Being Busy is an Antidote to the Terror of Being Alone


My attention was captured when I read an article that suggested that there was a common human experience that many people in our busy worlds find so disturbing that they voluntarily give themselves electric shocks in order to distract themselves from feeling it.

No Time to Think. Nowadays, people can keep negative thoughts at bay with a frenzy of activity.

I have a long time patient who is a very successful executive in the construction industry. Through years of working with him I began to first wrestle with the question of why it is that so many of us are so busy that we don’t have any time to relax, to spend time with loved ones, etc.

Of course, when I asked him, he would always list the long series of tasks that needed to be done for work. Of course he was so busy that he couldn’t talk to his daughters… he was the victim not the source of the problem…

However, over years of similar discussion, I began to notice that, even when work seemed to have slowed down, he nevertheless found ways of adding new, important and urgent tasks to his cue, so that his level of busyness was much more constant more than the demands of work.

After extensive discussion, we concluded that the fact that drove this behavior was that he felt that he needed to be at that level of busyness in order to feel comfortable. If he was not busy, overworked, and overwhelmed, he felt lost, bored, unhappy.

The article in the New York Times explores in more detail what the nature of this discomfort is and perhaps some ways of responding to it.

For me, the take home lesson was that, when we find ourselves consistently super-busy we need to stop and think about how it is that, unconsciously, we may be creating the conditions that force us to work so hard. And consider the true costs are of this frenzied activity in terms of mental health and health.