Here’s how it starts
You wake up thinking about all the things you have to do today. You start writing lists in your head, prioritising and making decisions on what you might need to skip.
The day looms large and is feeling heavy, you rush to eat your breakfast barely tasting it. You rush to get ready, get the family ready, pack lunches and rush out the door.
You wait in traffic or for public transport thinking about the day, wondering how you’ll get it all done. Your mind is in overdrive, thinking about multiple things at once. You barely notice getting to work.
You rush into work and feel the weight of all the things you need to do – respond to emails, make those calls, prepare for meetings, finish that review etc. You barely notice the people around you. You read the emails while making the calls. You read the report during the meeting. You write more things on your to do list.
You look at the clock, it’s lunchtime and you’ve barely stopped. You rush through your lunch, not really tasting it. You’re thinking about the afternoon and all the things you have to do. You sit through meetings, not really paying attention because you’re thinking about all the things you have to do when you get home: go to the shop, make dinner and organise various things. You wonder if you can squeeze some exercise in. Probably not, too busy.
The day is over before you notice, you rush home in traffic or to get a seat on public transport. You spend the whole commute thinking about what you need to get done, what you have to do tomorrow, the looming deadlines. You need to a call your Mum or your friend. You need to help the kids with something. You start to resent all the responsibilities.
You finally sit down to relax, after all you’ve had a busy day. You can’t relax, your mind is really active. You reach for a glass of wine, chocolate, the TV remote or all three. You just want to zone out, to reward yourself for being so busy and to prepare yourself for the onslaught of tomorrow…
Your body is jolted awake by your anxious thoughts. Your brain senses danger and starts to produce cortisol and adrenaline in response to the danger. Your jaw tightens, your muscles clench. Blood is being diverted to your muscles to help you fight. Digestion stops, the food just sits in your stomach. All effort has been diverted to the battle.
Your breath is shallow, hardly noticeable. Your back or neck may start to ache. Your bowel may feel irritated, the knots and butterflies in your stomach. Your senses feel heightened, your mind feels fast, your pupils dilate as you take it all in. Your energy levels drop, you crave something sweet. You satisfy the craving and feel the high. You crash, you become tired and irritable and have another caffeine hit. Your pulse increases, adrenaline courses through your veins.
At the end of the day your muscles are stiff and tight. Your guts don’t feel right. Your eyes are tired. You feel worn out but you’re not tired. You just want to relax but you can’t switch off. Your body is still wired, but even worse, your mind is accelerating.
The way out
This is the trap so many of us find ourselves in. Busy is a bad habit that can be addictive. Busy = stress. Stress = poor physical and mental health. We need to train our bodies and minds how to switch off. They are always on standby and this standby is energy sapping, anxiety creating and soul destroying.
The way out of this trap is mindfulness. Establish a mindfulness routine by choosing a mundane activity you perform several times a day like boiling the kettle, walking up stairs or waiting in line. Rather than losing yourself in your thoughts, treat these mundane moments as gifts. Opportunities to stop and become completely aware of your body, your breath and your mind. Start with a few minutes of mindfulness several times and day and allow mindfulness to spread.