Welcome to Mindfulness Monday! Each week I’m going to share with you some ways you can live more mindfully in the present moment. This week we’ll be learning how breaking free from busyness can actually result in more productivity. By learning to be more present, right here, right now, you will live a fuller life, love more completely and free yourself of unnecessary stress and anxiety!
Think about the last time someone asked you how you were doing. Most likely your reply sounded something like “I’m crazy busy“. We use phrases like this to define ourselves, impress others, even to make excuses for not getting something done. According to multiple studies in the Harvard Business Review , most Americans view busyness as a status symbol. They found the perception of busyness expressed a level of prosperity, value and success among those surveyed. The researchers saw evidence of this on social media, interpersonal communications and advertising messaging. Interestingly, this perception is unique to Americans. Studies done among Europeans revealed that they largely perceived a more relaxed lifestyle projected success.
Busyness As a Form of Escapism
To begin the process of breaking free from busyness, we must first understand the lure of its charms. Besides being viewed by most Americans as a status symbol for success, busyness provides a way of escaping our reality. “Escapism” has many forms, some we are familiar with, like drugs and alcohol. Others appear more subtle like, sports, entertainment and social media. Busyness presents as the most insidious of all forms of escapism because it masquerades as productivity.
Escapism-that’s what I like. I’m not so crazy about the reality of everything– Michael Jackson
Many people bury themselves in their work. Filling their time with answering emails, or other work related projects. This doesn’t just apply to the corporate or career minded. Even stay at home moms can focus too much time on their to-do list and their kids’ commitments. Providing a great escape from real engagement in personal relationship building. Many people bury themselves in work and use this as an excuse to avoid more important issues such as their own personal growth or that of their families.
Busyness is a Trauma Response
Breaking free from busyness is especially hard in the case when it is used a trauma response. This is also something most of us do without really thinking about it. An event from our past comes to mind, and we suddenly find ourselves responding we have too much to do to think about that. Or we have an argument with our spouse or family member, and we turn to the distraction of yard or house work rather than working through our feelings.
“Feeling the need to be busy all the time is a trauma response and fear-based distraction from what you’d be forced to acknowledge and feel if you slowed down.”
Busyness is a Defense Mechanism
Similar to using busyness as a trauma response, using busyness to avoid feelings of anxiety is a defense mechanism. Many people turn to more activity to avoid anxiety about an upcoming event or work deadline. Even though encumbered by exhaustion, they will find that one more task to do before “sitting down”. Or if that is not possible, they will begin filling their mind with a mental “to-do” list. All because actually sitting down to relax presents a threat rather than a relief.
Mindfulness to the Rescue
I must confess I plead guilty to all of the above forms of busyness. Having used busyness as an excuse for productivity and achievement as well as to impress others. I don’t mean to suggest that genuine productivity or achievement is wrong. On the contrary, productivity and success can greatly enhance our lives. But when we use productivity as the main way to avoid anxiety, working through problems or to impress others, we lose.
Breaking free from busyness starts with an awareness of the problem. Finding yourself identified in any of the above categories is a start. Mindfulness can help you start to curb the habit of busyness by incorporating a “pause” into your day. By making time one to three times a day to pause for a mindful check in, you begin to stop the cycle of busyness.
Breathing Instead of Busyness
Taking a five minute break to sit in a quiet place and “check in” with what emotions are present helps you to regain control of your day. Listening to your body and what needs are clear for yourself allows you a necessary pause.
Specific breathing techniques can help to settle mind, body and soul. I discussed the twenty breaths technique in a previous post. It is a very simple and effective process to transition yourself from hectic moments to calm. Today I’d like to share with you another breathing technique used to activate the parasympathetic system. This technique is called the 4-7-8 Breath Relaxation Exercise. This exercise was made popular by Dr. Andrew Weil.
4-7-8 Breathing Technique
- Sit with your back straight.
- Place the tip of your tongue just behind your upper front teeth and keep it there throughout the exercise.
- When you exhale, do so through your slightly open mouth. Pursing your lips feels less awkward.
- To begin, exhale completely through your mouth forcefully.
- Close your mouth and inhale for a count of four. (4)
- Hold your breath for a count of seven. (7)
- Exhale completely through your mouth, for a slow count of eight. (8)
- This is one breath. Repeat the cycle for three more times for a total of four breaths.
This exercise is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. Unlike tranquilizing drugs, which are often effective when you first take them, then lose their power over time. This exercise is subtle when you first try it, but gains in power with repetition and practice. Use this new skill whenever anything upsetting happens, before you react. Use it whenever you are aware of internal tension. It can also be used to help you fall asleep. You cannot use it too often.
“In moments of busyness, pause, find calm and return with a peaceful mind and heart.”
Pause for Peace
Mindfulness offers a method for more self awareness and the opportunity to live in the present moment. Busyness can be the result of escaping past, present and future difficulties. It can also force us into a false set of beliefs about ourselves and others’ expectations. Breaking free from busyness requires that we bravely evaluate what is driving us to turn to busyness in the first place. Mindfulness can help us tap into what we may be avoiding in a gentle compassionate way.
When we allow ourselves to be stuck in “busyness mode”, our brains can’t produce new insights. We literally hijack our brains, preventing access to creative ideas, problem solving or a deeper understanding of ourselves and others. Breaking free from busyness brings peace and serenity to our minds. Not only that, but productivity increases our personal growth rather than stunting it in a dysfunctional way.