Is being ‘busy’ good for us?
Updated: Oct 7
We’ve all heard the excuse, “Sorry, I’m busy right now”. Many of us have even used it ourselves. Being ‘busy’ has become a glorified state of being in which the busier we seem, the better or more accomplished our lives appear to be. We convince ourselves that we don’t have time for ‘this’, and couldn’t possibly fit in ‘that’ – but to what end? Does keeping busy actually make us any happier than the alternative of stopping to smell the roses once in a while? More importantly, just how does this constant state of ‘go’ affect our health and well being?
In today’s society we often place a lot of value on success. But this success seems to repeatedly be laid out as a full-time job, regular exercise, active involvement in any number of hobbies, while still making time to catch up with loved ones. All of this, built up on top of our day-to-day responsibilities and our own expectations of what we should be achieving. It can be a tall order to ask for day-after-day, and can cause burnout or high stress for some. But where do these high expectations come from? Life doesn’t have a guidebook. There is no one marked path for any of us. Yet we constantly compare our journey to that of others – asking ourselves if we measure up, if we are good enough? This repeated comparison can work as a double-edged sword. On one hand it pushes us to achieve higher and do more. But on the other hand it pressures us to fill our days, potentially causing anxiety or fears that we aren’t reaching our full potential, or could be doing more. This persistent pressure fuels the ‘busy’ ideal, running us around in a circle of ‘go’ – compare – then ‘go’ again.
Being busy can nevertheless come with it’s own benefits. Building a little expectation and goal setting into our daily routines can help to increase levels of good stress in the body. As we strive to achieve and push through our daily tasks we can use this controlled pressure to aid us in increasing levels of adrenaline in the body. Adrenaline can result from a range of different stimuli, often having a positive effect on the nervous system and heightening both cognitive and physical functions. Small doses of adrenaline have been linked to increased focus and productivity, as well as improved vision and better respiration. This comes as a result of our Sympathetic Nervous System switching on – more commonly known as our “fight or flight response” – wherein our body looks to prepare us to face the task or stressor that lies ahead. While this added proficiency can come as a real bonus, it is important that we each know our own limits. Trying to do too much, or reacting to a high level of stimuli for a prolonged time can put this system into overdrive, further initiating the release of our stress hormone, cortisol. Similar to adrenaline in that small does of cortisol can be beneficial, continued production of this hormone as a result of high stress can contrastingly lead to a raised heart rate, increased blood pressure, fatigue, mood swings, weight gain, and in some cases increased levels of anxiety.
Living in our busy world with our busy lives, we must ask ourselves how do we move forward from here? The answer isn’t always straightforward, and it most certainly isn’t the same for everyone. Each and every one of us has our limit, and it’s important that we figure out where those limits lie. We need to set realistic goals for ourselves – focusing on what we want to achieve, but also what we truthfully believe we can accomplish. Acknowledge yourself when you get there, and remember that it’s okay to have different goals or desires to others. For some, a successful day might be working dawn till dusk, a gym session after work and then meeting friends for a dinner out. For others, it could simply be going to the supermarket and making dinner for the family. Each and every one of us lives a different life, wants different things and goes down different paths. So, can we really expect to mirror or compete with the schedule of our neighbour, colleague or friend?
While ‘keeping busy’ has its time and place, sometimes we may find we need to simply slow down and stop. Here are a few quick ideas to help you reset and take a breather when life gets a bit too hectic.
1. Stop and smell the roses. Okay maybe not literally – but the sentiment is in the right place. If you start to feel overwhelmed, take a minute to stop and take a couple of deep, slow breaths. Breathing is a great tool to help you reset and clear your mind before reacting or facing a stressful situation.
*Tip: Try box breathing: breathe in for a count of four, hold for four, release breath for a count of four, then hold for another four. Repeat as many times as needed.
2. Put small daily routines in place. Routines can be an excellent way to help you feel in control of our ever-changing, fast-paced environment – however these routines can also be scheduled time outs. Try starting off with something simple and short every day.
*Tip: Try adding a five to ten minute ‘time out’ routine to your day. This could be a cup of tea in the morning, a quick mindfulness meditation or reading a few pages of your book before bedtime. Read our article on bedtime routines.
3. Remember it’s okay to say ‘no’. Some of the best life advice I’ve ever received was, “You can’t be all things, to all people, all the time.” Sometimes we need to put ourselves first, and that’s okay.
*Tip: Check in with yourself to see where your own stress-levels are. Take a step back from the situation if needed, and remember your own limits.