Career Woman

Why ‘busyness’ makes you feel special


Question: How are you? Answer: Busy! Like me, you’ve probably heard the answer to the question and answered it the same way.

How often have you heard (or said), “’I’m very relaxed, coping with everything in my life, and finding time to re-energise every week”?  My guess is never. Right now, it’s all about how much pressure we are under, how many tasks we have on our plates and exhaustion and busyness.

It’s become  a competition to prove who is working harder – even between spouses. I commonly talk to people who feel compelled to make their partner understand just how stressful their day was, whether it was out at work or home with the kids.

Why do we do this? And perhaps more importantly, is this behaviour helpful?  The answer to the latter is no. It is not helpful and sets off our flight and fight reactions, meaning we are successful in only stressing ourselves.  As to why? We do it because it makes us feel special.

If I am busy, I am successful

Busyness has become a sort of status symbol. If we are ‘busy’ we are perceived as being productive and important. We are now living in an era that Dr Anna Akbari has labelled the Culture of Busyness and a 2016 study revealed that when people are seen as lacking in leisure time or time for anything other than work, it elevates others’ perceptions of them because it implicitly suggests that they are in high demand.

Yet, ironically, being time-poor or overwhelmed with work is also linked to chronic stress. Chronic stress is linked with higher rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mental health issues. Interestingly, 46 percent of Australians consider their workplace as mentally unhealthy.

This is not to say that a certain amount of stress in the workplace isn’t helpful or to be expected but measuring your value according to how far you stretch yourself on a regular basis takes it too far.

What do you define as busy?  

Sadly, having free time is associated with lack of success, yet isn’t living an exciting or carefree lifestyle a major goal of highly driven people? Too often, this gets lost in our hectic lives. Doesn’t having a calendar full of leisure pursuits, home related activities and family events also make us ‘busy’? Wouldn’t we all be better off if we began placing greater emphasis on what we did with our time than how much of it is spent working?

Success should be measured according to the time we spend with the people we love and doing the things we like to do.

Here are some tips for staying healthy if you are chronically ‘busy’:

  1. Be aware of your beliefs. Challenge them when they are not healthy and pushing you to work harder at the expense of your health. Unhelpful thoughts include If I’m not stressed, I’m not working hard enough. If I’m not busy I mustn’t be in demand. Successful people are busy so if I have enough time in my day, I must not be successful/ competent/ambitious enough.
  2. Choose meaningful work. Being truly engaged in meaningful work, even for long hours, will not be negative. Life is short, use your time wisely.
  3. Do not choose to be stressed. Make a proactive choice to be relaxed and do everything in your power to achieve that – including not getting competitive. When people answer your question ‘how are you?’ with ‘busy’, I tell my clients to answer “That must be hard. I’m productive and enjoying each day, getting through it in a way I can manage. Life is good.”
  4. Be aware of marketing messages around this and be discerning. When a fast food company tells you that you don’t have time to cook, so let them provide your meals, persist in the healthy practice of cooking home cooked meals.
  5. Being busy has become a status symbol in our society. Work on your self esteem so that you have good feelings about yourself without having to acquire status through a brand name product or lifestyle. Being an individual with autonomy boosts self esteem. Do you stay in 5-star hotels rather than go camping even though you prefer camping? I hope not. Similarly, be your own person.

About Renee Mill

Renee Mill is a Senior Clinical Psychologist at Anxiety Solutions CBT, and author of Anxiety Free, Drug Free and Parenting Without Anger. She has worked as a clinical psychologist in private practice for over 30 years and is the owner of stress and anxiety clinic Anxiety Solutions CBT, located in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. She has successfully treated hundreds of individuals, couples and families, and has appeared as an expert commentator on stress, anxiety and depression for TODAY, The Morning Show, ABC Radio, and more.

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