Career – Tackle ‘Busyness’ Addiction
If taking a break or a day off from work makes you jittery, you could be unrealistically busy. Break free from this addiction with these pointers...
That life is hectic is nothing new. And, telling someone that you’re “very busy” when they ask about your wellbeing has become the norm and that’s because we now pride ourselves on our ‘busyness’. We wear it like a badge of honour.
It’s something that 32-year-old marketing manager Zinhle Mfusi is all too familiar with. She says for ambition addicts like herself, growth is simply not enough. “We want to win and we’ll do anything to get there, even if it means working while on holiday. At 3 am I’m awake and worried about work. When my body should be resting, my brain believes the correct course of action is to wake up to work. I don’t even remember the last time I went out with friends, not to mention spending time with my kids, because I just don’t have time,” she confesses.
This may be the case because society praises hard work, and putting in overtime is often expected. So it can be difficult for people to stop this detrimental behaviour. Lerato Msimanga, a Joburg-based clinical psychologist at Meriting Therapy Centre, says beind addicted to work may negatively impact other areas of your life, like relationships at work, home, in social settings and even the relationship with yourself. “I often hear people say they don’t even know what makes them happy or how to get back to themselves. When a task is done, it has to be easy to take a break, self-reflect and re-energise for the next task.” We all find ourselves taking on too much at work from time to time, but are we overdoing it?
When you’re forever busy, just like someone with a drug addiction, you get a “high” from working. Msimanga says someone with this addiction may engage in compulsive work to escape emotional stress or feel it’s the only way to achieve success. “Being busy may allow you to avoid your inner thoughts and it’s related unpleasant emotions, such as feelings of emptiness, loneliness, fear of failure or not being good enough. You may also idealise busyness as a sign of being an achiever or a go-getter. There’s nothing wrong with being a hard and smart worker but balance is key,” she adds.
Lawyer Thandeka Ngubeni, 32, says when she’s not busy, anxiety takes over. “It feels like a form of failure when I don’t have my schedule filled up, creating unpleasant emotions such as anxiety and sadness. Even when I don’t have work to do, I’ll eat my lunch by my desk just to be seen looking busy. At the office they refer to me as ‘the busy one’”, she says.
Pretoria-based Emma Mathapelo Shabangu, who’s a registered counsellor, says being busy seems normal because it makes people feel good about themselves, so they keep repeating the cycle in chase of the high. “Being addicted to being busy is like any other addiction. The individual is probably suppressing some thoughts, feeling or avoiding realities in their lives. Being busy makes them feel good, but the pleasure’s temporary, making them need to be busy more often. To treat the symptoms, one should look at the root cause,” she explains.
SIDE EFFECTS OF ‘BUSYNESS’
People will often justify their ‘busyness’ by explaining how it can help them achieve success, Shabangu continues. They don’t recognise the toll stress takes on their body nor do they notice the red flags until it’s too late. “It’s understandable that we should always work hard towards accomplishing our dreams. But it’s not always good, as this can cause serious harm not only to your health, but can also have a social and emotional impact,” she says.
This was the experience of Bandile Ngobese, 26, a journalist recovering from finger tendonitis. “Instead of taking a break when I got home, I’d continue with my typing. But that all stopped when my fingers started to hurt. They became swollen and weak. Listening to the doctors say it could take forever to heal wasn’t pleasant which means I’ll be missing out at work — which was the last thing I wanted,” she says.
‘Busyness’ is similar to other addictions, the person may engage in the behaviour, unaware of the negative effects the addiction is causing. Extremely busy people will eventually experience burnout, Shabangu warns. “They may become unproductive and experience physical and emotional exhaustion, and symptoms like insomnia, increased illness, forgetfulness and anxiety,” she adds.
Experts say it’s possible to take time off. It’s important to shut off so you can unwind, and keep your stress levels in check. Stress, when left unchecked, can trigger other undesired effects. Shabangu says, “Taking time off will help you reflect, assist you in recognising mistakes, improve how you do things or how you’ve done a project and help in proper planning. It relieves the day-to-day stresses of your job and gives you energy to start afresh. It will give you time to spend with loved ones and do more fulfilling things in life.”
Msimanga agrees. “We function better when we create spaces to explore, engage, re-energise and to be creative.” If you can relate, it’s time you press the pause button and breathe. Break the cycle of ‘busyness addiction before it breaks you. ■