My Busyness Is A Defense Mechanism

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Julia Meslener for Scary Mommy and keithferrisphoto/Getty

Instead of lying in bed on Saturday nights thinking about how glorious the afternoon matinee with my kids was or enjoying the fact I don’t have a lot planned for Sunday, I spend the night thinking up things I can do to fill the void. My main goal is to keep my level of anxiety down — and I accomplish it by busying myself.

Having nothing to do may sound like a dream for some, but for me that’s when I’m at my worst. I get anxious and fidgety, and my mind goes to a place that doesn’t feel healthy. I literally can’t do “nothing” and while many loved ones are constantly telling me I need to slow down and “just relax,” to me, that can feel like a special kind of hell.

I don’t run in circles throughout my days to win some “busy contest” or to show anyone up or to prove something. I do it because I’m at my best when there is a mission to complete. Being alone with my own thoughts sans any kind of distraction is hard. Staying busy is how I cope. Honestly, sometimes it’s even a relief to vacuum the damn floor just so I’m doing something

I like making plans for many reasons: I am a social person, and there are a lot of wonderful things to do and see in this one life we have. But if I am being honest with myself, a huge motivator for me to stay busy is knowing how much better I feel when I have a purpose, a job to do, or a to-do list to conquer.

So, last Sunday after going for a run, meeting a friend for coffee, grocery shopping, vacuuming the house, putting in a few hours of work, and making my daughter’s requested dinner, I got back in the kitchen after we ate and asked my kids if they wanted me to make bagels for them to have for breakfast this week. Yep, that’s right — I wanted to make homemade bagels.

They didn’t want them though. What they really wanted was for me to sit my ass down and watch a show with them. I was exhausted and I wanted to sit, but I knew if I did, I’d go through all the things I should be doing instead of being in the moment zoning out in front of our new favorite show with my kids.

I’d start getting anxious about what this coming week would bring: Will I get enough work done? Will I forget any appointments? Did I schedule our cleaning on the same afternoon as the lacrosse game? Do I have what it takes to be a divorced mom this week? What will I make for dinner? I probably need some fresh ideas because I’ve been boring lately.

And from there, it would keep spiraling.

When things happen in life that take me down a notch, like if one of my kids is struggling or I hit a difficult spot in a relationship, my anxiety peaks, and the only way I know how to work through the tangled web dancing in my mind is to keep moving. I make plans. I write things down. I listen to a podcast and clean the toilets even if I just did it yesterday.

And when life is running smoother than a new jar of peanut butter, my anxiety keeps me from embracing it all and reminds me all this contentment could go away in two shakes so I better start worrying the time away.

In order to combat those dark thoughts and feelings, I simply have to keep moving. When I sit and do nothing or I’m faced with an open day of zero plans, it can be painful — emotionally and physically. It allows more room to feel the feelings and more space to think the thoughts.

I’ve been around long enough to know the best moments are made from being spontaneous. Going with the flow and not having a schedule has never hurt me. In fact, I always think, That wasn’t so bad. That was a great day. You made it.

But that feeling doesn’t last, and all I want to do is get my busy on again by filling my days up with anything other than sitting still. Because staying busy is my defense mechanism.

It’s a buffer for my mind. It’s easier to think about what could or couldn’t happen if I’m moving or using my hands to work on a project. It helps me stay focused on positive things because I’m concentrating on the task at hand and I don’t have to be alone with those thoughts.

Anxiety is best served with a side of distraction. At least for me.

I know I need to stop and breathe in the everyday moments. And I try as much as I can. I do it for my kids but also for myself.

But it isn’t my default. Busyness is my default.

This doesn’t mean I completely let it rule my life, but keeping busy plays a big role in managing my thoughts and feelings. I’m very aware of it and I don’t love this side of myself, but it’s who I am.

The way I see it, there are more harmful ways I could be dealing with my anxiety than cleaning out a junk drawer late at night or deciding at the last minute to make a meal we have zero ingredients for so I can get in my car, move around, create something, and watch my family enjoy it.

Maybe someday a calming voice will take over and I’ll feel free to simmer down a bit. But today is not that day. So, if you’ll excuse me, I have a spice drawer to alphabetize.

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