An Antidote to Chronic Busyness: 8 Ways to Create Empty Space in Your Life
I recently had some unscheduled time in my day. It wasn’t that my to-do list was complete or that the day was over, but as I prepared to figure out what I “should” do with this time, I stopped for a moment. Something was different. I listened. Silence. I felt my body. Stillness. A deep sense of relief washed over me as I became aware of what was happening.
I realized how important it was to take full advantage of this time and…do nothing.
This was not easy to do, but it is an essential part of life. What if we valued rest just as much as we valued productivity? What a radical concept!
Feeling instant freedom, I became aware of my ability to make this choice and surrender to the free space in my day. In that moment, I connected with my body’s needs for rest and stillness. I made the decision to allow myself that space so that I could continue on with my day feeling energized and truly show up for the important things in my life.
Are you chronically busy?
Chances are you’ve struggled at some point with being overscheduled. And it’s likely you already know if you’re suffering from chronic busyness. You can feel it, and your soul is screaming for rest and play. Here are just some of the signs:
· Feeling restless and exhausted, while at the same time feeling like you haven’t “achieved” anything that day
· Multitasking to the point where you make errors and forget important information
· Moving frantically from one thing to another
· Finding yourself squeezing more obligations into your day (even though you really don’t want to)
· Getting frequent colds or illness
· Trouble concentrating and feeling scattered
· Feeling resentful
Being “busy” = Being “important”
With our never-ending to-do lists, all that we “should” be doing, and non-stop technology at our fingertips, it’s easy to avoid stillness and try to check off just one more thing. Our culture perpetuates the concept that if you’re busy, you must be important.
It goes against the norm to take a break, rest, and limit the number of tasks you accomplish each day. Often, your self-worth feels attached to how much you achieve.
But the do-list is never complete. As we check off tasks, more get created. You will never get it all done! Why not try accepting that you can never get it all done and give yourself a break?
Ways to let go of chronic busyness
These steps are easier said than done. Working with a therapist can help you move through the steps you’re having a hard time with. Change takes time and seeking professional support helps.
1. Take personal responsibility for your choices
Remember you are not a victim to your life. You are a sovereign being with full control of your thoughts and actions.
2. Slow down
Notice if you’re rushing from one thing to another. Make efforts to slow down and focus on one thing at a time.
3. Give yourself permission
No one else will give it to you. No one else will decide for you. Your life is yours to create. Allow yourself to take the time you need.
4. Get comfortable with saying “No”
Remember you don’t have to accept every invitation, attend every event, say yes to every favor your friends or family ask of you, or (gasp!) take on every extra task your boss passes on to you.
5. Let go of the guilt
Feeling guilt, fear or other uncomfortable emotions is normal. So is worrying about how others will respond or react to your decisions. Begin the process of being present with your emotions as they arise to that you can begin to let them go.
6. Ask for help
You don’t have to do everything. See if there’s anything you can ask for help with from a friend, family member, or colleague. If your funds allow it, hire someone to help.
7. Have compassion for yourself
Be easy on yourself. Watch out for self-criticism and let things be “good enough.”
8. Turn it off!
This step is essential. Take a digital detox. It may be hard to turn your phone off and not check Facebook. Maybe Netflix is how you “decompress.” But studies show that excessive time spent in front of a screen, even if it’s your favorite show, can negatively impact your health, including quality of sleep. And you need those zzz’s in order to feel your best. Challenge yourself to take breaks from screens throughout the day and avoid looking at your phone before bed and first thing in the morning.
Schedule empty space in your day, every day
Choosing how you spend this time is equally important.
Find something that fully nourishes you and doesn’t involve more “input” like stimulation from screens or reading the news. During times of high stress and busyness additional screen time can drain you, leaving you feeling more exhausted and less focused. Resist the urge to take out your phone and document this part of your life. There’s no need to come up with a snazzy caption or chose the fanciest filter. Challenge yourself to just be.
Here’s a list of some simple things to do to nourish yourself. You can come up with others that suit your preferences. Think simple, free, and effortless. Creative projects are great, but the second it becomes forced or efforted, try something easier.
· Go outside and feel the sun on your skin
· Listen to calming music
· Take a nap
· Read a book
· Stare out the window
· Sit in and observe nature
· Watch the sunset
· Go for a leisurely walk
To begin getting more comfortable creating empty space in your day choose an activity from the list above, or find something else that supports you that doesn’t involve much, if any, effort. Notice if discomfort arises. Do you feel antsy or overwhelmed? Do you feel a sense of guilt for not being “productive”? Do you feel a strong impulse to avoid your feelings, pick up your phone, eat something, smoke a cigarette, or do something more active and stimulating?
Awareness of your patterns is the first step toward making life lasting changes. Working through resistance, breaking old patterns, and creating healthy habits takes time, but with commitment and practice, you can do it. And remember to practice self-compassion and be easy on yourself.
Prioritizing oneself is especially hard for women. In my private practice in San Francisco, I help women let go of chronic busyness and find heart-felt and practical ways to bring more ease into their lives. I am accepting new clients and would be honored to support you. Please visit my website to find out more juliaforberg.com
Julia Forberg is a licensed somatic psychotherapist in private practice in San Francisco. She works with individual women facing anxiety, depression, trauma, relationship issues, body image issues, and work/life balance. Using talk therapy and somatic (body-based) interventions, she loves helping women connection with their hearts and find relief from their suffering.