We all feel stress sometimes and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, a little bit of stress that lasts for only a short period of time can help motivate us to get important things done. However, chronic stress can weaken the immune system, make you more prone to depression and anxiety, cause weight gain, sleep problems, and even heart disease. It’s that serious. High levels of stress prolonged over time also wreak havoc on your emotional and spiritual well-being.
With productivity being championed to dangerous levels, especially for people with demanding careers, business owners, and parents, stress can feel unmanageable. Research has found that nearly half of adults in the United States experience an increase in stress year over year.
The most effective way to decrease stress is to stop being so busy. Easier said than done? Perhaps. But everything — even a baby step — is progress. Keep reading to learn tips for reframing “busy” and reclaiming your time and energy.
Carve out time to do nothing
Life can feel like a precarious juggling act of work, childcare, sleep, exercise, family life, and attempting to have a life as a whole person outside of the roles you’ve taken on. With so much pressure from every direction, it’s critical for your health and well-being to spend time doing absolutely nothing. That’s not to say you need to sit and stare at a wall (though if that calls to you, by all means, enjoy). It can look like spending anywhere from a few minutes to a full weekend with no agenda, nowhere to be, and nothing that has to get done.
Doing nothing is an act of defiance against a society that insists that you fire on all cylinders at all times. Realistically, that time isn’t going to create itself. You are going to have to be the one to draw boundaries so that you can create a space in your schedule for, well, living.
Be less busy: Look at your calendar and find or make some time to do nothing. Commit to that with the same dedication you would a client meeting or your child’s ballet recital.
Identify what really matters
Our society has an obsession with productivity that started in the Industrial Age. Technology has only furthered this by creating a system where the lines between work and the rest of life have been definitively blurred. Just think, how many times have you or someone you know worn the phrase “I’m so busy!” like a badge of honor?
I’d be willing to bet that if you took a critical look at what you are busy with, you’d find that a lot of the tasks you’re rushing around to get done are not all that productive. In other words, the things that take up your time and energy may not be the things that are moving the needle forward in your work, personal, or family life.
When you’re busy, you may be filling your days up with tasks that are neither urgent or important, likely as a way of feeling valuable in a society that idolizes the hustle. When you’re productive, you actually create more time and space in your life to do what you want to do: the activities that leave you fulfilled and present.
Be less busy: Write down every single thing you think you need to get done. From picking up more cat food to preparing a report for your boss, get it on paper. When you’re done, read through it. Now, throw it in the trash (permission to tuck it away out of sight if letting it go feels like too much). Whatever you really need to get done, you will get done. Everything you forget? It probably wasn’t as high of a priority as you initially thought.
Understand your personal relationship with being busy
If, as a child, you were in every extra-curricular imaginable, your parents worked long hours, or you had to spend more time handling responsibilities than having fun, you may find yourself modeling the same behavior to your own family. Perhaps you even developed the belief that in order to receive positive attention, you needed to be productive.
The truth of the matter is that you were born worthy of love, positive attention, affection, and time to exist without contributing to the lives of other people. Part of being alive is having the capacity to enjoy the things that make life feel good. Whether that’s a glass of red wine on your front porch, a novel you can’t put down, or spending time playing with your kids, it’s important to recognize that you do not need to earn those things.
Be less busy: Spend some time thinking, journaling, or chatting with a friend about why you feel the need to stay busy. Some questions you might explore include: Was I over-scheduled as a child? How might that be affecting me now? Do I feel like I need to be productive in order to be worthy of love, either from myself or others? What would it feel like if I decided to say no to everything except that which absolutely must be done?
Change the narrative around the glorification of busy
A quick scroll through Instagram or a conversation with anyone over the age of 25 confirms just how pervasive hustle culture is. While women are disproportionately targeted by marketers who want to push the idea that busy equals better, no one is totally immune. Being busy has become so glorified that many people prioritize their health and well-being as less important than taking on one more volunteer position, work project, family commitment, or social obligation.
While tackling your personal attachment to being busy is important, it’s also critical that we start to collectively shift away from the small, seemingly harmless habits that perpetuate the idea that busy is better.
Be less busy: Instead of asking someone what they do for a living, ask them how they like to relax. Set healthy boundaries with colleagues and clients (in other words, it’s ok to not check your email after hours or say no to taking on a project you don’t have the bandwidth for). Pursue hobbies that are not meant to bring you income. Look busyness in the eyes and walk away from it, for the sake of your body, mind, and soul.
Life doesn’t have to be a circus act, and you don’t have to be the one that gets it all done. There are always going to be people who have kids in every sport, are excelling in their fast-paced career, starting a book club, and sitting on the board of three different non-profits. That’s ok; everyone has their own path. If you’ve decided you’ve had enough of the constant go go go, make the decision today to be less busy. Life cannot wait but everything else can.