The Dangers of Being Too Busy and How to Restore Your Health and Sanity

“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” ~Jim Rohn
Busy doesn’t adequately describe my life over the past few years. Let’s say it was a hurricane of a schedule, with extra storms and a tsunami thrown in. Looking back from my current safe vantage point, I’m not sure how I survived.

The Stress Of A Busy Schedule

In 2011 I was working full time for the civil service and working part time trying to start up my own business. Early in the year I had my son, who turned out to be a non-sleeper and a constant crier.
After nine months of sleeplessness, stress, and upset I went back to the civil service ‘part time’ three days a week, but the reality was I had the same workload, only now I had to sort out childcare and stay awake all night to deal with my son too.
Over the course of three years we also moved three times. You know how they say moving is the most stressful experience? It is—especially with two jobs and a toddler.
On top of all this stress I kept getting ill. At my check-up I was told my blood pressure was too high. I couldn’t shift a permanent backache, cold, and headache.
I cried literally all the time, boosting the crying human total to two in one house. My son outdid me, though, because you’ve got to get on. Being a new mum is hard, but I told myself “Get a grip,” every day.

The Wake Up Call

Then my aunt suddenly died at the young age of fifty-nine.
She was always busy moving, rescuing horses, and looking fabulous. She complained to her doctor about headaches and he sent her away with a “stress” diagnosis. The following week she was taken to the emergency department and she died of cancer a few months later.
It was a mighty wake-up call for me. Work, stress, and demands had taken the fun out of life—it was miserable.
Life is too short, so I made a vow to sort myself out. I was ungrateful for my life, too busy to appreciate anything except tea and Kit Kats. I was a horrible person to be around, if anyone actually saw me.

How I Dealt with the Nightmare Years

I ate rubbish.

I don’t eat much meat or dairy, but I ate a lot of processed foods to save time. My son had lovingly prepared home-cooked foods, but me? I ate standing up in the kitchen—usually jam on toast.

I didn’t exercise.

I didn’t have time to exercise. If my son was asleep it was time to work on the business, or cook something, or even clean.

I found time for friends instead of me.

I sent round robin emails and Facebook updates to stay in touch because I didn’t have time for individual chats, but I went on nights out even when I was too tired to stand up. I felt my social obligations were important. I was still the joker and laughed at anything going, but by god, it was exhausting. 

I lost touch with my hubby. 

We argued all the time, trying to outdo each other in the “I’m more exhausted than you” Tiredness Olympics. I won because I fell out of bed one night and didn’t wake up. He didn’t notice.

I didn’t enjoy my son.

I feel robbed of his early years, not just because he was a nightmare baby, but because I didn’t have time to appreciate him.

I cried a lot. 

I cried every day, usually in the bath at midnight after I fell asleep and dropped my phone in the water.
So what do you think of my coping strategy? It’s pretty pathetic looking back. Many of us do this in the belief that we’re soldiering on, but in fact we’re destroying our health.

How I Made it Better

After discussions with my husband we decided to make some cutbacks so I could give up my civil service job. The thought of us both commuting and juggling a school run with a traffic jam was the deal breaker. I was to concentrate on my home business instead.
I realize I was fortunate to be able to drop my job and focus on my son and my business, and that not everyone can do that. But I believe everyone can start restoring their health and their sanity by making these choices and lifestyle changes.

Sleep and more sleep. 

Skip that TV program and go to bed.
I started getting ready for bed at 10:00. By the time I was asleep it was 11ish, but this was a lot better than my midnight to 1:00am routine.
When my son woke in the night, instead of putting him back in his own bed (with an hour of fighting), I just let him in with us. It’s quite cosy, and he’s more relaxed.
Getting kicked every now and then is worth it in my opinion. A new Korean study has shown we increase our odds of diabetes, stroke, and heart disease if we get less than six hours a night—so damn the parenting magazines.

I went to the doctor.

It’s easy to dismiss small symptoms when you don’t have the time to stop.
When I finally got to the doctor, who went thirty minutes over my allotted ten minute appointment, I left with appointments for a physiotherapist, an ultrasound, and the contraception nurse; a prescription for psoriasis treatment; and instructions to buy a steam inhaler and some iron tablets.
It turned out that I had a large ovarian cyst, anaemia, sciatica, chronic nasal infections, a bad time on the implant contraceptive, and violent psoriasis all dragging me down—and I was exhausted. The doctor thought I had post-natal depression, but in hindsight I think I was simply tired out.
Talk about a mess! That’s what can build up when you ignore your health. The solution?

Exercise.

