Have you noticed “busy” has become the new “fine”? When someone asks you how you are, chances are, your default answer is, “Good, busy, but good.”
We’ve all heard the research that shows us the affects of stress and busyness in our lives, but what if our harried pace is keeping us from the life we are created to live?
We live in a culture that tells us we have to do more, be more and achieve more. We all want to live full lives, full of meaning and purpose, but it is our busyness that often robs us of living out our potential.
Contrary to what many of us have been told, we can’t handle it all, nor should we. So how do we know when we’re reaching our limit? We aren’t like our phones with flashing numbers to tell us we’ve reached our capacity. But there are signs our body gives us if we’re paying attention, signs that may look different for each of us. For some, the warning signs may be emotional. For others, they might be physical, relational, or spiritual. But rest assured, if you are over capacity, you will soon find out—the hard way.
An Inability to Control Your Emotions
Do you constantly feel anxious, irritable, depressed and overwhelmed? All of these are signs that something isn’t right. Out-of-control emotions often reflect the out-of-control demands we put on ourselves.
Lack of Self-Care
If we already have a full plate of obligations and crazy commitments, the last thing most of us want to do is spend time planning healthy meals, working out or taking care of our physical health or appearance. That just sounds like more work. Taking care of yourself may seem selfish, but self-care is one of the most other-centered choices you can make in your life.
There was a season in my life when I simply could not get well. I lived with a cold, a sinus infection, a stomach bug, or the flu almost all the time. I remember telling a doctor once, “You have to help me. I am sick of being sick!”
He said, “Alli, is it possible you’re stressed?”
Constant illness can be a sign of many things, and of course, you should see your doctor if you’re struggling in this area. But illness can also be your body’s warning to you that you need to make changes in your life.
(See what I did putting this section after self care? A lack of self-care often leads to ongoing illness. I told you self care wasn’t selfish!)
I know I’m about to step on some toes here (mine most of all!), but I believe chronic lateness is caused by the tendency to say yes to too many activities and too many people. It’s a crazy cycle of trying to be all things to all people and to do more than is humanly possible. In the end, we can’t get anywhere on time or accomplish everything we say we will, and we end up disappointing everyone because the weight of it all is too much.
It’s crucial to recognize that we all have limits. When you are over your limits, the right thing to do is to let someone who has capacity step in and run with it. You aren’t letting anyone down. You are stewarding your time and energy well.
Self-Medicating and Excess
When the demands of life become too much, self-medicating is a very common response. To be honest, overeating sweets is a problem for me. It’s something I have struggled with throughout my life. I am absolutely a work in progress in many areas. This is one of them.
Self-medicating might also take the form of obsessive exercise, too many hours on social media, or watching a lot of television instead of getting much-needed sleep. Sometimes we can fool ourselves into thinking self-medicating is actually self-care — “I deserve that chocolate bar!” But if we find that our habits are directly related to stressful situations in our lives, and that they are not renewing or restoring us, then we need to recognize those choices as a warning sign of busyness. We need to ask ourselves if escaping reality just seems like an easier choice than reducing our to-do list.
Whether it is overindulging or a serious addiction, self-medicating is a serious warning sign. Left ignored, it can bring disaster to our lives.
Neglecting Important Relationships
Do you feel as if you are habitually letting down the people closest to you: your husband, children, close friends, family, and colleagues? It’s easy to feel guilty about these things. And once we start feeling just a twinge of guilt, it’s all over. The onslaught of pressure and guilt we heap on ourselves outweighs any positive feedback anyone else gives us.
A huge sign that I am over capacity is when I start skipping church because I have too much to do, and I don’t pray because I need to dive straight into work. Staying connected to God is what keeps me operating within my capacity and what helps me understand that God made me with limitations on purpose. Having a limited capacity is not a flaw in my character. It is by glorious design and for an incredible purpose: to realize my need for Him.
Life doesn’t have to be lived on the edge of burnout. It’s crucial to start breaking busy before the busy starts breaking you. And breaking busy doesn’t mean you have to do less (unless that is, in fact, what you need to do), it means you give your time and energy to the things that you are created to do, not the things you feel you should do out of obligation or expectation.
Alli Worthington is the author of Fierce Faith: A Woman's Guide to Fighting Fear, Wrestling Worry and Overcoming Anxiety and Breaking Busy: Finding Peace and Purpose in a World of Crazy , speaker, and business coach. Her goal is to help women live the life they were created to live. Alli co-founded multiple companies and has helped individuals, small business owners, and Fortune 500 companies be more successful. Alli’s no-nonsense, guilt-free take on business, family, and balance lead to appearances on The Today Show and Good Morning America. She has written for Huffington Post, Fox News, Redbook and more. Alli, her husband, Mark, and their five sons live outside of Nashville, TN with the only golden retriever who refuses to retrieve. You can connect with her at AlliWorthington.com and on Instagram at AlliWorthington.