• I’m Too Busy to Breathe

    by Sunny Schlenger

    Have you ever heard yourself say this? I guess we all have at one time or another, but can you imagine if it were true? I dare say we wouldn’t be too busy for long.

    A lot of people have been telling me this lately. Some of them are bound by the very real demands of putting food on the table and paying their bills, and some don’t have adequate assistance to get their work done in a timely manner. But many are “too busy” for other reasons; reasons that have more to do with perfectionism and difficulty justifying time for self-care.

    A drive for perfection can make you spend too much time doing the wrong things. While you may understand that not every task requires 100% of your effort, it can be hard to know when to quit, especially if your goal is to please significant others.

    And therein lays the rub. Have you ever asked yourself who you’re trying to please, and why?

    Perfectionism often has its roots in childhood where we first realized that “getting it right” could bring acceptance, praise or even rewards. Minimally, we might avoid negative consequences. This realization may have launched a pattern of behavior where we tend to judge the worth of our output primarily by the approval of others. The original others may no longer be with us, but we just go ahead and transfer the perceived expectations to present-day bosses or other authority figures.

    But being “too busy to breathe” is a sure sign that you’re NOT doing it right.

    Obviously, breathing is important. And so is maintaining some level of joy in your life. It can be easy to lose perspective when you’re down in the trenches, but you have to remember your priorities. Why? If you can’t remember your priorities, you can’t make good choices. And maintaining joy in your life is a choice.

    Actually, almost everything in your life is a choice; you agree or don’t agree to go with the program. Your attitude in life is a choice. Even with events that are supposedly “certain” like paying taxes – you can choose not to pay them, but if that’s your choice then you go to jail. Choices and consequences. You can choose to allow your perfectionist tendencies to run the show, but the consequence is that you’ll be too busy to breathe. And we know where that leads.

    Realizing that you have choices is amazingly empowering. You may assume that you’re stuck with your tendencies, but they’re just tendencies; they’re not fixed in concrete. You can choose at any time to emphasize another priority and shift your energies.

    If you feel pressure to constantly produce or create perfectly, then you’re focusing on the potential reactions of others outside of yourself and you’re not giving adequate weight to the value of your own desires. By making a choice to shift power in your direction, you give yourself the opportunity for self-care – – to slow down and breathe and focus on what you need to do to achieve a balance and maintain joy.

    You may ask: But where would I fit in such an activity? If you choose to add something to your schedule, you may have to delete something else. A client of mine has recently chosen to pursue her love of photography more intensely. She has a demanding daytime job which only allows her a limited window in the evening to devote to that, but she’s scraped together the hour or two she needs by restricting her TV watching and Facebook . She’s chosen a modicum of self-care over pleasing others who may want to share social media time with her but she says that the trade-off is worth it.

    There are, of course, people who look at being too busy to breathe as a badge of honor. It makes them feel needed and important and therefore validated. They don’t say “no” when they should, even though they inevitably end up disappointing others because there aren’t enough hours in the day to follow through on all of their promises.

    So if you feel like you’re too busy to breathe, examine the possible reasons why and what you can do, if you choose, to improve the situation. Sooner or later there has to be a balance correction. This is especially true for parents of young children, home care providers and people working more than one job.

    If you want to stay healthy and keep breathing, you must make the choices that will enable you to do so. Try to fit in a little more time for joy and rest. They do help.



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