Are You Addicted To Stress Caused by Chronic Busyness?

8 Ways to Relieve Stress Now

by Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Emotional Well-being Lifestyle Mood Issues & Stress Self-healing

How many times have you been asked the question, “how are you?” and your reply is “busy?”   In today’s world almost everyone is busy. Busy is the new status quo. It has become almost like a competition in which being competitively busy means we are also obsessed with what we haven’t done.

But, even if you love what you do, doing too much of anything without regular breaks can cause stress hormone levels to become and remain high, setting you up for a host of health concerns.  We have all heard about people working themselves to death in stressful jobs. And doctors often warn patients that being too busy can cause serious health problems including anxiety, depression, headaches, insomnia, and heart attacks

In addition, when we are too busy, we don’t exercise enough, eat nutritious food, or get enough sleep. This fosters a vicious cycle of being too busy to be healthy. The less we are able to care for ourselves in healthy ways, the worse we feel. The worse we feel, the less productive we are, therefore increasing the amount of time it takes to accomplish the things we need to do.

So why do so many people, women in particular, continue to burn the candle at both ends busying themselves to the point of exhaustion and worse?

Busy is An Addiction

Being busy is an addiction and it can be as challenging to stop as other addictions such as alcohol, shopping, or working because it is a way to escape or numb yourself. But, unlike other addictions, Western society puts a high value on being busy. We are conditioned to believe that being busy equates to being good, worthy, and successful.

In addition, so much of our busyness is determined by how we were conditioned. For example, if your parents worked long hours during the week and then did endless chores or exercised to extremes on the weekends to make up for a week of sitting at a desk, then you may have been conditioned at an early age to believe that these patterns are what you need to follow as well. If this sounds familiar, the more you do, the better you probably feel about yourself. When you are not busy, you may fear being perceived as lazy, or a failure. And resting may make you feel guilty!

But, for most of us, as we get older the demands we continue to place on ourselves are not in line with our changing values and needs, such as taking time to prepare healthy meals, walking in nature, or spending quality time with friends and family. While the toll that busyness takes on us is high, the challenge is, most of us don’t know how to stop being so busy!

My Tips For Learning to Relax and Creating Balance In Your Life

There is no single strategy that works for everyone when it comes to finding the healthy balance between busy versus enjoying relaxation.  And, there are many people who need to work long hours or several jobs to support their families. Depending on your personal stamina and what you have going on in your life, there may be times that being busier is OK. That said, here are some tips that you can use, no matter your situation, to let go of the unnecessary busyness that may be wearing you down:

1. Stop saying “I am so busy.” When we repeatedly say we are busy, we set ourselves up for being unable to slow down. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Your words become your actions, your actions become your habits.” Break the habit of saying you are busy. By the same token, stop taking on everything asked of you. When someone asks you to do something, take a breath and listen to your inner voice. Is it necessary for you to take on what is being asked of you? Are you able to kindly but firmly say “no” without making up excuses or playing the “busy card.”

2. Don’t wear a watch. I am not advocating that you be late for work, social commitments or events. But, when you don’t wear a watch you naturally slow down. You become more thoughtful and you begin to plan out your life better so the unnecessary things fall by the wayside. Plus, just about every biological process has a daily or seasonal rhythm. When you remove the artificial time filter, you become able to tap into your own body clock and your needs. And, by all means, don’t wear a “smart” watch. Research shows the average smart watch user checks it over 150 times per day! Smart watches have become as addicting as cell phones when it comes to checking email, apps, and playing mindless games!

3. Cancel or don’t accept unnecessary meetings. It’s ok and even necessary to attend some meetings. But sometimes, especially in work cultures that center around popular opinion and politics, meeting objectives get lost and the same old issues just keep getting rehashed. Plan to attend meetings only if the agenda calls for making decisions and assigning tasks for follow-up. Be sure the agenda is set beforehand and use your time during a meeting to make decisions and assign actions items. Remove yourself from all other meetings. Your team will get the hint that you are not available for every conversation or detail and will become more productive as a result.

4. Make to-do lists and prioritize. Making a successful to-do list can be a challenge. A good rule of thumb is to make sure your daily to-do’s don’t exceed ten items. That way you get the most important things accomplished. The rest can move to a weekly or a long-term list. For example, if you have a deadline where something is due tomorrow, but you have a long list of small things such as vacuuming, grocery shopping, and taking out the trash ahead of finishing your project, you will end up working longer hours and placing more stress on yourself than necessary. Be sure not to confuse goals with tasks. Prioritize what must get done today.

