Dear Dr. Norquist:
I’m busy all the time. That’s what my friends say. I plan my time so I can get a lot done – very efficiently. I like being busy and getting things done. I know this is a trait that some of my friends would like to have – getting things done. What I’m starting to notice now though is I never give myself a break. I keep myself busy, even when I don’t have to be busy. Last week, a day long commitment I had was cancelled. I didn’t know what to do with all that free time – and believe me, I wasn’t enjoying it. In fact, it made me irritable – until I came up with a plan for filling the time. This made me notice that I need to be busy to feel okay. That’s crazy! Most people long for vacations and weekends so they can relax. What’s wrong with me that I can’t relax?
Dr. Norquist responds:
Absorbed by “busy”ness, it is easier to avoid uncomfortable feelings such as anxiety, loneliness, emptiness, sadness, and anger. Chronic “doing” can be an addiction in its own right. Like addictions, compulsive busyness provides a means of distraction from and avoidance of uncomfortable feelings and situations. It can become a means of running away from yourself and your life. In living life this way, you never let yourself drop into actually experiencing your life.
So much time and effort in life is spent on avoiding feelings. As an antidote, my suggestion is that you try the following experiment. When you notice you are engaged in your addiction of “busy”ness, take a break from your activity, and allow yourself to be still. In these moments of stillness, peer inside and notice what it is that you are running from. Be curious. What is the feeling that arises? Can you acknowledge it? Can you be with it for a few minutes? It will not devour you. It is likely that once it has its moment in the light of your conscious awareness it will move on, its message having been received. Please try this and write again letting me know what happens.
Ideally we can live our lives paying attention to doing the right thing at the right moment. There is a right time to work, and a right time to take a break. We know this by listening inside. When we do this, it allows us to be with the flow of our lives – where things happen more easily and more efficiently. Try it and let me know.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (N.J. #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.) Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, N.J., 07030, www.chaitanya.com, by e-mail at email@example.com, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2012 Chaitanya Counseling Services