Am I keeping busy to avoid my feelings?
Updated: Sep 3
Life in this modern world is busy and full on. I rarely meet anyone who doesn't have a mountain of things to do on their to do list and often I speak to people that are feeling very overwhelmed with everything they are trying to keep on top of day to day. In addition to our own to-do lists there is the whole internet full of digital media to stay up to date with, from watching the latest tv series that everybody is going mad for, reading blog posts (like this one, haha!), listening to podcasts, staying active on social media... etc etc. All of this together can add up to a lot of suffocating pressure and the overwhelming feelings of "I'm too busy!". I certainly know it's something I can slip into.
But how much of the stuff we fill our time with is truly necessary? Certainly not all of it. I think often we are not consciously choosing how we spend our time, and we aren't always spending the time wisely or most productively. People often say they have no time to fit in a healthy habit like exercise or meditation but then get sucked in to spending hours unconsciously scrolling on Instagram, comparing themselves to others and feeling worse & worse about their own lives.
Most of us recognise & acknowledge that we don't like feeling so busy all the time, so why do we do this?
Part of it is the pressure from social media, seeing everybody else's accomplishments and achievements and how they present their every day can make us feel that we need to be hustling hard to be worthy. The truth is sitting and doing nothing, although vital for our wellbeing, isn't very instagramable. Also being connected by text, direct message and email 24/7 has made us feel as though we should always be responding immediately and intensifies the sense that there is ALWAYS more we should be doing. Therefore we are always adding to our already very long to-do list!
But.... although all this is part of the picture, one thing I notice in my work as therapist and that is rarely talked about, is that being busy all of the time leaves no room or time for you to actually feel your emotions. Keeping busy can be a coping skill (a way of managing and coping with painful emotions) and can work effectively in the short term but if you never give yourself a break from the busyness it can easily turn into avoidance.
And the trouble with avoiding emotions is that they don't go away or disappear. That's right, unfortunately we can avoid emotions and push them down, but they are very much still there, still being carried around with us, and they will surface when we pause & take a break. Therefore when we do take a moment to rest these emotions surge back through us and we are completely overwhelmed by them... especially if it's been a long time since we last took a break. The longer we go around avoiding the emotions the more gets stored up, the bigger the wave is going to be... and therefore the more we avoid taking a break and the more we cram into our schedules. It's an endless and difficult cycle.
Staying busy to avoid difficult feelings is often a coping strategy built over many years and it has often worked well, up to a point. But everyone has a capacity of how much emotion they can suppress before it starts seeping into their day to day, even when super busy. You might start feeling of anxious, depressed & fatigued and you may notice your way of coping with this is to try and distract yourself from those difficult feelings with things on your to-do list. Sometimes it can feel as though if you begin to feel the difficult emotion then it will totally consume you and wipe you out... there is a fear of not being able to handle the feelings which makes it seem impossible to pause and reflect. But the truth is emotions can be very strong and very intense but they do pass, and you will come out the other side... we can only move forwards with our lives by feeling our emotions and allowing them to pass through us. Avoiding or distracting ourselves from our feelings keeps us stuck where we are, plagued every day with feelings of anxiety, confusion & fatigue.
Allowing yourself to feel your emotions can be extremely daunting but it doesn't have to be complicated. A daily check in to notice how you feel at that moment, noticing the sensations in your body and any persistent thoughts can help wonders, and then you can get on with life not having to think about these emotions the rest of the time. You could take 5 or 10 minutes every day to write down what you are feeling, or you can begin by talking to a friend, loved one or therapist and see if this helps.
If you are not used to speaking about your emotions it can be confusing & stressful. People often tell me "I don't know what I feel" .. don't worry if this is you... noticing, naming & understanding our emotions is something that you learn and it takes practice for it to become a habit. If you are confused by what you are feeling begin by thinking about how it feels in your body, try and describe the emotions and the sensations, or even try drawing, scribbling, or painting the emotion. There's no right way to process or express your emotions, they are yours and there is nobody quite like you.
I am an Integrative Therapist who works remotely online with millennials who are anxious, lost, stressed or depressed. I work collaboratively with people to support them in their emotional wellbeing, to develop skills in self-care and to foster a deeper understanding of themselves. If you would like to find out how I can help you to understand your emotions better, please book a free 30 minute consultation to see if we are well suited to work together.
Alternatively, please come connect with me over on Instagram - I would love to get to know you further.