Are You Addicted to Being Busy?


"Sorry, I can't, I'm busy"

"Hey, sorry I didn't get back to you sooner, I've been busy"

"I wish I had time to exercise! I've just been so busy!" 

Sound familiar? Being busy appears to be hindering our ability to connect, spend time, relate, or even nourish ourselves because for some reason, being busy makes for the perfect excuse to put everything else first.  But what exactly are we putting first? Our jobs? Tasks? Chores? Day dreams? Lists? Social Media? 

It appears as if being busy hasn't just cut us from things, but has also made us seem a little more important. And the worst part is, we thrive on it like a drug that keeps us high on the thrill of keeping ourselves occupied, seemingly working hard, hustling, beating the buzzer, and earning what we deserve. It's almost as if worth and recognition are synonymous with the word busy / occupied / unavailable. Because when we are occupied, demand is high for our attention, so we can then project a false sense of increased value. And the false sense of importance is what tends to get us hooked. 

In a TED talk by Judson Brewer, he explains that the posterior cingulate region of the brain is activated when we tend to crave for things / are anxious. In this case, we crave the next big thing, attention, recognition, and reward, that always puts our thoughts ahead of each other constantly trying to find ways to problem solve. The hunger for something new is what keeps us up and suddenly everything needs our attention. Why? Because if we don't give it our time now, we *might* miss out. 

Addiction in the brain

Science has proven that when you stew on a problem, the body continuously releases cortisol, a steroid hormone produced by the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis. The neurotransmitter dopamine, on the other hand, also plays a role in obtaining a sense of pleasure in our busy-ness, the thrill of the pace, and reaping its rewards. But when our body releases too much cortisol, this can harm our immune system and sleep cycles. 

Serotonin is the neurotransmitter of the brain involved in regulating proper sleep, mood, appetite, and sexual behavior. When our serotonin neurotransmitters aren't firing well, the brain suffers from knowing when enough is enough. So if the brain goes into overdrive with dopamine, constantly searching for that next big thrill, but serotonin fails to launch, then we fail to recognize when it is appropriate to stop. When the level of serotonin is low, we may experience insomnia, poor appetite, and low mood.

Are we addicted?

So how do we know if we're spiraling into an addiction that could be bad for us? Studies have shown that there are 10 phases that can lead us into a pit if we fail to catch ourselves. These phases ultimately lead to burnout - a psychological term that refers to long-term exhaustion and diminished interest in work as a result of chronic stress. They are:

1. Compulsion to prove oneself - this is where being busy always starts

2. Working harder - our sense of self-worth is hinged on the number of hours that we spend proving to upper management that we are worthy of whatever reward

3. Neglecting our needs - how many times have you flaked on yourself and on your friends?

4. Displacement of conflict - who are you really angry at? what's really frustrating you? And why?

5. Revision of values - at this point, you're probably negotiating things with yourself. If you work 12 hours everyday for 12 months, it will be worth the bonus.

6. Denial of problems - what aren't you facing?

7. Withdrawal 

8. Depersonalization

9. Emptiness and depression

10. Burnout

Which phase are you in? And do you think it might be time to pull yourself out? How? 

Two good ways to start helping yourself is to identify where you are right now and name one concrete step that you can take to turn your situation around. 

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