Epidemic of busyness

How are you?

“Busy!” is the most frequent response I hear.

It has to stop.

We live in a culture of chronic busyness, and it comes at a cost. I was the Queen of Busy for many years, and I paid dearly, as did those in my life.

It’s easy to buy into the prevailing busy-culture, but is that what life’s all about? Is your value held in the number of things done in a day?

I work with many people who tell me they wake up in the morning, already tense, like they’re in a starting block for a race. People are spending their days in a race of busyness, only to fall asleep (if they’re lucky) and repeat the same thing, day-after-day. Sleep disorders are rampant.

So many people are anxious, burned-out, and unhappy, unsatisfied by the fruits of their busy labours. Anxiety often lives in their bellies, pushing them forth in the fictitious race of busyness.

Like living on a hamster-wheel, being busy creates anxiety, and anxiety often drives the need to stay busy. When does the race end, and does it bring satisfaction with a life well-lived?

Chronic busyness is an epidemic today, as is anxiety.

As I’ve awakened from the stupor of my own busyness, I recognize we live in a culture where busyness is valued. Not constantly professing to be ‘super-busy’ is seen as an anomaly.

Staying super-busy is worn as a badge of honour in today’s society. If you’re not super-busy, there must be something wrong with you, you’re not of value, you’re lazy, or not doing enough.

Is that what life’s all about? What’s the cost to our health, happiness, relationships, and quality of life?

I’m as surprised as anyone to realize the past few months have caused me to forget about my to-do list, as I’ve now arrived in realizing my value as a human-being and discovering the richness of life. It’s been something my husband has been trying to show me for years, but I just couldn’t hear him.

Note to self: life is not a series of things to check-off of my to-do list. Being able to pack many things into a day doesn’t make it, or you, more worthwhile. Why did it take me so long to learn this simple, but seemingly elusive fact?

What I learned in pausing, is a sense of anxiety drove my need to stay busy. The more I fed it with the distraction of busyness, the larger it grew.

Trying to outrun and squelch difficult thoughts and emotions, such as anxiety, only works for so long.

I stayed busy to silence the internal voices and soothe the beast within. Others use substances, shopping or gambling to numb out; there’s a variety of, what I call, ‘aholics.’ Some forms of being an ‘aholic’ are judged more harshly than others, but all of these forms of self-soothing create challenge when done in excess.

I was a workaholic, a work-junkie, skilled at staying busy to try to not feel the pit of anxiety living within my gut. The accolades and rewards I received from my addiction to busyness made it more enticing.

Living in a culture of busyness, I believed there was virtue and value in being so busy and productive; until I couldn’t.

I’d become a human-doing instead of a human-being. I’d missed out on the memo that said a meaningful life isn’t a series of tasks to be checked off of a list.

I burned out, I hit the bottom, as many ‘aholics’ do. It took me hitting the wall hard to force me to stop and realize I’d had it all wrong. This was a huge gift.

Practising mindfulness and learning to turn toward the uncomfortable feelings within was a key to my healing. Learning to question the validity of the prevailing culture was essential.

Mindfulness revealed to me my habits of mind and emotion, and the suffering my stories and the virtual reality of my mind caused. It showed me where I’d bought into the myth of the value of busyness.

Learning to no longer feed the anxiety with thoughts, and to no longer distract myself from the feelings with busyness, caused them to diminish.

I made friends with my emotions and no longer feared or judged them, and I also didn’t let them run my life.

Reducing anxiety took mindful practice, and patience, and a large dose of self-compassion. Questioning the value in being mind-numbingly busy caused me to realize how many of life’s pleasures I’d missed out on.

It’s time we wake up individually and collectively, to question the truth of the value of being constantly busy, and to learn what lies beneath the feelings within.

Let’s make space for healing and the real living of life to happen.

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About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

Corinne, a registered nurse with a master’s degree in Health Science, is a staff minister with the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, and a hospice volunteer. She is an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan, and is currently teaching smartUBC, a unique Mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. She is an invited speaker and presenter.

From diverse experience and knowledge, personally and professionally, Corinne has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people to gain a new perspective, awaken, and to recognize that we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts or to life; we are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 41 years, and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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