“I’m SO busy right now”. We’ve all been there. We’ve all said it. But why?

For many of us, ‘busy’ has become a way of life, in both personal and professional contexts. A column from Dr. Susan Koven gives an interesting insight on the topic:

“In the past few years, I’ve observed an epidemic of sorts: patient after patient suffering from the same condition. The symptoms of this condition include fatigue, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, headaches, heartburn, bowel disturbances, back pain, and weight gain. There are no blood tests or X-rays diagnostic of this condition, and yet it’s easy to recognise. The condition is excessive busyness.”

Chronic busyness can be insidious, and it can often be difficult to differentiate between being busy and being stressed.

Busyness gives us perceived status

In a study led by Psychologist Silvia Bellezza, she found that a “busy and overworked lifestyle, rather than a leisurely lifestyle, has become an aspirational status symbol”. Instead of buying luxury handbags and cars (which can often come with some negative perceptions), so-called hard work is seen in a much more positive light by our peers. The problem is that the continual sacrificing of time, rest and headspace is a one-way road to burnout.

It can lead to long-term stress, which has a negative impact on both our health and the economy

Despite employment levels at it’s lowest since 1975, productivity hasn’t seen the same positive trajectory. With 37% of workers struggling to get enough sleep, it’s no suprise that the long-hours culture is ultimately sending us towards economic downturn. But of course it’s not just about the economy. As of 2017, there were 526,000 UK workers who had work-related stress, depression or anxiety – and those are just the ones who talked about it. That meant 12.5m working days were lost.

We’re reluctant to take a break

In a recent Mintel study, they found that 46% of UK full-time workers only take a 15-30 minute lunch break. Why is that? We’ve all felt the pressure. Scoffing down a sandwich at your desk whilst you try to squeeze out every last minute of the day. Hour-long lunch breaks aren’t the norm anymore, and it’s become embedded in our work cultures that it’s more of a luxury than a necessity.

In the same study, 73% said that they often work when they are unwell, a good chunk checked emails and did work whilst they were on holiday.

Thriving without the chaos

So what does it mean to stop glorifying ‘busy’? It doesn’t mean becoming a ‘love and light’ yoga hippy. It means recognising it and giving ourselves permission to rest. Whether it’s through speaking up at work when it gets too much, taking that full-hour lunch break, dipping your toe into meditation or simply flopping in front of Netflix for the evening, we can redefine what success and happiness really means for us.