Feeling stressed by life’s demands is a familiar emotion for most adults. Since being busy is a highly regarded measure of one’s importance and success, it programs us to amass more and more tasks and responsibilities and often renders us exhausted and physically and emotionally depleted. How can we continue to be productive, have a full life and still maintain our emotional equilibrium?
John P. Robinson, of the University of Maryland conducted US national probability surveys between 1965 and 2010. He found that though “respondents’ reports of being “always rushed” declined by 6–9 points, more time-pressured people continued to be less happy in their lives, even after other factors such as marital status, employment and other important predictors of happiness were considered.”
Robinson also found that “Almost 50 percent of respondents who felt least rushed and had the least amount of excess time reported being “very happy” twice the level of the rest of the US public. This elite group made up less than 10 percent of the population.” He showed that being rushed and having too much excess time were found to negatively affect Americans’ level of happiness.
Psychologically, both findings make sense. When we are rushed, we are more likely to feel anxious, make errors, experience a reduced opportunity to consider and execute actions accurately and thus diminish our sense of mastery and competence. Likewise, not having time deprives us of feeling needed, productive and worthy.
Many people view being stressed as evidence of their importance. When they cite a demanding job, uniquely exuberant children, needy aging parents or taxing volunteer work they are often positively regarded by others and deemed capable, needed and uniquely valued. Conversely, those who report having an excessive amount of free time or “not doing much” may experience being less well thought of and even marginalized by society.
So if being busy, working hard and facing challenges garners us greater esteem from others and sometimes even from ourselves, how can we manage life’s demands without causing ourselves excessive stress? The answer lies in balancing our esteem with self-preservation. To do this we need to realistically assess the demands of our jobs, relationships and community and adequately portion our efforts so we can continue to maintain our competence without gravely impacting our health or personal connections. For example, being a workaholic often deprives your partner and children of a spouse and a parent, creates relationship loss and ultimately affects your health and wellbeing.
We also need to have a healthier inner dialogue about the short and long-term consequences of each decision regarding time and energy expenditure. If we balance our lives well we will be conflict-free in all areas, more contented and happier.
To find serenity in your life:
- Respect the feedback from your boss, spouse, children, friends and family about your performance.
- Assess your levels of physical/emotional stress and readjust your actions accordingly.
- Remember that time demands are temporary but your loved ones are your lifelines.