping it. You have to close all those shutters, find a safe spot, sit, cover your eyes and take the hit. The morning that my storm hit, I was so emotional and indecisive that I couldn’t make up my mind whether I wanted to go to the gym or walk around the block. I paced my house. I stood up, then sat down. I told myself it was fine, then no it wasn’t. I got myself into a tizz over a routine daily activity. Then, when my husband woke up in the morning and asked me the simple question, “what are your plans this morning,” I…LOST…MY…SHIT.
From here, a headache spread across my forehead and to the other side of my head. My eyes sank, I felt panic rise inside me from the inside out. I burst into tears – hello exhaustion old friend, it’s (not so) nice to see you again. It’s pretty common knowledge that our bodies don’t respond well to stress. When cortisol (our primary stress hormone) is elevated for a prolonged period of time, our immune system starts to falter, anxiety steps in, libido diminishes, and aging is accelerated. (no, not the wrinkles!!!)
Being busy all the time is causing a number of stress symptoms:
Memory loss – constantly forgetting where things are, losing your train of thought mid sentence, jumping from task to task or forgetting where you are up to? Cortisol, the hormone released when you are stressed, damages the brain over time and can lead to memory problems.
Irritability – When we are stressed, our minds are so overloaded that we are unable to logically and calmly process situations and information. Hence, we have less and less tolerance for mistakes and irregularities.
Waking up tired – Morning fatigue is one of the surest signs that you are overworked, overstretched, and overscheduled. The feeling of overwhelming tiredness after waking up indicates that you have not rested well during the night. You may have gone to bed and shut your eyes early but your busy mind just won’t shut down.
Frequent headaches – Tension headaches are among the most common symptoms of chronic stress. Part of the body’s response to stress is muscular contraction; however, when exposure to stress is prolonged, muscles often spasm, resulting in some sort of pain or discomfort. Spasm of the muscles in the upper back, neck, and scalp area results in tension headaches.
Sulky, sooky moods – Stress can cause a roller coaster of emotions because it has the capacity to affect your body’s hormone levels and also cause brain disturbances. This is why a lot of people who have been exposed to a great deal of stress for a prolonged period see an altered shift in their moods.
We only have 24 hours in a day, so why are we trying to cram 120 hours worth of stuff into them?!? Shauna Niequist (never hear of her? Me either, but I listened to a podcast with her and Oprah (God on earth) – she was smart – trust me) is the author of Be present over Perfect. On Oprah’s show, they discussed Shauna’s experience with running herself into the ground to owning her life again. In this podcast, Shauna discussed how we are turning into a planet full of chronic stress heads. If you have identified that you are a person who fills you calendar with thing after thing, always feels rushed and never has a minute to yourself, you need to look at why. Go deep within and ask yourself – ‘Why am I so busy? What am I running from? What don’t I want to acknowledge when I am alone with myself?’ It is here that you may be able to shine the spotlight on what you are trying to run from inside yourself. Perhaps it may be that you are living up to an unrealistic expectation you have placed on yourself. Maybe it stretched right back to your childhood. Do you come from a family of super efficient and productive people? Are you stressed about something that you don’t have the energy to deal with, so you simply busy yourself? What is it? Find it. It is then you you may recognise that everyone is trying to be who everyone else needs them to be. Be who you need yourself to be. Be happy.
I am aware enough now to know when things aren’t okay and I need a break. But I am not so good at listening to warning signs or even noticing them in the first place. In light of my morning meltdown, I called in sick to work. I could barely open my eyes, let alone move. I knew that I needed a day in bed, so I stayed in my pyjamas and lay in bed. But I didnt really lay in bed, I stayed home and “fake rested.” Yep, I didn’t really rest. I made it look like I was full chilled, but…I still busied myself with uni, emails and planning. By the end of the day I still felt like shit. As the universe has my back, it delivered me a message that day. I randomly selected and listened to a great podcast. It was Shauna’s. This was when I learned about fake resting and it became very VERY clear to me that I needed to slow down. Thanks Universe, I hear ya!
