By Joan Friedlander
“I’m really busy right now, but it’s better than the alternative.” I hear these words spoken quite often by those who feel fortunate to have a steady paycheck – or enough clients – to pay the rent and enjoy a few nice things in their lives. It amazes me how easily and frequently such statements are made, like a cultural mantra no one questions. Although I know that I am happier with a more relaxed schedule than most people tolerate, it’s not always easy to ignore these words when they are uttered with frequency by friends, colleagues and folks in the media. Maybe they’re right and I am wrong. Should I be busier now in case it all falls apart next year? Am I naïve to think that I can live on less now and not pay for it later?
In divine order, I was given a chance to experience increased busyness last summer. I didn’t like it. After dinner, instead of going outside to enjoy the summer evenings, I would often close the draperies and collapse in front of the TV for a few hours, only to become plagued by worry-thoughts around bed time. When I did go to sleep I might wake up later, thinking about what I’d not gotten a chance to do, or what needed to get done the next day. As a writer and an Introvert, being overly scheduled with client meetings robbed me of two critical needs: 1) creative writing time; and 2) longer periods of unscheduled, uncommitted time in my work day.
I’m pretty sure my busyness was a “good busy,” as I gather “good busy” means that I was making plenty of money. Why wasn’t it fun for me, then? Is it because I was busy doing things I didn’t thoroughly enjoy, working on projects that no longer suited my purpose and my goals? Or, am I the kind of person who doesn’t thrive on busyness, no matter how “good” it may be? I would say it is a little bit of both. I vouched not to accept more clients than my ideal schedule would allow, nor accept work that I was not delighted to do.
Busyness is Not a Long-Term Health Plan
Adrenaline production is a symptom of busyness. It creates a false sense of energy where there is none. Adrenalin, along with cortisol, is pumped into your body when you get caught up in the pressure of back-to-back deadlines. Adrenaline is addictive. Without a steady flow of adrenalin, some people actually become bored. When the pressures associated with an overly full schedule disappear, the sudden reduction in adrenalin leaves people feeling lethargic. Mistaking this for depression or lack of motivation, adrenalin addicts create “emergencies” to feel better again.
Responsible for the fight or flight response, adrenalin gives you much needed boosts of energy and strength in true emergencies. Unfortunately, we create mythological emergencies every time our thoughts project danger where there is none. “I’m really busy right now, but it’s better than the alternative” is one of those thoughts. If you never stop to ask yourself, “Am I OK today?” you are likely to project danger into an unknown future, often unnecessarily.
“Bursts of adrenaline give us a buzz or feeling of excitement. But when you don’t get a chance to unwind from stress, when the battering of adrenaline and other stress hormones continues without a break, the body goes into overdrive. The result is a drain on your body’s vital systems.” The Hidden Link between Adrenaline and Stress by Archibald D. Hart, PhD. (1995, USA)
In today’s busy, high-pressured world, self-care habits are the first to go. If you talk to anyone who has said that an otherwise inconvenient illness or ridiculous accident turned out to be the best thing that happened to them, you have met someone who will also admit he or she ignored earlier warning signals. I once met a man who told me about an accident he had over Labor Day weekend. He slipped and fell at a pool party, which laid him up for a several weeks due to a resulting back injury. I asked what he learned from this experience. He said one word, “patience.” He is now more patient on the freeways, with his children and family, and with life in general.
Often, when I start coaching a busy entrepreneur who is attempting to bring more order to their life – the very person who is supposed to have the most freedom to choose how they spend their time – exercise and self-care routines are the most frequently named missing practices. Next on the list of neglect is a spending a sufficient amount of time with friends and family. Their first assignment? Take at least one completely business-free 24-hour period off each and every week. That means no email, no catch-up project and no phone calls, nothing associated with their business.
If you recognize some of the symptoms, thoughts or behaviors mentioned in this article, here are a few things you can do now to reduce stress associated with busyness.
1. Identify one thing you can do, just one thing that will eliminate one ounce of busyness from your life. Eliminate it now. Just stop doing it.
2. Identify the most prominent fear-based thought, the one that is creating the greatest amount of pressure and stress in your life.
a. First, give into it completely. What is the very worst thing that could happen? What could you do if it did?
b. Now, argue for the other side and see if you can’t find some evidence that it may, in fact, be an exaggerated thought or entirely untrue in the moment.
3. Educate yourself. Do some research to gain a clearer understanding of the role excess adrenalin plays in reduced health and well-being. Start with these three keywords in your favorite search engine: adrenaline health problems.
References: Stress Can Rot Your Brain by Dr. Trisha Macnair http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/features/dealing_with_stress.shtml Healthy Lifestyles, Understanding Stress http://www.med.umich.edu/1libr/primary/life11.htm (University of Michigan Health System)
December 01, 2011
Joan Friedlander is a Work Life Strategy Coach who works primarily with men and women in business for themselves, who are rebuilding their business after a health crisis. Her program, the Master Calendar Planning Solution, helps her clients organize their work life around what is most fulfilling and profitable, and to eliminate undue busyness. For more information about Joan and her work visit http://www.JoanFriedlander.com