The Risk of Being Busy

If there's one thing you do for yourself this week, it's to take a good hard look at what's keeping you so busy. What are you avoiding? What are you trying to not do or face or decide?
08/10/2013 08:23 am ET Updated Oct 10, 2013

By Jan Bruce

As an entrepreneur, I have always kept myself extremely, extraordinarily, embarrassingly busy. It's by choice -- and I'm the first to admit it. I'm motivated by big ideas, bigger goals, and have been in the process of running, growing, selling, or creating new companies for the past 20 years, during which time I also raised a family and built a whole life. Having too much on my plate is something I'm very familiar with.

Not that I don't know the ill effects of overdoing. I've spent a good chunk of my career in the health and wellness sector. My passion is helping people not just reduce stress in their lives, but change the way they relate to the stressful situations unfolding around them all the time. It's why I launched meQuilibrium, and why I do what I do. More about that later.

I've said that stress is the new fat -- that, like obesity, stress has reached epidemic proportions. As you already well know, it's the source of so many other health problems that it's hard to limit it to "just" stress. It has a way of tripping the wires in every area of our lives, causing emotional reactions, chronic distraction and lack of focus, sleep problems, stomach issues, libido problems, you name it.

You've heard of stress as a status symbol -- after all, the more stressed you are, the more successful you must be, right? And if that's the case, then busy must be the new black, because it's in fashion and goes with everything. But it's time we question how long we're going to buy into this idea, since it's making us sick. (Find out how you're wired to view stress as a status symbol.)

Dr. Suzanne Koven, a Harvard Medical School faculty member who's practiced primary care internal medicine at Mass General for 20 years, wrote in this piece on ("Busy is the new sick"), how she's seeing a range of symptoms, all pointing toward the same issue:

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 recognize. The condition is excessive busyness.

In the New York Times' Opinionator post "Status and Stress," Moises Velasquez-Manoff cites research that points to a sense of helplessness and lack of control as the hallmarks of the kind of stress that kills. This, the author points out, is why those who grow up with on the poor end of the economic spectrum aren't going to fare as well -- not only because of the stress rooted into their very identity from a young age, but because they do not have the resources to pull themselves out.

For those of us who DO have the resources, it's astonishing that we voluntarily run ourselves ragged, ending up in Dr. Koven's and many other doctors' offices.

Take back the reins

What I've always done is make sure I have something to anchor me, no matter how crazy my day or week is getting. I take a few moments to myself every morning -- to stretch, enjoy my coffee, read. I make dinner with my family a priority, always have. Not just to eat, but to take the time to prepare it, share it, spend time doing anything but work. It goes without saying that I'd be really up the river without my exercise, which not only has kept me in the shape I want, but in a much calmer state as well.

So if there's one thing you do for yourself this week, it's to take a good hard look at what's keeping you so busy. What are you avoiding? What are you trying to not do or face or decide? General busyness is rarely productive when it's diffused and distracted, and so if there's something you want to achieve, busyness likely won't get you there. Then consider what you do currently to center yourself. I'm talking about all the small, steady, central things you do to start your day right and bring you back at the end. Maybe you do them once in a while; maybe you do them every day. Remind yourself that whatever it is that you do to stay calm and centered are not luxuries -- and they are non-negotiable.

And most importantly, what measures can you put in place to take the reins back on your life? You have more resources than you may realize -- and you owe it to yourself to share some of the burden, ask for help, delegate. Your past is your past, and you can't change that, you CAN change your stress response -- which changes everything. I also encourage you to check out what we're doing, what I've spent my life building the past few years over at meQuilibrium, where we can help guide your efforts to retrain and rewire your brain and change the way you process the world around you.

Don't just keep busy -- keep yourself well.

Find out how we can help you lower your stress. Take our 28-day challenge to address your stress -- for good.

Jan Bruce is CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, the new digital coaching system for stress, which helps both individuals and corporations achieve measurable results in stress management and wellness.

For more by meQuilibrium, click here.

For more on stress, click here.