Fresh air and walking are tonics like no other. I started walking and talking with my son. I soon realized he was bright and had a real grasp of emotion and how people felt. He told me I was always cross, but he wanted to make me happy (cue crying).
He’s now at school, so we walk there and back every day to talk about his day and the worries he might have. His behavior is startlingly better and he sleeps well too.
After drop-off I walk to the supermarket or wherever, just for the exercise. I’ve lost fourteen pounds and my backache is pretty much gone.

Put the mobile down.

It’s easy to constantly look at Facebook, Twitter, personal emails, and even work emails when you should be resting.
Keeping work and home life separate is harder than ever, but it’s more important than ever. Talk to your family, watch mindless TV, or read a book. I stopped reading email or Facebook after 6:00pm and immediately felt more relaxed.

Drink water, not wine.

Dehydration is a problem for many people, but they don’t realize it. Your body doesn’t function well without water. A new study claims that millions of us visit the doctor with tiredness symptoms when we’re simply dehydrated.
I didn’t drink much water in the dark days because it didn’t give me a boost and I resented all the peeing time. As a result, my skin was dull and grey, and yes, I was exhausted.

I got a pet.

My rescue cat was the best present ever. He kept me calm with purring, sleepiness, and soft fur. Dave lent me a furry ear and didn’t mind when I complained or cried it out.

Mindfulness.

From the outside all was calm, organized, and clean. On the inside I was fire fighting with sugar, caffeine palpitations, and a bad attitude. So I took up mindfulness—the act of present-time-awareness.
According to The NHS, “Mindfulness, sometimes also called ‘present-centredness,’ can help us enjoy the world more and understand ourselves better.” They aren’t wrong!
It’s okay to say you need some alone time, or to leave the house messy. I didn’t want people to think badly of me back then, so I put myself under pressure to be an actual Wonder Woman. I found out there’s a reason she’s fictional.

I stopped eating sugar.

Processed stuff was my main diet, and it’s horrible for our health.
I was never fond of meat and dairy, but I was filling up on caffeine and sugar. I upped our family intake of fruit and vegetables, bought soya milk, and caffeine-free teabags to use in every other cup. Bye-bye constipation and headaches.

No smoking.

I wasn’t a smoker, but a busy stressful schedule can cause people to start or to smoke more. Goodness knows I was looking for a prop. The effects of smoking on health are devastating—heart disease, cancer, asthma, and susceptibly to colds are just a few. There are no pros.

Feeling Human

It’s taken almost a year to feel human again. My dietary changes, exercise, and water intake helped almost immediately, but it took a little longer for the health problems to clear up.
Now I find myself looking back and wondering how on earth I allowed my busy schedule to harm my health so badly, not to mention my family life and friendships.
Nothing is more important than your health and well-being, because without it you have no life. Is that overtime really worth it? Can that email wait? Those illness symptoms certainly can’t.
When we’re on a busy schedule, fitting in some self-care and relaxation time just feels like another chore. However, it’s one that could save your health, life, and relationship. Make it your number one priority—before it’s too late.
By: Becky Mathews– tinybuddha.com

