How much more peace would we have if we could release any stress or worry we have instead of distracting ourselves and not dealing with it? Avoidance coping is one of our most basic ways to try to protect ourselves. It is our attempt to choose behaviors to escape stressful situations, thoughts, or emotions. We all crave being present and free of anxiety or suffering yet we don’t know how to do it. Our distractions become habits we use to avoid disturbances in our lives. They keep us trapped in an endless cycle of suffering and then distracting ourselves.
Some methods of distraction are destructive to our health and happiness, like addiction or gambling. But sometimes distractions can appear healthy like exercise or being productive. Today we will focus on why being too productive or busy can create more suffering.
We live in a frantic and fast paced world where successful people are propped up on a pedestal. These are the people you see juggling it all. People who are extremely productive win awards, get raises, and are praised for how much they give and how hard they work. This could be at work, volunteering, organizing their kids, or running their household. We often admire them and wonder how they do it. But are they doing it for the right reasons? Is their “busyness” in tune with their goals or are they just finding a way to distract themselves from the problems they might face.
We can eliminate using busyness as a distractor by examining our priorities and matching them up against our life. We have to take an honest look at ourselves and ask, “What are we trying to avoid?” Is it an unhappy marriage? Shame or lack of self-love? Our connection with our kids? Family challenges? Financial fear? Even though life seems to be flying by at immense speed, you must stop and evaluate your life. You need to face these stressors head on and grow through them. You might need help so add them to your growth plan.
Where this becomes a problem is when we are creating busyness to avoid suffering or to gain significance. You are allowed to write a new story if you realize you have been, or are, in avoidance. It might feel better to try and avoid anything negative but this will eventually make it worse. Storing our emotions and pretending something is not bothering us is harder work than dealing with it. If someone lacks the tools to face things head on they will just remain distracted. Many marriages suffer because one or the other partner throws themselves into work or their kids because they don’t want to deal with the challenges they are facing.
As humans, we love being competent and good at something particularly if it makes us feel like we are winning. These are the areas of our life we will naturally lean toward. These are the easy areas. But if we expend all our energy in these directions in order to avoid a more challenging situation then long-term it will make matters worse. I suffer from being too productive especially when I am stressed. The worry and anxiety cause me to pour myself into my work or writing projects. While I am engaged in doing those things it is as if the other problems don’t exist. But eventually, towards the end of the day, they catch up with me and steal me from being present with my family.
I learned this avoidance behavior from my mom. She was out the door early and went to bed late. She seemed to fill every waking hour with something productive. From cleaning, to attending charity meetings, to working, she never had a moment of solitude or rest. I have only a few memories of her sitting with us at night or enjoying a break. She was literally wound tight from morning until night. I’m not implying she didn’t have a lot to show for it… she built a successful investment company and portfolio and was always recognized for her contributions to numerous organizations. What she didn’t seem to realize was all my sister and I wanted was a mom who put us first. Maybe she thought being in PTA did that but we missed really having a mom that connected with us.
My awakening occurred after she was diagnosed at 56 with dementia. Suddenly she let everything go including her obsession with her body. I finally got a mom whose first priority was love.
Recognizing I suffer from the same distraction as her doesn’t mean it goes away completely. I have to fight falling into old distracting habits every day. Originally I thought if I worked less I would suffer financially. The opposite happened and I learned to be more effective with my time. Now I include reviewing my priorities as part of my morning ritual and compare those to the activities I have planned to ensure I don’t relapse into my old programming.
Life is too short. People will only remember you for how you made them feel. You deserve to be happy and end the cycle of avoidance you have been running. Trust me, when I got my priorities straight every area of my life improved. Yours will too.