Smart Health

Are You Busier Than Ever?

Make a plan to slow down and get your life back.

“Is it just me, or does life feel busier than ever?”

Perhaps one of the most under-recognized yet pervasive consequences of the pandemic is that we have collectively amped up our activity levels to a point that feels breakneck and chaotic. When looking around at our friendship groups, scrolling through social media, or examining our own schedules, there now seems to be a consistent theme: “I have so much—probably way too much—going on!”

It’s natural that we might feel this way. First, the demands of life really have increased. At work, we are so overscheduled with back-to-back meetings that we barely have any time for bathroom or coffee breaks.

And if you have been feeling like your email burden has increased, you might not be just imagining things. Studies show that the average office worker sends approximately 40 emails per day, and over 120 business-related emails are received. Some estimates suggest that we spend as many as 15 hours per week on email alone.

Taking time for self-care during the day also seems like a distant and impossible task. Studies suggest that over 60 percent of American workers eat lunch at their desks. Alarmingly, an increasing number of workers have been shortening or canceling their vacations. One study found that personal time off (PTO) days reached an all-time low post-pandemic, and workers gave up around 169 million PTO days per year.

And outside of work, we aren’t necessarily doing any better with our overly scheduled personal lives. We have become constant multi-taskers, and our collective difficulty with sustaining attention and focus shows it. People are on their phones while driving, either talking or texting with friends. While we’re supposedly relaxing to watch television, we scroll through social media or play games on our phones.

Struggling with excessive screen time is a common complaint these days, and it has negative implications for not only our sleep quality but also for our activity levels and mood.

If you are burning the candle at both ends, the question is: When will you put out the fire?

Start Small

If your sense of burnout has only been increasing over the past several months, perhaps it’s time to try something new and shake things up a bit. But change can be hard, and sustaining those changes can be even more challenging. Rather than embarking on a complete revamp of your life, pick one goal and start there. The best goals are those that are consistent with our values—and realistic. Going to the gym seven days a week is a setup for potential failure and disappointment. Instead, think through a specific area where you might like to see a shift, and start there.

Perhaps you can take a look at your work schedule and build in a 15-minute block per day to do nothing. You can use the time however you like—as long as it is not work- or task-related. No email, no calling people back, no screens. Maybe you can take a walk indoors—or better yet, outdoors. Or perhaps you can practice a breathing exercise or listen to music. Whatever you choose, the point is to intentionally setting aside time for yourself to slow down and recharge.

Detach from Your Phone

Experts estimate that the average screen time for adults increased 60 to 80 percent during the pandemic. They suggest spending 3 to 4 hours per day away from our screens, limiting time on social media to between 30 and 60 minutes, and stopping screen usage at least one hour before bedtime.

Using apps or setting alarms to limit phone use can be helpful—if you use them. Again, creating realistic goals is the best approach. Perhaps you can charge your phone overnight in another room, or log out of social media at a specified time each day. Store your phone out of sight while driving—greater than an arm’s distance away. Ultimately, building in phone breaks can become just as much a part of your schedule as work-related activities.

Take a Break

The practice of taking time for yourself can begin during the work week and expand from there. You might begin by taking time for lunch each day, rather than eating at your desk or skipping lunch altogether to keep working. While you may not necessarily use a full hour, being deliberate about stepping away from your desk to have a snack or meal provides an important opportunity to reset. This simple practice can prepare you to step away from work and even plan a vacation for longer periods of time.

Be Present

Tell your friends and loved ones that you’re making changes and you would like their support. Let people know that as you slow down, you hope to become more present in your activities with them. Make agreements to not use your phones while having lunch or dinner together. Make plans for a phone-free walk in the park.

While each of these changes may seem trivial on their own, their collective impact could create substantial gains, both personally and professionally, by helping you to step into your best version of yourself.


Daryl Shorter, MD

Daryl Shorter, MD, is a Diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and is board certified in both general and addiction psychiatry. His clinical practice focuses on the use of psychotherapy and medications to treat mental health and substance use disorders. Dr. Shorter serves as the psychiatrist of record at The Montrose Center and lectures widely on LGBTQ mental health and wellness. Dr. Shorter can be reached at [email protected].
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