I’m a big fan of being productive. Always have been. That rush of dopamine that floods my brain when I look back over a busy and productive day, I mean, that’s some good stuff right there. Being able to check off dozens of meaningful tasks over the course of a day or a week … that’s a great feeling if you’re a task-oriented junkie like me. Just that act of teeing things up and then executing and finishing the job, however big or small, however significant or insignificant, is so immensely cathartic for me. You know, control and order and productivity and all that. It’s my wheelhouse.

The problem is, it only recently started occurring to me that being in a constant state of busy probably isn’t the healthiest state of mind to live in day to day. That the act of constantly seeking out more balls to add to the ones I’m already juggling doesn’t leave me with much, if any, time to be idle. Unfortunately, I just can’t seem to help myself. I guess you could say I’m kind of hooked on a feeling.

See, I’ve just always loved the satisfaction I feel when I can cross something off my to-do list. Drawing that thick black Sharpie line through a bunch of bullets on a list is almost a little euphoric for me. Or, when I can look back on a busy day filled with hours of yard work or house reorganizing or rows of resealable plastic containers filled with a week’s worth of prepped food. That feeling of productivity always gives me a real sense of pride and purpose and accomplishment. At least it always has, until it dawned on me that I’m almost never not busy. And that, inevitably, caused me to ask myself why.

Now I’m not exactly sure when this realization fully hit me — maybe I read an article or saw the word busyaholic on one of my social feeds — but I just know it resonated with me enough to force me to do a deep dive into my psyche to understand why it is that I’m so overly inclined to always be doing something. Anything.

I guess the short and kind of obvious answer is because I’ve always equated accomplishing things with the feeling of happiness that it gives me. And that, on the same level, I equate boredom with sadness, because being bored and unproductive makes me feel sad.

I mean, you can’t tell me that it’s not exhilarating when you can look back at your day and really feel like you’ve done something productive with your time. For me, there’s a big pride factor that goes along with accomplishing stuff. Plus, I just suck at relaxing.

Look, I know myself well enough to know that I’ve always been a bit discombobulated without something laid out in front of me to keep me busy. And that’s because I just hate being idle and without a purpose. And I and realize that deep down that means something. (I did minor in psychology in college, so at the very least I know enough to realize that what I’m doing is avoiding something.) Somehow, though, up to now, I always managed to convince myself that my need to keep busy was because I was just super motivated and driven to be productive. Or that I was a typical busy working mom with a ton of balls in the air. But the reality is, I’m just terrified of missing even one opportunity to leave a mark on the world around me while I’m here. And whether I leave that mark on the pages of a book or in a column or as part of a committee or a community, I just have real bonafide FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). There, I said it.

And if you wanna peel away a few more layers, I bet we could easily trace that back to losing my dad so suddenly when I was 10 and having my brain forever imprinted with the knowledge that life is short and precious and we need to suck as much out of every single day as we can while we’re here. But I’m not gonna peel any further down than that because you get the gist.

The truth is, unlike a lot of people out there who feel anxious and overwhelmed when they’ve got too much on their plate, I’m the girl who feels anxious when I have too little on my plate. And you may be reading this and thinking, Damn, this chick is nuts. Or, you might be totally identifying with every word I’m saying and you’re like, OMG, that’s totally me.

Now, of course we also busy ourselves for other reasons like trying to avoid challenging issues in our life that we’re not ready to confront, like stress with a spouse or a job or emotions we’re not willing or equipped to access. Or, maybe we’re treating our super productivity as a status symbol, so we keep piling on the commitments and the work to ensure that the world views us as capable and successful.

Either way, however we define it, being a busyaholic is a real thing. And it affects a lot us out there. And I’m finally willing to admit that I am one. And for me that’s a pretty big admission. What, then, do I do with that realization? Honestly, I dunno. I think I’m gonna sit with it for a bit and mull it over. Then, I’m going to learn about niksen, the Dutch art of doing absolutely nothing and how to embrace it. And that feels like a good place to start.
— Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at lisasugarman.com. Or, find them on LittleThings.com, Hot Moms Club, BeingAMom.life, GrownandFlown.com, More Content Now, and Care.com. She is also the author of “LIFE: It Is What It Is and Untying Parent Anxiety: 18 Myths That Have You in Knots—And How to Get Free” available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at select bookstores.