It’s a tactic I have deployed ever since I can remember.
Since my diagnosis with depression, I have found keeping busy helps me manage my mental health. But is this also an avoidance tactic?
I am a sucker for keeping busy. I feel compelled to do it. I’m a volunteer. I’m a volunteer team leader. I’m an ambassador. I work two jobs. I teach a class mid-week. I can’t enjoy free time without feeling guilty that I should be doing something else. So I multi-task. I write blog posts while also catching up with my favourite TV shows. I read or blog during my commute to work. I spend my free time in the bath (relaxing and washing).
I rush from one place to another, armed with my to-do list.
Multi-tasking helps me avoid anxiety, but then causes more anxiety as I struggle to keep on top of all I have taken on.
But continually keeping busy only serves as a distraction from my mental health difficulties. It doesn't address the problem or work to find a solution.
I thought it was healthy to keep busy, but when I was exploring Cause and Effect during Embrace Your Past month, I learned that I was wrong.
As I attempt to Be Free of stress and my busy schedule this month, I need to better understand my multi-tasking.
Little did I know, it can be categorised as a specific type of depression.
In 'Undoing Depression: What Therapy Doesn't Teach You and Medication Can't Give You', Richard O'Connor describes this insistence on continually keeping busy as 'Spinning-your-wheels depression'.
People with 'Spinning-your-wheels depression' push themselves too hard and don't get anywhere. They have difficulty prioritising. They never take time off and are angry at themselves because of this. To them, everything feels like an emergency.
And why? Well, it’s all an avoidance tactic:
"They take on too much because they fear that if they stop or slow down the emptiness will catch up to them."It serves as a distraction. Rather than being an effective coping strategy, it is extremely unhealthy.
"Hard work itself becomes a skill of depression, something that demands so much attention that you rarely think about yourself, your own needs and feelings."The risk is that we can burn ourselves out. Easily. The added workload, the continued search for work, in the end it just causes more stress. I've felt it. I know that some days I am about to collapse.
But how do we turn 'Spinning-your-wheels depression' on its head?
O'Connor says willpower and self control are essential. We need to learn to relax and find ways to add joy and satisfaction without creating more work. It sounds like such a simple and obvious solution; but the reality is that keeping busy and having responsibilities has always been my coping mechanism. I don't know how to manage my depression without it.
Richard O’Connor’s book also contains this pretty incredible quote:
"Recreation means re-creation of the self".Recreate myself, eh? That's what this whole year of resolutions is all about. And it seems that learning how to properly unwind and do nothing is going to play a huge part of that. It won't come naturally to me and it won't happen overnight; but I am dedicated to stop spinning my wheels.