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How Talking About Being Busy Can Add to Stress

Friday, September 26, 2014


Photo Credit: BLW Photography via Compfight cc

There’s been a lot written lately about the epidemic of “busy-ness” that seems to have overtaken the workplace, and the people in it.

Employees of all shapes and sizes seem to measure their worldly value by how they can one-up their friends and neighbors with the schedule-induced overwhelm they appear to suffer. 

Portland has no shortage of busy people. Just read any Facebook feed from your closest chums to see how that’s going. 

But not all overwhelm is equal. In fact, not all overwhelm is, in fact, overwhelming. And there are two big factors driving that: the language we use and the habits we indulge in around work. 

Stop Shouting It Out

As it turns out, often the language we use to express our daily life cycles is both misleading and making the situation worse. 

Consider the most common “busy” refrains heard most frequently. 

“I’m swamped.” 

“It’s crazy right now.” 

“Totally fried.” 

It turns out that declaring overwhelm to the world is not helping. In the book Words Can Change Your Brain, authors Newberg and Waldman posit, “A single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.” 

In other words, the more time spent declaring circumstances of overload, the more our physiology generates stress. A self-fulfilling prophecy of negative thoughts. 

Overcoming this tendency to broadcast one’s busy-ness can greatly reduce the impact. To lower stress and busy-induced anxiety, simply stop talking about the busy factor.

Instead, use internal language that reflects how you’re focused on one thing, after which you’ll move on to the next.

Then, do it! 

Focus On One Thing

Additionally, we’re typically not helping ourselves by the way we work. Brigid Schulte, a University of Portland grad and author of the recently published Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time says our love affair with multi-tasking is part of the problem. 

Despite numerous studies that show a very elite few of us can capably multi-task, we insist on it nonetheless.

Ironically, when we do that – thinking we are in fact being more productive -- it makes people feel busier than they actually are. When taking a conference call, reviewing notes for a big client presentation and skimming the Twitter feed, workers are bound to feel more “busy.” 

Each task, however, attended to on its own, one at a time, does in fact reduce the stress factor. To lower the frenetic feeling multi-tasking can generate, focus on one thing at a time, and commit to that one thing until it’s completed. Then, move on to the next. 

Our culture has become nearly allergic to white space on a calendar. It’s OK to not have the “craziest” calendar, the most overwhelming overwhelm, or bragging rights to doing five things at once.

So what’s the payoff? Likely a much more sane feeling of being in control of your work, rather than it being in control of you.

Lea McLeod, M.A. coaches professionals to get more done, be more confident and deal with workplace issues such as challenging bosses and overwhelming workloads. Her career insights have been featured in publications including Forbes, Mashable, Yahoo, and Business Insider. Connect with her on LinkedIn. Follow her on Twitter. If you’re ready to take action, get started with her free 21 Days to Peace at Work e-series.

Banner Photo Credit: Amy McTigue via Compfight cc


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