5. Play, have fun, act like a child. You have heard the saying, “laughter is the best medicine.” Including more fun into your daily life can improve your health. But when people become overly stressed, they tend to give up the things they enjoy.   Play is both an important source of relaxation and stimulation. There is science that shows laughter, having fun and engaging in play can relieve stress, increase brain function and creativity, and improve your relationships. So making time for fun in your life will actually improve your ability to accomplish your work or tasks more efficiently so that you become less busy. Plus, having fun keeps you feeling young and vibrant. George Bernard Shaw said, “we don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.”

6. Get better quality sleep. You don’t necessarily need more hours, unless you truly aren’t getting enough. But, most of us could use better quality sleep. Be sure to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day; turn off your TV, computer, phone and Wi-Fi at least 15 minutes before you go to bed; and stop eating and drinking anything with sugar, caffeine, or alcohol at least 2 hours before bed. You will feel more alert, accomplish tasks more easily, be in a better mood and have energy for the things you love.

7. Learn how to accept praise. A big part of breaking the busy cycle is allowing yourself to feel success or completion. When we practice receiving in this way, we are able to move away from the thoughts and feelings of “there is too much to do, I will never get it all done” and toward knowing that “I am enough.” Acknowledge your accomplishments regularly and your feelings of unworthiness will melt away. You can do this by placing your hands over your heart and offering yourself praise.  And remember when it’s all said and done, you don’t want your tombstone to read “she never got it done.”

8. Do Your Inner Work. Our bodies are permeated and nourished by spiritual energy and guidance. Learning to reconnect with our Source is not difficult. (The energy of the lunar North Node in Aries is really supporting this right now!) Just set aside some quiet time. 10 minutes is plenty to start. Take a few deep breaths. Set an intention to invite Spirit into your life and then visualize the outcome. Be sure to express gratitude for all you have and for what you are about to receive. Write down any guidance or inspiration that comes to you and detach from any fears or uncertainties that arise. Doing this every day will help you reconnect with your spirituality. If you feel anxious about not being busy, try doing something creative that helps you turn inward. For example, try gardening (barefoot is best) or playing an instrument. Take a nature walk. Dance. When we are connected to our souls we become capable of freeing ourselves from the habits that lock us into stressful patterns and relationships.

Are you addicted to being busy? What changes are you making to undo the “I am too busy” in your life?

Last Updated: August 9, 2023

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D., is a visionary pioneer and a leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness. Recognizing the unity of body, mind, and spirit, she empowers women to trust their inner wisdom, their connection with Source, and their ability to truly flourish.


Add comment
  1. Theresa
    11 months ago

    This message really resonates with me. If I don’t have a full schedule then I feel left out or lonely. Doing my spiritual practice through yoga has helped but your message I will be able to accept that it’s ok not to be included in everything.

  2. Hilu
    11 months ago

    Thank you. 🙂

    I’m 71, usually sleeping deeply for minimum 6 to 9 hours- windows open, always. I love the morning hours.
    I do intermittent fasting, cooking our meals for 1 pm when my husband comes home for lunch. That’s usually it for me,?in respect to food.
    Meditation, prayer, Reconnective Healing. Spirituality. Friends, regular phone contact with my children (in Germany), meeting friends for lunches here.
    Active Historical Society member.
    Imperfect housewife (my opinion) :))
    Wilderness garden, studying and applying essential oils… and much more.

    Haha… I’m busy in a good way.
    I am very grateful.

    Thank you too, Dr. Northrup!
    May everyone heal and be happy!

    Best wishes to All
    Love (heals)

  3. T
    9 years ago

    I never thought of busyness as an addiction before! Great insight. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Elza Franzi
    9 years ago

    Hi, great tool DAVID Delight Pro to reduce depression, anxiety and sleep problems

  5. Malea
    9 years ago

    Learning to accept praise has been HUGE for me! And, it is still something I work at on a regular basis. I make it a regular practice to just say, “Thank you” when offered praise. It has really strengthened my personal and professional relationships — I am learning to accept the rewards and praise that I actually DO deserve and the reward/praise giver feels validated in their sharing of that praise. It allows us to move on to other things rather than getting hung up in a “No, really, it was nothing…” conversation. It allows us to get deeper into our relationships.

  6. G.
    9 years ago

    Thank you for bringing attention to this issue. There is a 12 step group – Workaholics Anonymous – that provides excellent support for people who work compulsively whether at a job, hobbies, fitness, volunteering, parenting or any other activity. This group offers help for work avoidance and “binge working” too.

