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Toxic Busyness

boundaries exhaustion people-pleasing self-care Mar 04, 2023
A person is doing yoga on the beach at sunrise by Pexels of Pixabay

One of the screening questions for ADHD is “does your child seem to be driven by a motor?” If you have someone in your life with ADHD, then you likely know what this feels like. Being around can feel like they are constantly flitting from place to place, always on the go.

And yet many of us, including those of us without an ADHD diagnosis, have learned to function this way. We may not be wired for it, we may be neurotypical. But we may have developed the habit of busyness, constantly scanning for “stuff that needs to be done,” in such a way that we too are “always on the go.”

This isn’t a problem if it’s not causing dysfunction. But if you are living a life where you struggle to relax, struggle to “turn it off,” this often leads to exhaustion and feeling disconnected from others. I see this all the time in Physician Moms who jump back and forth between work and home tasks, always serving others, struggling to keep up with impossible (often self-imposed) standards, and unable to unwind.

This is toxic busyness. And it’s often driven by thoughts and beliefs that we haven’t earned rest until we have done/accomplished xyz task. And since we have high expectations for ourselves, the tasks on our list include things like trying to keep an impeccable house (despite a family of 5, including toddlers and a full time job), learning Spanish/knitting/new clinical area of expertise, and exercising or meditating for an hour daily. 

And because these tasks/expectations don’t have an endpoint, we never reach them, and therefore we never “earn” rest and relaxation.

If this sounds familiar, it’s time to fess up to what you have come to believe about rest, relaxation, play, unwinding and self-care. Are those things indulgences to be earned? Or are they necessary for you?

This is another area where our training and acculturation have done us wrong. You may have been socialized to serve others, and never seen people balance this with self-care. During training, you saw others above you work long hours and strive to always have the answers. This may have driven you to be even more “on the go,” doing extra scut work, studying harder, etc, and you were likely rewarded for this behavior. And we may talk about wellness and resilience in medicine, but many of us don’t see it modeled. Or if we do, we don’t see how the habits of self-care were built, the boundaries that were required, the trial-and-error that produced the results.

To turn off toxic busyness requires awareness of the root thoughts and beliefs, as well as a commitment to change. Becoming the kind of person who can relax, even if the house is messy, is a process. Being the type of person with hobbies and “fun time,” means spending some time identifying what IS fun for you, and cultivating time and space to practice that fun. Doing this work means creating some boundaries for yourself around time (eg “9 AM on Saturday is MY time to work in my garden/go for a run/walk with a friend, etc and I keep this appointment for myself because I need it to recharge”), delegating and/or giving up some responsibilities, and leaning into the belief that rest and relaxation are not luxuries, but necessities.

Humans need rest and relaxation. And you don’t have to do more to “earn it,” you just need to start practicing.

Hi There!

I'm Megan. I'm a Physician and a Life Coach and a Mom. I created this blog to help other Physicians and Physician-Moms learn more about why they feel exhausted, burned-out and overwhelmed, and how to start to make changes. I hope that you enjoy what you read, and that it helps you along your journey. And hey, if you want to talk about coaching with me, I'm here for that too! I offer a free 1:1 call to see if we are a good fit. Click the button below to register today.

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