When Mindfulness Hurts: Feeling Is the Key to Healing

“You start watching your breath and all your problems are solved. It is not like that at all. You are working with the heart of your experiences, learning to turn towards them, and that is difficult and can be uncomfortable.” ~Ed Halliwell
Can mindfulness be bad for you?
I had been expecting it: Once you become a regular at it, mindfulness permeates all aspects of your life.
I only sit in meditation for twenty minutes daily (and a full hour on Sundays), but I carry its effects with me the rest of the time, elevated levels of awareness and all.
This is not to say that I constantly float on a blissful cloud. In fact, this sudden increase in mindfulness, even for someone used to deep introspection and resolutely committed to lucidity, comes at a certain cost. What I hadn’t expected was the actual weight of mindfulness.
Three months into the daily practice of mindful meditation, I had to admit that it was not solely eliciting the deep serenity I had hoped for. In fact, I realized that in some ways, I actually felt less happy than before.
I couldn’t precisely put my finger on it. All I knew was that things seemed heavier, more raw. How could that be? Wasn’t mindfulness supposed to help me transcend the vicissitudes of life? What was I doing wrong? Was I the only one in that odd situation?
I decided to do some research. It didn’t take long before I discovered evidence that mindfulness can indeed have “side effects.”
A quick online search showed me that I’m actually in very good company. Mindfulness, and the practice of meditation, has reportedly entailed significant “downsides” for a number of enthusiasts.
We come to mindfulness in the hope that it will constitute the path to peacefulness, often unaware that this path is paved with cracked and bumpy stones. Only after stepping onto that road do you realize how uncomfortable the process can be.
Just like therapy, meditating is difficult, sometimes painful.
The first and most obvious reason is that sitting still, quieting the mind, and focusing on the breath presents a real challenge. Many beginners and non-beginners complain of an overwhelming restlessness or, on the contrary, of an irresistible tendency to fall asleep (I belong to the latter category).
The second reason is that mindfulness has a way of annihilating our blissful ignorance. It offers an unexpected and unparalleled insight into our areas of vulnerability, the sides of us that we are not always prepared to welcome nonjudgmentally.
To get the most of it, one must recognize that the practice of mindfulness is dirty, hard work.
According to Willoughby Britton, a Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University Medical School, the downsides of mindfulness range from mild to severe, and can manifest in various ways—from unexpected anger and anxiety all the way to depression and psychosis.
Mindfulness can exacerbate a number of mental health conditions, bring back to the surface traumatic memories, or simply force you to deal with things that had conveniently been swept under the rug.
Whatever your initial levels of stability (or instability), a lot can emerge in the first stages of the regular practice of meditation. Ready or not, you have to deal with it. It is disconcerting at best. In my case, it was sometimes downright depressing.
Picture a handful of Band-Aids applied to different spots on your body. Each Band-Aid conveniently covers an injury that you’re happy to ignore (or so you think).
Mindfulness is like peeling off the Band-Aids, one by one. It hurts.
Then you discover what’s under them: A bad cut here. A big bruise there. The occasional infected wound. A few badly healed scars. Mindfulness makes it hard to ignore that you are, under all those Band-Aids, actually hurting, or at least not entirely recovered.
To add insult to the injury, mindfulness has a way of preventing you from applying new Band-Aids. Things that we considered pleasant, and that help us deal with life’s vagaries, lose their appeal once we become aware of their true purpose and associated costs.
We use, in our daily lives, an arsenal of strategies, often without knowing it: thinking patterns, daily habits, activities we view as pleasurable “add-ons,” such as eating, shopping, staring at a screen, and so on. We don’t perceive those “pursuits” as Band-Aids. Aren’t they the spice of life?
The regular practice of meditation and a more mindful approach to life, however, sheds some light on our dependence. Any behavior that resists modification might indicate an addiction, even if it was just to chocolate, new running shorts, or social media.
I am now, more than ever, aware of my coping mechanisms, aware that rather than making life interesting, they mostly patch up an aspect of my existence that requires attention.
If I feel bored, tired, or stressed, no amount of sweets, sports gear, or Internet surfing will truly fill the void or fulfill the need.
Where I would mindlessly resolve to an old habit, this new knowledge stops me in my tracks. I pause, observe, notice the underlying emotion or sensation.
If I’m under work-related stress, such as a quickly approaching deadline, or a recalcitrant passage to translate, I will often have a sudden craving for sweets, or feel the pressing need to check my Facebook page. It’s not a coincidence, I know that now, but I needed mindfulness to realize it fully.
Now, instead of walking to the cupboard or opening a new tab in my browser, I stay put and take a deep breath. I skip the coping mechanism and refrain applying a new Band-Aid or replacing an old one.
Even my thought processes are modified. When certain situations repeatedly elicited the kind of stress that requires a Band-Aid, I was forced to reconsider, at least to a certain extent, the choices I had been making in various areas of my life: my career path, other types of commitments, and even some relationships. I realized I had too much on my plate and that I needed to respect my limits.
Accepting the fact that I indeed have limits was no small feat. Even if I have long been aware of some of my “rationalizations” and “compensations,” I have never faced life with such clarity, honesty, and courage. I am proud of it. I am also unsettled.
In spite of this, I am still fully committed to continue with my mindfulness practice. The cans of worms I am opening can be a handful, but I was carrying them anyway, and they were wearing me down. I choose to deal with them.
Things might feel very raw, but they also feel very real. I can already sense a new level of lightness and freedom on the other side of this demanding exercise.
I invite you to give it a try too. As we move along in our mindfulness practice, I trust that we can all find our own sweet spot, the place where an increased awareness meets a renewed sense of well-being.
For many, this will mean starting slow. When you incorporate mindful meditation into your life, don’t go for the three-day retreat right away. Not only will it be too demanding, it might even backfire.
Instead, simply find a quiet place where you can sit for at least five minutes, in silence, every day, and focus on the breath.
You may feel uncomfortable at first, as the feelings you formerly numbed or avoided emerge. Don’t let that deter you. If you embrace the discomfort, you’ll eventually gain the clarity needed to acknowledge and heal old wounds, break unhealthy patterns, and generally step onto the path to a more authentic life.
By: Julie Saint Mleux – tinybuddha.com