We're Addicted To Being Busy, And This Is Why That's A Problem

by Mary Katherine
Originally Published: 
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Two moms walk into a bar.

One says, “Hey, how are things?”

And the other says, “Oh, you know. Busy.”

And then they both take a phone call, remember an important appointment, and rush out the door to make last minute grocery runs. Busy, busy, busy.

Oh, I forgot to mention: this isn’t a joke. But if you’re a mom, you probably figured that out by now. This is a real conversation that takes place every day, and chances are, you’ve either heard these words or spoken them. Many times.

Being busy is such a staple in American culture, that we have placed a premium on it. Busyness is a badge of honor, but is it something we should truly be celebrating?

Internist Dr. Susan Koven wrote in the Boston Globe, “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.”

I think if we are being honest, we have to acknowledge that Dr. Koven is on to something. Insomnia, anxiety, irritability, and headaches are all common symptoms of an addict.

Is it possible that we are all addicted to our busyness? And if so, what are we medicating?

Last week, I was stopped in my tracks by a friend who asked how my day was going. I responded “busy,” and instead of commiserating or saying “me too,” she responded:

“So what exactly do you have going on today?”

What don’t I have going on, I wanted to say. How dare she question the validity of my busyness? I am very busy.

I had groceries to grab, a kitchen to clean, two writing deadlines to meet, gymnastics lessons for the kids, a meal to cook for a sick friend at church, business emails to respond to — I was just BUSY, dammit!

When I finished rattling off my list, she smiled.

“Sounds like you put a lot on your plate, MK. Maybe take a breather tomorrow so you can enjoy your life a little more?”

I was really irritated by her. Why did she think I didn’t enjoy my life? I was just telling her how busy I was, not that I was unhappy. Geez, why did she have to be so damn patronizing?

The whole exchange left me feeling deflated, and I couldn’t figure out why.

That night, after the kids were in bed, I took a quiet moment to examine my feelings, because I was still stewing over her words. Why was I so offended? She was a good friend, trying to make conversation and be kind. How did such a harmless question feel like an attack on my ego?

Turns out, for all of my complaining about it, I actually want to be busy. It’s a drug that makes me miserable, but I keep coming back to it.

I imagine many of us can relate to this.

We choose busyness every day, by adding extra activities to our family calendar. Picking up one more assignment at work. Squeezing as much life as we can into any tiny hole in our schedules.

Busy, busy, busy.

But, why? We are all commiserating about our busyness, like it’s making us miserable–so why do we keep glorifying it? I think I know.

Because like any drug, we buy into a lie that feels like reward.

In our society, we equate busyness with self-worth and status. We discuss how busy we are in detail across our social media platforms, to make sure our family and friends and the outside world know that we are very busy.

The moment we roll out of bed in the morning, we are planning the million things we must get done during the day. We feed the kids in a whirlwind, rush them out the door with butt pats, and jump on that full-speed hamster wheel like our lives depend on it.

But parents, listen up: Our lives don’t depend on it.

We have to stop buying into the lie that our self-worth as a parent, spouse, person is determined by our level of busyness. If we allow ourselves to detox from this blur of busyness, and experience a little bit of quiet, we may be shocked at what emerges inside of us.

Psychologist Robert Holden has said, “The purpose of your life is not to be as busy as possible. Being busy can be purposeful and productive, but when you are permanently busy, it is a sure sign that your busyness conceals a lack of clarity, a fear of inadequacy, feelings of unworthiness, and a lack of faith in your soul’s ability to help you live your purpose.”

Jump off the hamster wheel, just for a moment. Step away from the busyness addiction. You matter, without your To Do List.

Yes, there will always be things that have to get done, obligations that must be tended to, regardless of how tired or worn out we are. But, most of us can probably let go of a few things go without the world falling down around us. We will be doing ourselves, and our families, a huge favor too.

Because important things are happening in quiet moments, mamas. And you deserve to experience them.

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