    1. Christiane
      9 years ago

      Good point!!! Workaholism is a totally approved addiction in our society. Which is why Anne Wilson Schaef wrote the classic book When Society Becomes and Addict.

  7. Roberta
    9 years ago

    Yes, being busy is the new status quo. The partner to that is feeling guilty if we take a day off to read a book. That’s what I did on Monday but am now passed the guilt. My kid is always “Busy” when I phone her. This will be a great read for her as well. Thanks for posting. Hugz.

    1. Christiane
      9 years ago

      Back in my most busy doctoring days, I felt extreme guilt for simply being outside the hospital on a nice day. Same thing with escaping to go to lunch. No more. Praise the Lord, I am cured. Thanks for this comment!

      1. Debby
        9 years ago

        How do you spend a typical day at home/when traveling now that you’re cured?

  8. Joie
    9 years ago

    This could not have come at a better time! It has been a very stress-filled 4 months; I often find that I go into “automatic pilot” and just bulldoze through what needs to get done, sometimes doing chores that aren’t actually important at all. I find I lose the ability to actually choose what NEEDS to get done and prioritize when I get too overwhelmed….a vicious cycle. These tips are most helpful…time to take another step away from anything that is unnecessary. The key is to stay there and not slowly allow busyness to creep back in! Thanks so much for this!

  9. Karel
    9 years ago

    Thank you! These are wonderful tips for me. I am returning to my 2nd grade classroom, setting up for the new year and was feeling overloaded with tasks. Your blog gave me a new perspective and I now feel better able to prioritize and accomplish goals.

  10. Michele Cook
    9 years ago

    Good advice. Thank you.

  11. Lea
    9 years ago

    I love starting my day out on my patio with my dog, the birds and my spiritual reading….As a matter of fact iat this time it happens to be Goddesses Never Age!! Love it and have been referring it to many of my massage clients!! I find for the most part, I have full days, instead of busy days, because I choose to take moments to take deep breathes, stretch, get outside, and try not to over schedule myself. I find this to be much more productive and less stressful. Thank you for all of the healthy knowledge you bring to me and others!! Living Full Out As An Ageless Goddess!!’

    1. Christiane
      9 years ago

      yes yes yes. FULL days– not BUSY days!!! I also start out my day by remembering my dreams. Then I sit for a bit of inspirational reading or meditation. And then I see what’s on the schedule. Great comment. Being an ageless goddess is such a great way to live.

  12. Eileen Raucci
    9 years ago

    I just wanted to comment on the topic of busyness and say I am relieved and grateful for the topic. I live with a man who will constantly say after i ask how his day is “I am so busy” he uses that as his mantra. My son does the same and they both have had a heart attack . I now have a daughter who is always busy. She mows the lawn and paints and plants and fills every minute with busyness. My grandson who is 6 is somewhat hyper active and he has to be on the go all the time. I do see a correlation in all four instances. What pains me is when I have something to do I never get any help. I seem to be on my own as my family will sit and wait to be served or watch me carry in groceries or packages. As a dentist said to me recently it ” you need people to serve you not you always serving them.” I thought it was funny when he said this but I believe it is true and I have allowed myself to be the server, helper and assistant on too many occasions. Thank you for the insight.

    1. Christiane
      9 years ago

      years and years ago, an astrologer told me ” You are here to serve, but you’re not supposed to be the main course.” Has taken me a while– but now I know how to RECEIVE!! It’s a skill. Most of us women don’t have many role models for this. So it’s our job to become them!!

    2. Carla Gill
      9 years ago

      Great sharing! Thank you. I used to do the same thing with my family until one day I said, “No more!” If they don’t participate in the running of the home, and all the responsibilities included, then they don’t get to reap the harvest from it. I stopped doing (because I was allowing their laziness to perpetuate), and my resentment went away and they started realizing that they too have a role in our household. I also had to change what my priorities were because that was just my baggage (Tony Robbins calls that our ‘rocks in the backpack we’re caring around). People of all ages can help. It’s part of being a ‘community’ within our own home.
      Everyone has a role (or multiple roles) in a village called a family!
      Enjoy the Fall!
      Carla Gill

  13. Linda Christensen
    9 years ago

    Their is nothing here that is not equally good for men as it is for women. Let’s share the wisdom with the beloved men in our lives.

    1. Christiane
      9 years ago

      The truth is that most of my work– including Goddesses Never Age– is equally valid for men. I so agree with you!! The book I’m working on now will be gender free!!! Thank you!!

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