Many of my clients tell me that they find it hard to sit still. For some, being still creates anxiety because their inner critic jumps in and reminds them of all the things they should be doing. For others, their “always-on” mind makes it hard to sit quietly or enjoy reading and other quiet activities. Always being busy becomes a way to manage anxiety, because it doesn’t give you time to sit and think.
I remember times when my husband would say to me, “Can you just sit down?” Or, “Why are you always doing 10 things at once?” Being busy made me feel like I had things under control and helped distract me from the anxious, uncomfortable feelings that would creep in the moment I was still.
But the anxiety doesn’t go away when we’re busy. It often pops in to make a guest appearance just when you think you have it under control. Maybe it shows up when you’re trying to fall asleep or stay asleep, or when things feel beyond your control or they don’t go as planned.
So, if we’re “managing” our anxiety by being busy, why does it still come back? Well, when we constantly work to avoid feeling anxious, we’re actually making ourselves more anxious. Instead of relieving the anxiety, we’re actually creating a pattern of behaviors that keeps anxiety hanging around.
Always “Doing” Only Makes You More Anxious
Our bodies react to things that make us feel afraid. Anxiety and stress are fear responses. If we try to avoid the stress through busyness instead of learning to calm ourselves in moments of stress, our bodies still sense the stress and react accordingly. In fact, if our body doesn’t have a chance to chill, to de-stress, it will have a harder time managing when the next stressful event comes along.
It’s like a chain reaction: You feel anxiety when you’re still, or quiet, so that prompts you to get busy. The busyness pushes the anxiety to the background, but it still exists below the surface, not being attended to. Then something small happens. Maybe you stub your toe, or drop a glass, or make a mistake at work. Now the anxiety jumps from the background into the present moment.
Now your reaction comes from a place of extreme anxiety, because you were already anxious to begin with. You might react in a way that doesn’t fit the intensity of the event. Maybe you scream at the pain or yell at those who ask if you’re OK when you hurt yourself. Maybe you berate yourself for dropping the glass and start to cry. Maybe you have an anxiety attack because you feel so overwhelmed at work. Now you worry that the next time something happens, you’ll react in the same way . That thought keeps the anxiety bubbling below the surface.
Getting Comfortable With Being And Not Doing