As Midwesterners, we know and live the ethic of hard work. We find a sense of purpose and life structure in the jobs, duties and tasks that fill our calendars. Plus, we live in an achievement-based society.
Western culture teaches us that shoving a week’s worth of work into a day is the ultimate sign of success. Being “busy” is seen as a moral good and there are a growing number of books, apps, blogs and tutorials on how to get one more thing done between each breath.
Life has become a race and our Midwestern drive and society’s push to achieve is creating a level of toxic stress in our society that is epidemic and causing harm to our emotional and physical wellness. According to researchers, being overstretched or overwhelmed by the number of obligations a person is trying to manage at once is the number one marker of unhappiness today! But, we keep doing what we are socialized to do and it’s costing us.
The darkside of the “do, do, do” beat of the drum we march to everyday creeps up on us slowly and we usually ignore the signs. First, we may have some unexplained body aches or we may struggle to fall asleep. Maybe we gain some belly weight or begin to misplace our phones or forget about an appointment. Or maybe we are more short-tempered over little things or have mood shifts that are unexplained by our circumstances.
These are all signs that we are burning out, but usually we ignore them. We reach for the pots of caffeine, over the counter sleep aids, cans of energy drinks, or antidepressants to keep going.
Stopping feels like failure and we are not succumbing to being “lazy” or “unproductive,” so we power through.
Our sense of worth has become all tied up in this game of productivity. We may even be posting to social media when we are “slaying it”! Essentially, we have become one more conscientious, high achieving, well-meaning person who has unwittingly followed the path of productivity to a dire destination of despair.
You see, the high-energy hormones that rev us up and fuel our relentless activity are eventually tapped out. We hit adrenal fatigue and our body slows down. It is seeking to rest and restore as is natural after hard work. It’s biology!
But if we don’t heed these warnings and rest, there are worse struggles to come which may include; chronic illness, cognitive fog, increasing weight gain, mood disorders, unrelenting fatigue, memory loss, and accidents that replace our achievements.
It’s true that the pressure to do more in less time and to achieve, achieve, achieve is the cultural message of today’s world. But it’s also true that what the outside world wants from us is not what our internal world, our body and brain, needs!
There is a better way to be happier in this world, and isn’t happiness the true indicator of success anyway? We can learn how to combat the social pressures to stay busy and produce if we learn some behavioral and cognitive shifts.
I would contend that we need to go counter-culture and become a rebel! What do I mean? I mean fighting the social pressure in the message that busy is better. We can learn how to return to life as a human “being” versus a human “doing.” Let me give you four strategies on how to do this.
First, learn how to be mindful. Essentially, learn how to inhabit the here and now, to be fully present and connected to the moment. One way of doing this is by connecting to our five senses; for example, feel the ground beneath your feet, take in the beauty of a flower, smell the scent of your shampoo, taste the sweetness of an ice cream cone, and hear the chirp of the birds. Do this and you are in the now, not running from or chasing toward something, but in the present where joy resides.
Second, guard your time. Practice creating space in your life by saying “no” to things that drain your energy. Decline more invitations, take a personal day from work, and purposefully turn your phone and TV off so the outside world is kept out for periods of time. Remember, it’s not selfish to disengage, it’s called self-care.
Third, challenge the stigma that says it’s “lazy” to dedicate time for quiet and self-reflection. Previous eras honored these practices as sacred and knew their inherent health benefits and we should, too. Give yourself permission to rest regularly. This is how your mind and body restores itself so that it is sharper and stronger for its next task. Take a nap, meditate, journal, or take a walk in nature for daily restoration.
Finally, consider therapy. Busyness can often be used as a way to avoid issues that need to be addressed and counseling can be a great place to get realigned with your values so you live more intentionally. It can help you break unhealthy cycles that have gone from habit to harmful.
It’s true that the outside world is pushing you to do more and more; the pressure is real! But if you are brave enough to go against the tide, to give yourself permission to honor your body’s need to rest and rebalance itself, you will feel more joy, find more purpose and achieve more (meaning) in your days.