When we feel busy, our reaction is often to hurry. We have a lot to do, so we try to speed up accordingly. We try to move faster, think quicker, get stuff done more rapidly.

Interestingly, the converse is true too: when we hurry, we tend to feel busy. We’re running around, we’re trying to plow our way through whatever task is on hand, we’re trying to make everything move faster — we must be busy.

This is because the act of hurrying and the feeling of being busy are both reactions to stress and causes of stress.

Hurry up and feel stressed

Try this sometime: take whatever task you’re doing, and try to double the speed at which you’re doing it. Then try to stay at that pace for the duration of the task. Notice how you feel when you’re doing the task at your normal pace, and take note again of how you feel when you’re doing the task at double time.

Whether you’re cleaning the kitchen or typing an email, a little boost in speed may feel okay at first, but if you continue increasing the speed or you try to sustain the fast pace, you’ll hit a point at which your “Oh my gosh, I’m in a rush!” reaction kicks in. Your heart rate will increase, you may breath may become more shallow, your thoughts may race a bit, your palms may even get a little sweaty.

“But wait,” you think. “That sounds an awful lot like a reaction to stress.”

And you’d be right. There’s a reason for that.

Hurrying is both a stress reaction and stress trigger.

When you’re already stressed — like when you feel really busy — you get a jolt of adrenaline and your mind and body pick up the pace accordingly. Hurrying is a reaction to stress.

When you’re not in a stressed-out state, but you start rushing around anyway, you’re telling your brain, “We’re in danger here! We need some adrenaline & stress, stat!” And your brain complies. Sure enough, you wind up feeling stressed. Hurrying, therefore, also provokes stress.

Hurrying is also both a reaction to and a cause of busy-ness.

Feeling “busy” is often synonymous with feeling stressed. It’s common to say, “I am so busy today!” when what we mean is, “I feel like I’m under so much stress today!” It’s so common, in fact, that we have a really hard time distinguishing between busy and other stress-inducing emotions or situations.

So it isn’t really surprising that the same hurry-up-and-stress-out reactions described above apply to feeling busy. If you’re already feeling busy, you get the adrenaline jolt, the increased heart rate, the sweaty palms (the headache, the tightening in the belly, etc. etc.). You react by hurrying.

But even if you’ve got plenty of time to accomplish your tasks, if you start hurrying (which provokes your body’s stress reactions), you start feeling busy.

The difference between Busy As A Necessity & Busy As A Habit

In those situations where we are genuinely crunched for time, that Hurry-Up jolt of adrenaline and accompanying burst of speed and flurry of action can save our butts. So when we need to feel busy, those reactions are helpful. This is Busy As A Necessity, and it’s fine — even beneficial — in small doses.

But the more typical situation is that we’re not actually in situations where butt saving is necessary. We more often hurry out of habit, or because those around us are hurrying, or because we believe that we should be in a hurry. So we hurry, even though we don’t need to, which leads to us feeling busy… even though we don’t need to. This is Busy As A Habit, and it’s very draining on you, mentally and physically.

One of the most effective antidotes to busy-ness is slowing down.

The good news is that this principle works with slowing down, too. Your brain is very obedient. If you purposefully slow down, even just a bit, the hurry-up-stressed-out feeling will decrease. If you move with intention, take deeper breaths, let yourself focus, and generally behave as though you are in control of your time, your feelings will follow suit.

If you are Busy As A Habit, purposefully and intentionally slowing down can help you feel less hurried. This, in turn, can help you focus longer, feel less drained, and respond to situations more appropriately (rather than with a one-size-fits-all fit of hurried flailing).

Even if you are Busy As A Necessity, slowing down may still help. You don’t have to move at a snail’s pace: just take a few deep breaths, and let your mind get some stillness before launching into your task. You may find that you’re actually more effective (and perhaps more efficient) when you’re not acting at the peak of an adrenaline spike, or when you’re at least acting with mindfulness while having an adrenaline spike.

Stop the hurry-busy cycle and regain control

The point of noticing the connection between hurrying & busy-ness is not to make sure you never hurry again, but to help you become aware of the choice to hurry (or not) and to be aware of when you are actually in a time crunch, and when you’re just habitually behaving hurriedly.

While our instinct is to hurry up! at the first inkling of busy-ness, it’s really the start of a self-perpetuating cycle. We feel busy, so we hurry, which makes us feel busy, which makes us hurry… and so on. That leads to us feeling out of control (as many chronically busy folks do).

Purposefully slowing down, acting mindfully and with intention, allows us to step out of that cycle. It allows us to choose when to pick up the pace, rather than doing so reflexively. It allows us to allocate our resources (like our energy, effort and focus) with precision, instead of just blasting them all full-open and hoping they’ll last long enough to get everything done.

Next time you’re inclined to hurry, try slowing down, just a bit, intentionally. Notice what effect it has on your mindset, what effect it has on your body, and whether it affects how busy you feel. If you can practice this repeatedly over several days, notice how it affects your sense of control, and your overall energy levels. (And report back, if you’re so inclined!)

★ Where do you notice yourself acting Busy As A Habit, and how might you try slowing down instead? If you practice mindfully slowing down, how has it affected your mood, mind and body? What tricks do you have for stepping out of the cycle of feel busy –> hurry up –> feel busier –> hurry up more?

Image Credit: Stephen Mackenzie | CC License