Are you “crazy busy”?
I have a very social job. My entire workday is listening and talking to people. It’s fulfilling and stimulating, but I may go through an entire day without any time alone. Sometimes, eating a sandwich at my desk, with the door closed, finishing my charting for the morning, I listen to opera. Even just for a few moments, I am transported to another realm before I begin my next meeting. Kate Murphy (“No time to think”, New York Times, Sunday July 27, 2014) notes how “crazy busy” everyone is these days. It’s a common complaint. Between work, kids, chores, hobbies, exercise and family obligations, adults speed through everyday life without a moment alone. It’s our 21st century rhythm.
And when we are standing in line at the post office or stopped in traffic on I-5, out pops the smart phone. Returning texts, checking Facebook, finishing an episode of our favorite series on Netflix, or checking email fills most moments of alone time. As I move about during my weekend life, I am always amazed by how many adults are glued to their devices—eating, walking, waiting, or sitting. I like to walk around Green Lake on sunny, workday evenings. I am always shocked by how many walkers are talking on their cell phones or responding to texts! Our culture has become allergic to moments of quiet, solitude, and introspection. In a recent study, in the journal Science, of how individuals react to being alone, without diversion, the majority of participants found it to be unpleasant to be alone with their thoughts for even 6-15 minutes. Why? “It could be because human beings, when left alone tend to dwell on what’s wrong in their lives. We have evolved to become problem solvers and meaning makers. What preys on our minds, when we aren’t updating our Facebook page, are the things we haven’t figured out…” commented Ms. Murphy. I think there are several dimensions to this pointed observation. We tend to avoid negative emotions such as anger or sadness. We are inclined to focus on how other people behave or act towards us (which we have no control over). And, we are likely to ruminate over choices that we are unsure of. “Should I sign Billy up for swim team, when he is already playing soccer three times a week”, “Why does my sister always criticize my parenting?” “Should I look for a new job?”, “How can I get my husband to be more affectionate?”---There can be a long list of unsolved concerns and possible choice points. All of these matters can make it hard to fall asleep at night! To some degree, the avalanche of insomnia in modern life may come from our lack of introspection during daylight hours. Without taking time to reflect on unsolved concerns during the day, these preoccupations run rampant when the lights go out. Here are some antidotes to our “crazy busy” lives—and our allergy to reflection:
- Take a moment of quiet. It is healing to take a moment of quiet before starting a busy day or in between activities. Before I walk into my office in the morning, I stop and look around. I breathe in the sea air, notice the birds, the trees, the sky, and the plants, and stand in place for one moment. Take a moment of being in the present throughout the day!
- Create a daily time for meditation, prayer, or reflection. Find a daily time for sitting alone, even for 5-10 minutes. Close the door, and just be. Make it a habit.
- Don’t respond to every text. Guess what, it’s not necessary to respond to every communication instantly!
- Feel your feelings. Be in touch with your emotions and thoughts. Don’t run away from negative feelings. Experience them, explore them, and when you are ready, let them go. (I know this is easier said than done!) • Review each day. At the end of everyday, close your eyes, and watch the day as it unfold as if you were watching a DVD. Notice how you handled yourself as you faced choice points and challenges. Give yourself credit for what you did well.
Are you “crazy busy”? How do you find alone time in your day?