The Busyness Epidemic & Coping Mechanisms

The Busyness Epidemic & Coping Mechanisms

We have a busyness epidemic on our hands, and so many of us rely on coping mechanisms to combat (or bury) feelings that are telling us something isn’t right.

How many of you wake up at six or seven in the morning, only to keep going constantly until nine or ten that night and fall into bed exhausted?

Brené Brown – a prominent researcher and author on shame – says, “in our culture, busyness is seen as a status symbol.” To contribute to the busyness epidemic, we have added constant connectivity to all of our digital devices: cell phones, computers, iPads, video games, email, social media… and the list is endless. Our brains have no time to rest and recuperate, and it leads us to seek out coping mechanisms in the name of “relaxation.”

In reality, busyness is an addiction, usually modeled by one or both parents while we are growing up. It will lead to a lack of self care, and contribute to burn out in the long term. When our minds are constantly busy, frazzled, and never given a break, it can also contribute to dementia later in life. If our neurons are constantly firing, they don’t get any time to recuperate and we end up with a frazzled nervous system and an unsettled mind. Because of all of the traumas – big and small – that we go through in life, the computer system in our brain starts running on default, which is fight -flight- freeze mode.

Our amygdala works overtime, while thehigher functioning parts of our brain shut down. Over time, this can lead to dysfunction in our brain, and over the course of a lifetime, contribute to dementia. this is why things like rest, play, creative pursuits, meditation, mindfulness, spirituality are important in our life, to give us balance and keep us working at our fullest potential without burning out.

In many cultures, working hard and being busy are valued traits. While these qualities are healthy in moderation, when carried to the extreme, they become unhealthy and interfere with a balanced life. In the U.S., our culture has set us up to be independent, but not to lean on other people or value relationships and vulnerability.

This contradiction is the perfect set-up for disaster.

Our culture sells us the lie that we should use coping mechanisms to avoid our feelings with food, alcohol, marijuana, sex, porn, or being busy. As long as we don’t stop to feel, we believe the lie that we are doing OK. We can’t stop moving because of the mountain of emotions we’ve suppressed. We need to stay busy all the time and be devoted to work, but not to self-care, which is seen as frivolous and selfish.

Sometimes it takes a trauma in our life, in order to wake us up from this false reality of busyness and coping mechanisms. When we realize that we are no longer able to go it alone, we need to reach out for help. Learning to feel our feelings is messy. It doesn’t feel good, especially when we’re not using the same coping mechanisms to squish them down anymore (drugs, alcohol, porn, or working all the time).

So what’s the root of the problem?

Some of our addiction to busyness comes from our culture, but the root of the problem comes from messages we learned as kids. During childhood, we learn from watching our family Members relate to one another. This shapes us and we learn how to handle — or stuff — our emotions.

We carefully watch which emotions are expressed, and which ones are stuffed, ignored, or buried. Certain emotions, like anger or sadness, may trigger our caregivers; if they respond in anger or sadness, we learn the belief that “some emotions aren’t good for me to show.” Kids are smart, and learn how to navigate their emotional world by watching the reactions of those around them. When we feel like we can’t bring emotions into safe relationships with people in our family, this can often lead to the propensity to turn to short term solutions like coping mechanisms or addictions later in life, in order to escape from difficult feelings.

We turn to addictive relationships with things, instead of confiding in a safe person, in an attempt to make ourselves feel better. These false relationships, addictions, and coping mechanisms only work in the short term. In the long-term, we are designed to heal in safe relationships with other people. We need to be vulnerable, brave, and learn to connect with other safe people in order to heal ourselves. At first, that may look like finding a therapist you can trust and opening up to them. Once you get familiar with the personality traits of safe and unsafe people, then you can start adding to your circle of supporters.

As Brené Brown studied, when we can’t experience the full range of emotions, from anger to sadness to joy, it ends up limiting all of our emotional capacities, and we end up feeling a lack of joy, or ‘flat.’ A big part of the healing process in therapy is about learning to feel our feelings again in a safe, constructive way. We heal in the safety of the therapeutic relationships, and learn tools that help to process difficult emotions, like anger and sadness. By learning to feel the difficult feelings without turning to short term coping mechanisms, we also find more joy in life!

Remember, you’re not alone.

If you need to learn how to find balance in your life, and develop healthier coping mechanisms and learn how to implement mindfulness and self-care, please reach out to me on this website to schedule an appointment. Let’s work together to make 2020 the year you reach your highest potential.