Toxic busyness is a term that I came across before the pandemic began. Initially I felt that I could relate to this term in regards to my clients and colleagues. However, like many people at the beginning of the pandemic, when lock down began, I found myself struggling with the slowing pace of life. It was at this point that I began to reflect on what I would normally fill my time with.
I became increasingly aware that I couldn’t sit still and that I would often feel unable to relax, and I’d feel guilty for my inactivity. It was a feeling that made me feel like “I should be doing something!”. Alongside this, I noticed a culture of posts on social media showing activity schedules and how people were spending their days. These schedules often contained activities with 15 – 30 minute intervals. Suddenly there became a need to learn a new language or be the best a baking banana bread, or completing Joe Wicks’ workouts.
This made me take a step back and look at how culturally we praise and admire those who lives seems so full and are perpetually busy. I could really resonate with the feeling that I needed to fill my time with distractions. I decided to challenge myself to sit with this feeling, this was often difficult, but what I found over time was that by sitting with this feeling it subsided.
This in turn led me to have more energy, lifted my mood and generally made me feel less anxious. I wanted to explore further the need I had to fill my time and to be busy. I was aware that often my clients who have experienced or are processing complex trauma will often fill their time to offer an enduring distraction for the difficult thoughts and feelings, but this didn’t feel like what was happening for me.
I began to think about what my world look liked pre- pandemic and I realised my calendar was always full, I never sat still. I would often over commit to things even when I knew that I shouldn’t. I’d have holidays, but they never felt like a break as I felt I needed to fill each day full of activities. Colleagues would often share that they were close to burnout or how they were feeling overwhelmed which I thought was due to highly empathic nature of job roles. But, I began to think about the normalisation of being overworked and busyness.
I’ve realised now that the normalisation of being so busy was harmful to me. It was just the acceptable norm, but worse than that, it appeared the busier we were the more of worth we seemed. I accepted that I had been stuck in a cycle of feeling more successful and of more value the busier that I was. I led a life at 100 miles and hour so I would feel that I had achieved a high level of self-care if I actually managed to stop and read a book, go for a walk or got the chance to do a facemask!
I recognised that if my everyday life was at a more sustainable pace I wouldn’t feel that finding time once in a blue moon to do something that enable me to feel rest was such an achievement. If I slowed down I could incorporate space and self-care into my everyday routines.
Due to the pandemic and personal circumstances, I continued to live my life at a slower pace with more space in my diary. I tried not to over commit to social activities. This led to a positive boost to my mental wellbeing and left me feeling more in control and able to enjoy the things that gave my life colour.
When the language changed after the second lockdown and the phrase to “find a new normal” or “learning to live with Covid” I became aware of an increase of pressure I felt to fill my calendar again and over commit to social interactions. There were people that I was desperate to see and reconnect with especially family, but I didn’t want to feel overwhelmed and emotionally depleted by committing to seeing and doing everything in a short space of time.
I also noticed those social media posts once celebrating the toxic busyness that had been so prevalent change from “we are all in this together” and wanting to connect as a community to a self-centred and somewhat aggressive attitude. I wondered whether this was linked to the need and celebration of toxic busyness.
I still have periods of time when I slip back into an over filled calendars and over committing myself, but I try hard to keep everything balanced now because I realise that only seeing myself as ‘of worth’ due to my busyness is stopping me living in an emotionally balanced and healthy way.
I have shared a post below to help identify the signs of toxic busyness. If you feel this is something that you are experiencing or caught in the cycle of, and it’s having a negative effect on your mental health, please feel free to reach out for help and support.