The Need to be Busy
By: Alex Schultz, MA, LPCC
Lately I’ve noticed amongst those on social media, as well as with myself at times, the need to be constantly busy or doing something. And in part that is because we are all doing our part to stay home and #flattenthecurve but there is more to it than just being cooped up at home.
That itchy, nasty, need to be busy, drive to be doing something is part of a trauma response. Naturally when a crisis/traumatic event occurs we are wanting to do something about it in some manner, we want a job, to feel useful and as if we are helping. Then either after the event has passed or in this case there really isn’t anything we can do, a helpless feeling can settle in. It’s uncomfortable feeling helpless, vulnerable and scary. So how do we avoid this? We get busy.
Perhaps its a productive busy, or maybe its a scattered productive where you have five different tasks going and very little progress on any. But this is our attempt to avoid that helpless feeling and feel like we are doing our part. Keep us distracted from our thoughts and feelings that sometimes spiral to the point of becoming unhealthy.
Much like at the start of COVID-19 in America, people rushed out to get toilet paper, bread, and other basics as a means of feeling that there is something they can control and not feel so helpless. It’s a defense mechanism that comes from the trauma response to control what we can while we can. And now that there is no need to stock up on necessities, we move on to other forms of being busy to try to cope and not feel what is so uncomfortable to us.
Now let’s move together out of this fear response and into something more sustainable and less energy depriving. Like Jenn had mentioned in her article, let’s start having grace with ourselves. Part of that is no longer avoiding the uncomfortable emotions and letting them show themselves. Learn from what you are feeling and what is specifically causing those emotions for you. Continue to look to what you can control if that is creating anxiety, think of ways that you can act that are healthy and beneficial to you and your emotions. Recognize that you are doing your best with what you have and the emotional space you have as well.
There are parts of you that are anxious, scared, worried, but there are also parts of you that are confident, brave, and grateful. Let’s recognize these parts and all the others, what they are doing for us, and thank them. Sit with these different parts and emotions, learn from them and what their purpose for being present is. To keep you safe? To keep you healthy? To keep you sane? There are countless purposes unique to each person for all of these emotions and feelings.
Meditate to help be in touch with yourself, or even just spend a few minutes with your morning coffee before you start your day to see how you are feeling, what your needs are for the day, and have empathy and compassion for your humanity. Be present with yourself as much as you are able, take a deep breath or five to bring yourself back to the present.
Have patience, compassion, and grace with yourself. And don’t worry if you aren’t learning something new, creating a side hustle, or whatever else it is that you are feeling pressured by society to do. It’s ok to celebrate that you made coffee today, or had the energy to shower. That’s part of having that compassion and grace with yourself. The house may be a
disaster, but the kids are healthy and fed – congrats to you Mama and/or Daddy, you had a successful day.
Just like the seasons change, winter to spring, to winter, to sudden summer (at least for us in MN that’s how it works) this will pass. We need to continue to grow grace, compassion, and patience with all the different parts of ourselves that make up who we are. Remember, you got this. You are strong, brave, courageous, caring, important, and loved.