The past couple of weeks some people have been trying to label me. And I’m not all that impressed. It’s something I used to describe myself as and a term I actively avoid now. It’s a descriptor I almost cringe at when those around me use it. And it’s a term I hear from others a lot. From the lovely lady at the checkout at the supermarket. From my closest and dearest friends. From my smartest and highly admired colleagues. From the people I eavesdrop on in the coffee shops.
It’s like “busy” has become the new “fine”. As in, when you ask somebody how they were doing, they used to answer, “fine”. Nowadays, we answer “busy”.
Sure, there are definite times in life where things become genuinely busy. Sometimes we just have a lot – or too much – to do. Sometimes things happen unexpectedly or we weren’t prepared and life feels hectic.
But it also feels like “busy” has become normal. That it’s become fashionable. That for some of us it has become our default state. That it’s become a source of competitiveness. And worryingly, that for some of us we may be measuring our level of success against how busy we are.
There have been times in the past when I believed that my happiness revolved around how busy I was. If I was busy, I was using my time well. If I was busy, I was proving to myself (and others) that I was valuable. If I was busy, I was creating the possibility of a better life in the future.
I never got happier though by being busy. The illusion that I was somehow building a foundation for that feeling that someday, somewhere I could slow down and be free never materialised.
Instead, when I was busy I just felt stressed. And overwhelmed. And anxious. And this is nothing to boast about. It was definitely not something that was ever going to make me more successful. It’s just burnt me out. It made me sick.
When we are under stress, our bodies release the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol helps our body deal with the clear and present danger we are facing, like a great white shark. To do that, cortisol dials down the systems we don’t require (like our immune, reproductive and digestive systems) to combat the clear and present danger in front of us and mobilise energy stores from fat. In small doses, it’s great for us. It keeps us alive and gives us what we need, when we need it, to get through stressful situations.
But how often are we faced with a great white shark? These days our stressors tend to be more long term. These deadlines, that event, those perfect instagram posts. The longer a stress is around, the longer cortisol stays in our system, which means the longer our non-stress bodily systems are suppressed.
Suppress our immune systems and we get sick.
Suppress our digestive system and we get stomach pains, our bowel habits change and we may even get Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Suppress our reproductive system and we may get irregular periods, PMS or have difficulty getting pregnant.
Too much cortisol in our system:
- damages the cells in the brain that are responsible for long term memory formation
- reduces bone formation, predisposing us to osteoporosis
- increases blood pressure by making us more sensitive to adrenaline
- produces an increase in appetite and cravings for fatty and sugary foods.
Stress is making us weak, fat, fart and forgetful. Surely this is not something we want to be seen as and hardly something we want to be proud of.
The other thing was that when I was busy and felt I never had enough time, I was never actually productive. And that’s the thing, busyness and productiveness are not the same thing. Over-working (in any sphere of your life) is not the same as smart working.
There are reasons why people bang on about the importance of spending time with loved ones, exercising, taking long baths and binge watching episodes of the original 90210. They’re all about self-care. There’s just no way we can be productive all the time, if we don’t spend some productive time recharging.
“Life is what happens to you while your busy making other plans.” – John Lennon
Whilst I’m on a rant, when we complain about how busy we are, it’s totally annoying. Because being busy is inherently a choice. A decision that we made. No one ever forced us into a lifestyle of busyness. If we really want to be less busy, we can choose to re-determine our schedules. We don’t have to live busy lives. We don’t have to contaminate the most valuable resource that have: our time.
But the thing that really annoys me about responding with “busy” to the question “how are you?” is that you lose a wonderful opportunity for connection. Answer with “busy”, and there’s not a big space for the conversation to move forward. Instead of us complaining/boasting about how busy we are, let’s tell each other what’s going on in our lives. How we are feeling. What’s bringing us meaning. Let’s open up for better connections and conversations. Our peeps love us for who we are not what we do.