Hi, my name is Ayla and I am a busy-aholic.
That’s right. I numb emotional pain by being busy.
My therapist has been telling me this for the past few weeks. She noticed that when I have extended periods of time in which I have no commitments (i.e. work, school, volunteering, etc.) I tend to feel anxiety and ‘depressive symptoms’ much more acutely. As a result, my therapist has suggested that I have been subconsciously numbing emotional distress by distracting myself and keeping myself busy. Therefore, when my contract ended at my previous place of employment and I no longer had a job to keep me busy I no longer had a way to numb the anxiety, loneliness, and depression.
At the time, I was a bit skeptical. After all, it’s not like I don’t feel anxious when I’m busy. In fact, I would argue that my stress level is significantly higher at times when I have to juggle things like writing essays as well as going to class and working x amount of hours on top of all of the readings that university students have to do. But then I got to thinking about the difference between stress and anxiety. That difference helped me realize that my therapist may actually be on to something…I keep myself busy so that I don’t have to think about painful things…like say, I dunno, childhood trauma…
Yeah… I’m a busy-aholic.
The final straw to realizing that I was using a busy schedule as a way to numb emotional pain occurred when I was reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. In her book, Brown addresses the concept of being a busy-aholic as a means of numbing anxiety, stress, trauma, and so on. As I was reading this section of her book I had this eerie feeling as if she was describing my own behaviors with astonishing accuracy.
It was at this point that I had a little flashback to my therapy session 5 days ago when my therapist once again mentioned that she thought I coped with things by staying busy. She proposed that I might be keeping myself busy so that I would not have time to think about things that were bothering me. At the time, I had disagreed with her based on the fact that I had still been experiencing anxiety while I was busy with work. However, based on the fact that this anxiety has magnified exponentially since I’ve had more time than I know what to do with, I would hazard a guess that she may have been right. It’s true that I wasn’t anxiety-free when I was still busy, but that could probably be chalked up to the fact that a coping mechanism is not going to be 100% effective, but it was effective enough to diminish the amount of anxiety I was experiencing.
One option would be to fill up my schedule with things that will keep me busy. But the problem with this solution is that my anxiety has increased so much that I have a hard time forcing myself to leave my home. So that leaves me trying to stay busy within the confines of my teeny tiny apartment which is a lot easier said than done. I feel as though I’m going stir crazy sitting at home watching netflix and reading book after book after book. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE reading, but there needs to be more to life than spending day in and day out laying in bed reading for weeks at a time.
Thankfully, I have recently been hired at a part-time job working at a bookstore so that should keep me busy at least a few days per week. But that doesn’t really solve my problem; staying busy to continue to numb myself out is just a bandaid solution, it doesn’t get to the root of the problem.
Instead, I think it’s time for me to start finding ways to address my anxiety that don’t require me to just cut myself off from what I’m feeling. It’s never a healthy solution to just refuse to feel the bad stuff. I think I need to find a way to allow myself to feel the negative emotions without letting it consume me.
At this point, I’m not really sure what that solution will be, but I’ve got a wonderful therapist who can help me figure it out! And you know what they day: the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. So here is step one complete! Here’s to hoping I can make some progress with this before I go back to school in September. It would be awesome if I could have significantly improved mental health before I start my Master’s degree!
Thanks for reading!