Commentary – Busyness isn’t necessarily bad

Pearl Lorentzen

Recently, I realized that my pat answer to the salutation, “How are you?” is “Busy, but good.”

I also realized that often I mean “busy, and good,” as I find a certain level of busyness fulfilling.

At other times, I mean “busy, but surviving” and sometimes what I really mean is “busy and stressed.”

Much of what I am busy with is fulfilling work, volunteering or hobbies. I enjoy all of these things, but I also need time to rest.

Words have power. I’ve realized that the part of the saying “busy, but good” which makes me feel like I’m surviving and not thriving is but. But makes busyness negative, when in actual fact some of the time, possibly 50 per cent or more, busyness is positive or at the worst neutral.

However, overindulgence in busyness or leisure, eating or not eating, etc. makes something negative.

Most things in moderation can be good for a person. When it comes to busyness, there are two extremes – people who volunteer for everything and those who never volunteer. I have been on both sides of this depending if I have energy or am burnt out, usually from over-volunteering.

However, I’ve never found a hard rule of “just say, no” useful. It increases my stress, because I feel pressure to refuse fighting with the pressure to accept.

I believe there is a simple phrase that people on either side of the spectrum can use to help them find a balanced middle ground.

“Let me think about it, so I can see if it aligns with my healthy boundaries and schedule.”

I believe that boundaries are integral to living and working in a mentally healthy way. However, it is difficult to define healthy boundaries if one never stops moving.

The only way I have found to identify areas where I need better boundaries is by taking time to stop and reflect. This requires a break from busyness. If I can identify how being busy drains my energy, I can figure out how to recharge my battery. Often this is through healthy habits or self-care. Maintaining a good sleep pattern, eating healthy, exercising, spending time with people, and time alone on a regular basis all are healthy habits which help me deal with stress.

Self-care is part of this, but a bit different. Walks, creating art, reading, and watching TV are some self-care that I do. Another more abstract one I find useful is ‘unstructured time’ which is having a day where I don’t have anything I absolutely need to do. I might clean the house, bake, cook, do lots of things, but if I don’t have to do any of these things or have to do them by a certain time, I find it very restful.

Another useful type of self-care is inviting a friend, family or a very small group of people over for a meal. We may cook together or order out, but hanging out with friends and family is very important.

I recently read a blog about the difference between fatigue and depletion. With fatigue you need rest. With depletion you need rejuvenating stimulation.

I think that within the various forms of self-care I have instinctively found a variety of both. I’m mostly OK with being a busy person, but I know I have my limits and need downtime just as much.

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