Are you revelling in your own stress?

Have you ever answered the question “How are you?” with “Yeah, fine…busy/stressed/working hard!”? If the answer is yes, then have you ever considered whether you might be wearing your busy-ness as a badge of honour?

We’ve all been there; when everything seems to happen at once. Work picks up just at the same time that all of your friends are having birthday parties and it’s your annual extended family get together this weekend and you’re supposed to be bringing dessert, oh and to top it off you must make time to go to the dentist for a filling you’ve been putting off…and don’t even start on making time for the gym. So, you’re busy. You meet your friends and ask how they are; “busy” and so it starts; “me too” and the endless one-upmanship to see who can prove that they’re the busiest. Revelling in the stress, wearing the pressure like a gold star.

But is this healthy? In modern society we’re all busy. There are pressures all around; at work we’re striving to get ahead, pitted against our peers and encouraged to work at or above capacity at all time. In our social lives there’s the constant ‘Instagram versus reality’ complex – pressuring us to attempt to live up to society’s expectations of us; being fit, healthy, well-dressed, well-read, successful, fun and sociable. At home there may be pressure from dependents; children or elderly parents vying for our attention or filling our thoughts as we worry about supporting or caring for them. The list goes on. Such pressures, more often than not, can lead to burn-out, stress, depression, a feeling of being overwhelmed and even nervous breakdowns or heart conditions such as high blood pressure.

So, if we’re all busy, stressed or feeling overwhelmed, why aren’t we doing something about it? Why are we telling people we’re busy like it’s an accepted state of mind, or worse, state of health?

Well firstly, and unfortunately, because that is exactly what it is. Accepted. Oh, you’re busy? Me too. And everyone else.

Secondly, and what’s worse, is that if you didn’t say you’re busy how would people react? Would they think you’re not pushing yourself enough? Maybe you’re not ambitious enough to work hard, or maybe you have an easy job? People would probably be jealous, and find some reason to judge. And no-one likes to be judged, so instead we join the crowd and revel in our stress instead of doing something about it.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, being busy is not a common state for those incredibly high achievers in the world. Instead, they tend to have mastered the art of attention, channelling their energy into what is important for them.

Imagine if you could find balance and control in your life so you never have to compete about who’s more stressed again? Imagine having space in your life to think, breathe, create, love, play, have hobbies, travel, learn….it can happen, but first we need to remove that “I’m Busy” gold star and change a few things.

1.      Get Un-Busy

OK easier said than done, but ever heard of the word no? You don’t have to accept all social engagements, volunteer to help your friend move house and work overtime every night for a fortnight if you just say no. Decide each week what area of your life is going to be your priority; is it work, your health/fitness, your friends/family, yourself? Focus solely on that thing each week and give yourself at least 3 nights off from doing ANYTHING. Go home, cook, read, watch TV, listen to music, cuddle your partner/dog/cat/tortoise, have a bath, walk in nature…whatever makes you relaxed, do that.

Working late every night? Try an early start instead of a late night. Get to the office an hour before everyone else and do the big, pressing stuff then. Block out time in your calendar at lunch and actually leave your desk for 30 minutes. Blocking out the time makes it harder to ignore, and studies show that taking time in the middle of the day actually makes you more productive in the afternoon, meaning you might actually get more stuff done so you can leave on time.

2.      Change your language

Can’t get un-busy? Sometimes there are things you just have to do. There will always be busy periods in your life, but how you view them can change. It’s all about perspective. Furthermore, if you’re not feeling pressured, stressed or overwhelmed, or if you actually perform better under a more pressured environment then that’s great! What you need to do is just change your language when talking about how much you have to do, and talk about it in a more positive light. Try these phrases:

  • “How has your week been?”
  • “Great thank you, really full and challenging!”
  • “How are you?”
  • “I’m good thank you, fulfilled and motivated”

By changing how you view your busy-ness, and talking more positively about your packed diary, you remove the glamorisation of stress and stop the cycle of on-up-man-ship which can often occur.

3.      Encourage those around you to do the same

Freeing yourself of the ‘I’m stressed’ badge can be incredibly liberating, but not if you have to listen to your partner/friend/brother/mother/colleagues parading their busy-ness as usual. If you notice someone you love, or spend a lot of time with continue to talk negatively about how busy they are, try to help them to change too. If you’re a boss this is even more important. Encourage your employees not to overstretch themselves, reward those who admit they’re at the end of their tether and ask for help, and keep your eyes and ears open for the signs that someone might be overworked. This will benefit you in the long run; both in your business and personally. Surround yourself with happy, positive, fulfilled people and you will be a more effective, productive and creative team.

“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” — Socrates