If we want to numb ourselves out, we can choose any number of ways: drinking, drugs, sex, shopping, and scrolling on our phones. Some of these behaviors are so common and normalized that we assume they’re not only okay, but maybe even required to function.
We often feel that way about rushing, being busy, and staying in motion, too. But, at times, busyness is just as toxic and problematic.
I’d know. When I got pregnant for the first time and my body forced me to slow down, I thought my business would collapse: I was only working about half the hours I’d worked before. The first year of motherhood with a sick baby, nursing challenges, recovering from a traumatic birth experience, lack of sleep, and limited childcare, my work hours got cut again. I assumed my business would tank. I mean, if we work less, we’ll obviously make less, right?
But that wasn’t what happened. Our income stayed stable even though I was working less than half the amount I used to work.
It was sobering to admit that nearly 50% of the work hours I’d put in over the last decade weren’t productive. Why did I feel the need to be so busy, especially if I wasn’t generating tangible results?
When I find myself white-knuckling through my day, thinking that I have so much to do and no time to do it, I try telling myself something different.
I realized that I was addicted to being busy. Staying in motion was the way I avoided feeling anxiety, sadness, anger, uncertainty, doubt, and anything else I really didn’t want to feel. In other words, to numb out.
It took giving birth to two humans for me to be lurched into the present moment. These two sweet little girls are right here, right now, in the timeless place where children live, reminding me that if I don’t join them here, I’ll miss the stuff that matters the most.
I am not perfect at being present and less busy. Far from it. But I practice it every day, all day.
When I find myself wanting to numb myself through rushing or busyness, here’s what I do. I invite you to try them with me.
1. Seriously, breathe.
This one is so simple that I find myself getting annoyed when anyone suggests it (so if you feel that way right now, I get it.) But it works every damn time.
I get in my car before going to get the girls at daycare and I take three deep breaths, feeling the air going in and out. I sit at my desk before I start my workday and I take three deep breaths. I slow down my breath as I wash the dishes. And, no matter what, I find myself exactly where I am and I know that’s exactly where I need to be.
Try it out right now and feel what it feels like.
2. Speak out loud.
When I find myself white-knuckling through my day, thinking that I have so much to do and no time to do it, I try telling myself something different. Right now I’m using the phrase, “I have all the time that I need.”
It’s a stark contrast to tensing every muscle in my body and plowing through like a wrecking ball, yes. But when I say that sentence inside my head (or out loud) I notice I breathe deeper and my central nervous system calms down.
Again, try it—there’s no downside.
3. Set (and honor) boundaries.
Sometimes, the worst offender of trespassing my boundaries is me. We can’t expect other people to honor the limits we set if we don’t honor them ourselves.
One boundary I’m personally honoring is an early bedtime. That’s because more tired we are the more our emotional brain takes over, and the more the part of our brain responsible for making good decisions goes offline. Another is putting down my phone when I feel anxious—scrolling my newsfeed just makes it worse—and, instead, doing something else like breathing or laying on the floor for a few minutes.
Our best work requires space. Give yourself that gift, even if it doesn’t feel good at first.
4. Plan for space.
I have a weekly planning ritual that I do Monday mornings. I make a to-do list for the week that takes up no more than one half of one side of an 8.5”x11” sheet of paper. The other half I reserve for things I’m delegating to the universe; for example, finding the perfect new childcare situation for my daughter. Obviously I take actions on this on the human side but delegating things that feel big or hard to the Universe helps me calm my anxiety and remember that there’s support available for me.
No more daily to-do list that acts as a dumping ground for all of the anxiety-filled tasks I can possibly think of. Nope. Just what’s essential this week.
If left to my default, my entire calendar gets filled and I’ll find a way to be in motion every waking hour. I make space for space so that the busyness gets edged out. For example, I block time for writing in the morning and won’t make any other appointments during that time. My best work requires space without interruptions and I’m sure yours does as well.
When we unhook from rushing and busyness to be in the moment, it’s not comfortable at first. But, over time, we increase our capacity to be among reality instead of wanting to avoid feeling it. And then, miraculously, as we’re willing to feel the discomfort, the ecstacy of being where we are gets turned up as well.
When we stop rushing and being busy all the time, we also do better work. Becoming a mother and having less time and energy to work proved to me that I could work less but do better work with the same, if not better, results.
Being busy doesn’t get us our best results. Doing good work gets us our best results. And our best work requires space. Give yourself that gift, even if it doesn’t feel good at first. Like everything that’s most precious in our lives, doing the work of unhooking from constant activity to get the gift of fully inhabiting your life is worth it in the end.