I would say in many ways I am a recovering busyness addict. I wrote a prior blog a little more than 2 years ago on “Busyness Addict”. And I decided to revise this topic and blog since these issues seem front and center for me. At least I have noticed it has popped back into my language. That brought up this idea, am I busy enough? And just how much it has started showing up in my language. Of course, it could have been there all along and now I finally started to take notice of it.  And wonder, just how much is busy enough?

Whether someone asks about work or my weekend, my reply has been some version of fine or good but busy. I started noticing no matter what I said I seem to tag busy on it. Regardless of if this is true or not, I had to ask myself why I am falling back into old habits of either having to be busy all the time or having to prove to others I am busy enough. The idea of recovering from busyness addiction may be similar to other issues. In the sense, it might not go away and always be there, just on the edges ready to take over again.

Busy Expectations

Our culture and capitalism certainly reinforce the idea that we must be producing something to be of value. It is a lesson we all learn to a certain degree and that strong work ethic value. The beginning starts in childhood. It seems even worse than years ago with kids. They seem like they are overly scheduled every minute of their lives just like adults. There is a constant reinforcement all the time that we must be working or have something to do. Many people struggle with feeling guilty when they are too idle.


The addiction to frenzy feels a step above just busy. This is the idea that many people are addicted to frenzy, it is not just about the need to be busy all of time but to create almost a chaos of busyness around them. Some people create chaos around them to create this busyness persona around them. This may be a behavior you see in yourself or others. We all can be caught into this idea that somehow busyness is some important state as well as an expectation. It can be very noticeable in ourselves, co-workers, family, and friends.

I remember working with people who create this state of constant busyness frenzy. They have the appearance that they are somehow working harder than everyone else. The truth often is they are either working the same as everyone else and sometimes even less than others. But they create frenzy around everything they are doing. Often it is acknowledged by supervisors and coworkers. It is even valued over everything else. Others do not always notice quiet consistent workers over the frenzied workers. I wonder if that is why we feel the need to let everyone know we are in fact busy.

Busy equals Importance

I’m not sure when busyness became equal to importance and wrapped into our self-worth. This has become the common belief. It is sometimes spoken but most of the time it is this unspoken rule where we need to maintain some kind of busyness all the time. This idea of busyness being wrapped into our self-worth is warped. It is quite weird when we think about it. Why is this so important to who we are? Why are we willing to put it above other things? Even when someone has a medical issue, they feel guilty they aren’t back to work as fast as they believe they should be. In some cases I think people go back before they are fully recovered. Why are we really willing to sacrifice health and our personal lives (marriages, friendship etc.)?

How Much Is Enough?

It feels like we all have allowed ourselves to be brainwashed to some degree. Just listen to how someone speaks about someone who decides to take a break between jobs or finishing school and getting a job. There can be a lot of judgement. Even when people retire, you may hear questions like “What are you doing with your time?” or some expectation you must be involved with something important.

But how much is enough? Is 40 hours a week enough? For many the answer would be no. Many people believe they need to work more. I think we may work longer hours than many countries and it looks even worse when you compare paid holidays and paid vacations. It doesn’t end there. There are even people that will not take time off. When we are not at work or working, we must be involved in other things. Must keep busy!

Can We Break Free?

What can we do? We need to stop basing our self-worth on how many hours we work or how busy we are. We can only change this individually at least at first. I’m going to stop saying, “Good but busy”. But then what? I will move back to my values and make sure my days stay in alignment with my values.

We also need to embrace our self-compassion for ourselves and others to help shift this idea that busyness is some kind of value system, and we need to reduce how much frenzy we create. Truth be told if we work ourselves to death which many people do, we aren’t going to make a positive impact on our families, communities, or the world.

Giving Yourself Permission

We have to break the belief that we must work ourselves to almost death. Then, we will finally earn the right to rest if we just happen to make it to retirement in one piece. I have seen a lot of people who are close to retirement or just started their retirement when illness hits. If you are lucky enough to be able to recover, learn to shift your priorities and still enjoy your life, then you may still have time. But many people will never get to enjoy their retirement as they had dreamed. There are many more that die before they reach it.

How about we start shifting our beliefs about sleep, rest, work, and everything we think is expected of us. Our beliefs are based on a myth, and it is not good for our well-being. We need to decide what are we working towards and why is it we can’t reach it for another 30 to 50 years if we survive. It feels a bit like we have all been playing the hunger games and just didn’t know it.

Learning Curb

I know I’m in a better place than when I wrote about this topic, 2 years ago but apparently still need to be mindful of these old habits that creep back into my life. I know my to do list is a place holder now instead of a nagging have to get through at any cost list. It is also an opportunity for self-reflection and awareness. It is looking at my beliefs and the choices I make. How my choices will impact my health now and in the future. It all goes back to our own personal work. We can change behaviors once we understand the why behind them. Change does not come without self-reflection.

Life is constant relearning for me. Though I feel like I caught it before it is impacting me too much. As I self-reflect, I realize I do have pretty good balance in my life. And the changes I have made are still in place.  I have made sure my sleep is a priority. And I exercise daily. As well as try to eat a healthy diet. I have taken time to just relax and spend time with my people in my life whether in-person, on the phone or by FaceTime.  I realized I have slacked off on my daily meditation practice and haven’t gotten as many things done as I would like to. But now I have noticed that busyness is slipping back into my vocabulary. It is time to nip it in the bud.

Final Thought

I also need to reflect on my worth and it is not tied to my busyness. And I need to stop trying to prove to myself that I have more than enough to do and that is why I haven’t done other things that are important in my life. I need to accept that balance is not about doing all the things I want to but instead making choices on what I will do in a given day, week or weekend. It is about embracing self-compassion and knowing my worth is not about how busy I am. It is being mindful of all the wonderful things in my life that I am grateful for. I really do not need to prove my value to anyone.

Check out prior blogs “Self-Compassion Enhances Us”https://illuminationcounselingservice.com/2024/02/02/self-compassion-enhances-us/ and “Living Your Values“, https://illuminationcounselingservice.com/2021/11/20/living-your-values/

Photos by Cheron James and Yuvraj Singh on unsplash

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About the Author: Karen Gentilman
I’m a license clinical social worker in Idaho. I have my master’s degree in social work which I received in 1992 from California University of Long Beach. I have over 20 years working with individuals with different neurological conditions, chronic illnesses, and different medical conditions, including brain injury, strokes, and spinal cord injuries. I have continued to work in Neuro Rehab. I also do private practice (Illumination Counseling Service).

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