Alright, so now you may have identified that you are one of these busy people too. Never fear, you can get out of the hamster wheel! If you don’t want to continue on this trajectory you have to adjust. Nothing will change until you take charge of your life and pull back. You got yourself into the mess, you can get yourself out of it. You are the boss of your time! You can author your life. Make the decision to STOP RIGHT NOW AND TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE.
Some questions to ask to help you regain control again….
- Ask yourself, what really matters to you in your life right now?Surely work or serving people who aren’t important to you isn’t going to be at the top of your list. For me, my husband matters, my health matters, my family and the people I care about are all the most important things to me.
- The next question is – what do you do to reflect this? Crickets on my end. On a good day, I make lots of decisions that mean I am a good wife and friend. But for the majority of the time, I busy myself with daily administrative tasks. I rush, I skim the surface and I fill up my timetable. It is really important that you take action to serve your priorities and not the other meaningless tasks.
- Okay, now try this one – who are you when you are your worst self? For me, the answer was – exhausted. My worst self is anxious, angry, controlling, my way or the highway, my schedule is full.
- This is a nice question – Who is your best self? Who are you when things are going well? I am kind, I am generous, relaxed and I love spending time with family and friends. I am creative, helpful and centred.
- Last one, What do you need to do in order to be your best self all the time? I most certainly needed to start saying no to things. I needed to consider future me (who could possibly be stressed or emotional) when I booked in lots of appointments and took on tasks. Another big factor I needed to consider was sleep. 8 hours of sleep and I am a much more stable being.
If the final question has you stuck, consider some of these tips for what you can do in order to return to the best version of yourself…
Sleep – something’s got to give. Get to bed earlier and aim for 8 hours. If you struggle to wind down then switch off the TV and all technology and spend the hour before bed reading a book (not your phone) under lamp light only. You will be out like a light in no time.
Prioritise – what is most important in your life? Write a list of important tasks and only tackle a couple each day. Let people know that you have a lot going on and that they may have to wait a little longer. People (decent people) appreciate and relate to vulnerability. Let people know if you need extra time to do things.
Practice mindfulness (or don’t) – If you need to quieten your mind, try out some guided meditation. There are a million short exercised on youtube (Anything by Deepak Chopra is usually a good one) or give an app a go (Smiling Mind is excellent. However, if you are already doing it and it’s making you feel too anxious (this was me), simply take a break and scratch it from the to-do list for a little while.
Try out another way to calm your mind – Go for a walk and listen to a podcast (I love The Melissa Ambrossini’s Show), just walk and listen to nothing, pat your dog (or a strangers dog), go for a coffee alone, read a book, take a bath, anything that gives you even 30 minutes to yourself.
Plan to be stressed – When locking in future tasks, think ahead and plan to be stressed – Ask yourself, “Would I be able to handle this task with little sleep or stress?” If the answer is yes – then SAY NO.
Allocate time for yourself – bath, face mask, calling a friend, yoga – any self care task that makes you happy. Put it in your calendar for at least once a week and stick to it. Self-care Sundays are a fun way to do this. Make the day (or even just a few hours of it) all about you.
Plan in down time – time to rest, sit, read, watch a favourite TV show or do nothing. Resist the urge to ‘fake rest.’
Let yourself feel emotions if you need to – It’s okay to have a bad day. Don’t feel bad that you aren’t always in a bright and bubbly mood. Just have a stern talking to yourself if this happens more often than not.
Chat to someone – be vulnerable and let someone know how you are feeling. Sometimes just talking about things is so helpful and you never know, a friends advice could be very convincing.
“Don’t get so busy making a living, that you forget to make a life… “Following my mini melt down, I asked myself the above questions and followed some of the simple tasks above. As a result, I have started to say no to more things, I sat down with my husband and prioritized what was important and can happily say that over the past few weeks, I have done lots of sleeping, relaxing and engaged in self-care time. On the other hand, I have also studied and worked too. You can do it all, just not all at once. When you are able to get that lovely balance of self-care and life tasks, things fall into place and life seems easier. The more you work yourself up and kill yourself trying to live up to high expectations (that you have set for yourself), the more the important things in life suffer. You will never regret living your life in alignment with your priorities, but I can assure you, you will regret a life filled with work, stress and unfulfilling tasks.
Stop right now…Take control of your life…