How to Avoid the "Busy Trap"
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Tessa Brennan - 21/04/2019

Avoiding the "Busy Trap": How to Stay Calm During a Stressful Day

Ahhh the busy trap. We’ve all had days, weeks, or even months where everything feels go-go-go...and this isn’t always bad! Whether you’re a new parent, have just started a business, are taking care of a sick family member, or going through any other major life change, I think we can all agree there are certain times in life where we simply have a lot going on.

The thing is, whenever our schedules start to fill up, it’s easy for us to fall into the “busy trap.”

What’s the busy trap?

You ever wake up anxious or stressed because you’re worried about all the things you need to get done? Feel like time is rushing by and you’re not enjoying the ride? Find yourself always answering the question, “How are you?” with “BUSY!”?

If your answer is ‘yes’ to any of the questions may be in the busy trap.

First of all, let me just say, if you’re currently in the busy trap, you are not alone. In fact, for many people, constantly being busy, stressed, or stretched-too-thin is like a badge of honor. We think it’s a sign of being a hard worker, which is highly valued in our society. In contrast, taking time for yourself, having space to play, or practicing self-care is “selfish” and “lazy.” But friends, I promise, this could not be farther from the truth.


Woman with eyes close relaxing surrounded by flowers

Releasing the need to be busy

When we say ‘no’ to the busy trap, we’re allowing ourselves to say ‘YES!’ to joy, happiness, connection, tranquility, better health, and even better work. If you’re used to being in a state of ‘busy’, it may initially feel strange to release those feelings of stress and anxiety and operate from a place of calm. I promise though, and I’ve learned from experience, the busy trap is not sustainable. Eventually, our bodies or relationships start to give out.

If you’re currently caught in the busy trap, take a look at some of my favorite ways to release the ‘busy’ and cultivate calmness, even during a stressful day.

Feeling busy? Try these:

  1. Focus on your breath.
  2. Take time to self-reflect.
  3. Don't ditch healthy habits.
  4. Connect with others.
  5. Ask yourself "What's most important right now?"

Keep reading to learn how I dive deep into each of these 'tools'...

1. Focus on your breath

Whenever I find myself caught in the busy trap, the first thing I do is focus on my breath. This instantly slows things down and brings me into the present moment. Take a second, wherever you are, to close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply. Some people may find that counting the breaths or using a mantra such as “So Hum”—which simply means “I am that”—helps keep your mind from wandering during this exercise.

After taking time to focus on your breath, notice how you feel and how you respond to people/events. Are you more relaxed? Is it easier for you to stay calm?

2. Take time to self-reflect

When life feels full, be sure you’re giving yourself space to self-reflect. I personally like to self-reflect by writing in a guided journal like Vertellis Chapters (where you can spend five minutes or an entire hour—the choice is yours!), but you can also self-reflect while walking alone in nature or sitting quietly on your couch with a cup of tea. Use this time to ask yourself important questions, the answers to which often bring clarity to stressful situations. Some of my personal favorites include:

  • What am I grateful for?
  • What’s going well in my life?
  • Am I holding onto anything that’s no longer serving me or those around me? 


3. Don’t ditch healthy habits

I am the first one to admit that I love coffee and am not one to say ‘no’ to a delicious dessert. However, I also love taking care of my body with regular exercise, nutritious food, and good sleep. The thing is, when I’m in the ‘busy trap’, it’s easy for me to throw those healthy habits out the window. I’ll find myself having three cups of coffee before noon, mindlessly munching on chocolate while working at my laptop, and not taking time to go to the gym or move my body during the day. Any of this sound familiar?

If you can relate, I’m sure you know that ditching healthy habits is not the way to beat the busy trap or relieve stress. In fact, if you’re anything like me, you probably know that not taking care of your body results in more stress. Therefore, when the ‘busy trap’ starts to rear its head, commit to keeping healthy habits in place. These don’t have to be huge—take a 30-minute walk after dinner or choose an apple over sugary snacks when hunger strikes.

P.S. I want to add—this tip in particular is a big challenge for me. If this, or any of these tips, feel challenging or uncomfortable to you, remember to be kind to yourself! It’s not about perfection; it’s about trying new strategies that ultimately help your life feel less crazed and more joyous.

4. Connect with others

Humans are designed to connect face-to-face. Consequently, when we don’t make time for in-person connection, we’re denying ourselves a basic human need. When your schedule is full, socializing with others can help reduce stress, decrease feelings of loneliness, and increase happiness.

Just like healthy habits, this doesn’t have to be huge. Perhaps it’s agreeing to a no-phones policy at the dinner table or spending a screen-free hour with your partner each night. I know for myself, when I make time to connect with others, I’m far more productive in my work, feel more supported, and am less likely to experience burn-out.

5. Ask yourself: What’s most important right now?

When your stress level is high and overwhelm starts to get the best of you, take a moment and ask yourself: What’s most important right now? When I feel caught in the busy trap, it’s usually because I’m assigning equal value and urgency to every task on my plate. In reality, though, there are tasks that can wait until next week, there are tasks I can delegate to someone else, and I have the power to say ‘no’ to things. By figuring out what’s most important right now, I can start taking action on high-priority tasks and stop stressing about ones that are less urgent.

Any tips for us?

We’d love to hear from you! Did you try any of these tips? What are your favorite ways to avoid the busy trap? Leave a comment and let us know. 🙂


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