Staying Busy: A Coping Mechanism to Avoid the Present

When I was first offered my full-time job, I considered dropping all of my part-time commitments: coaching fitness classes, running the CHAARG Blog, being captain of Scorch, and some other smaller-scale involvements. I knew my job would be hard, and I wouldn’t necessarily need to work other jobs or build my resume more than I had to. But, these are more than side hustles — they’re passion projects of mine.I scaled back a little, but I didn’t drop anything. I technically have time for these commitments if you consider them hobbies, but I’m always busy. I love being busy and always have. I don’t believe in being bored. If you pursue your passions and do what makes you feel most alive, you’ll never be bored. But the more mindful I am of my tendencies, the more I realize I’m avoiding the present by staying busy.

I’m a planner — parties, trips, meals, outfits, project management, life goals — I enjoy planning it all. I enjoy the process of planning almost just as much as I enjoy the execution. Still, I find myself planning trivial things instead of being present in the moment. I’m always looking ahead for the next step. You could say I’m a forward-thinker, or you could say I struggle to be fully present.

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Growing up, I planned my future to avoid the dread of elementary/junior/high school. I fucking hated those years, so I would plan my future. 90% of those plans fell through, but I am kinda impressed that 10% actually happened and led me to where I am now. Early in college, I spent my weekdays planning trips back home to my then-boyfriend and family. Later in college, I planned my days to avoid my dorm room where I might binge eat. I forced myself to stay busy so I wouldn’t have to deal with my anxiety, my struggles, and my weaknesses. Staying busy was a coping mechanism.

During my final year of grad school, staying busy became more necessary. I was never at home, but each day didn’t deviate. Work, class, repeat. I had no free time, but I was approaching burnout. I wanted to slow down — FINALLY.

While a lot of people postpone working full-time to enjoy their free time, I looked forward to a full-time job when I could actually have free time. No more homework and no more working on weekends meant that I could finally explore my hobbies and hang out with friends again!

… Three weeks into my full-time job and what am I doing? Looking into adding more commitments onto my plate. I already come home from working late to edit blogs and manage CHAARG sponsors, then I write class plans, and then suddenly I need to go to bed right that second if I want to get at least 6 hours of sleep, even though my brain is wired. Why do I do this to myself? As much as I hate to admit it, it’s a coping mechanism. I have extreme social anxiety. I sleep 6-8 hours a night, but I need time alone to feel energized, especially when I spend so much time working with others.

After a horrifying St. Patrick’s Day, I vowed to stay sober for the indefinite future. Thus, I’ve been avoiding socializing if alcohol is involved. Even after recovering from my eating disorder, I still struggle going out to eat frequently with friends (it also is really expensive, and I haven’t gotten my first paycheck yet, so let’s say I get a pass there).

I’m learning to love me-time that isn’t structured. I’m never bored, but relaxing to decompress is necessary for me. My family is really introverted, so they’ve always understood when everyone needed alone time. It’s harder to explain to friends that are very extroverted and assume I am as well. It’s so hard for me to say no to friends for myself, but it’s easy for me to turn down friends for work or prior commitments. Therefore, I find ways to stay busy and deal with any current stress or anxiety.

It’s cyclical and I’m becoming aware of it, but now I need to learn how to overcome it. I’m welcome to any and all advice. For years, my mom has constantly told me to “do less,” but I have yet to listen. Sorry, mama! I’m really good at avoiding peer pressure by simply avoiding people. My mom reminded me of this with a meme earlier this week —

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If I try to start adding on another commitment, someone slap me and remind me I need to spend more time in bed writing with classic movies in the background (currently To Catch a Thief) while eating yummy cookies. Pro tip: microwave cookie sandwiches for exactly 7 seconds for a perfectly gooey dessert. Repeat (I ate 4). You’re welcome, and good night.

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++ Mary K

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