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.


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. ■

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