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When Busyness Rules Your Life

How are you? How are you doing? How’s it going? How’s your day?

When someone asks you any of the above questions, do you blurt out some version of, “I’m busy. Very busy”? And does the other person normally say, “Ughhh. Me, too.”

“‘I’m busy’ has become the new ‘I’m fine,'” writes Yvonne Tally in her book Breaking Up with Busy: Real-Life Solutions for Overscheduled Women.

There’s a cultural expectation that women should be busy, Tally writes. And if we’re not, then clearly we’re not important. Or clearly we’re lazy.

But being busy can bring consequences. It can become unhealthy.

On one August morning, Tally was in the middle of getting ready, when everything went black. Her heart started racing. Her vision blurred. Her chest was seizing. She thought she was having a heart attack. After getting various tests in the ER, she received her actual diagnosis: panic attack.

When Tally started talking about this experience with other women, she heard similar stories. These stories came from highly successful, accomplished, super productive women, women who planned months and months in advance (like having their summer vacations booked by January 1st), women who made it all look seemingly simple and easy. They, too, were having panic attacks. They, too, were overwhelmed, chronically frustrated and exhausted, irritable and depressed.

Busyness isn’t only a behavior. It’s an “ethos that claims ownership of our time,” Tally writes. The urge to do, produce and overschedule is so persistent. It is unrelenting. It is insatiable. And no matter how much you accomplish, no matter how many tasks you cross off your list, you can’t quench the urge to do more.

It is never enough. 

Sometimes, we don’t even realize that we’re struggling, because we’re so used to doing more, more, more. Tally features the below 10 signs that signal it’s time to break up with busy. Do you see yourself?

  1. You frequently stop doing something for yourself when one of your loved ones asks for your time.
  2. You feel like you’re doing too much and not getting enough done.
  3. Busy is your new normal.
  4. You feel controlled by your schedule.
  5. You eat one meal (or more) a day while standing up or doing something else.
  6. You’re experiencing physical symptoms, such as weight change, skin issues or hair loss.
  7. You’re not getting enough sleep or you have insomnia. Your libido is low.
  8. Things you once enjoyed doing now feel like inconveniences.
  9. You regularly feel overwhelmed or anxious.
  10. You regularly feel like you’re rushing to keep up with yourself.

The key in not letting busy drive our lives is to discover our why. It’s to discover the motivation beneath our behavior, according to Tally. For instance, she suggests asking ourselves these questions: What motivates me to continue my busy pace? What value does my busy pace provide?

You also might explore these questions: What am I afraid will happen if I stop doing and going? What am I afraid will happen if I say no? What does being busy mean to me? What does it represent? When did I start becoming so busy? Am I sacrificing self-care for other things? What other things? Why? Is busy bringing me what I really want? Do I feel empty instead? How am I actually feeling?

In Breaking Up with Busy, Tally notes that busy is like fake designer clothing: “it looks really good from the outside, but on the inside the structure is uneven, details are missing, and only the wearer knows that what others see is an illusion.”

If you’re feeling similarly on the inside, and like you’ve become a false image on the outside, it might be time to take a deeper look—using a lens of non-judgment and self-compassion—and make some changes. Because you deserve to feel genuinely fulfilled. You deserve to be nurtured. You deserve to reconnect with yourself, that beautiful being beneath all the tasks, chores, errands and responsibilities.

Photo by José Martín Ramírez C on Unsplash.

When Busyness Rules Your Life

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). When Busyness Rules Your Life. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 23, 2019, from


Last updated: 6 Jun 2018
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Jun 2018
Published on All rights reserved.