Have you ever asked yourself, “why am I always so busy?” If so, there may be something — or some feelings — you’re avoiding.

If you feel the need to be busy all the time, you’re not alone.

A Pew Research survey from 2018 found that 6 in 10 adults in the United States said they feel too busy to enjoy life sometimes, and over 1 in 10 said they feel that way all of the time.

The reason for being overly busy is different for everybody. For some, it’s a coping mechanism. The key is checking in to see whether staying busy is making things better or worse for you.

We spoke to Dr. Cheyenne Bryant — psychology expert, renowned life coach, and president of a San Pedro branch of the NAACP — to find out more.

Staying busy isn’t all bad. In fact, it can sometimes be a good thing.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) even recommends “staying active” as a healthy way to cope after traumatic events.

And, a 2016 study on adults ages 50 to 89 found that greater busyness was associated with “better processing speed, working memory, episodic memory, reasoning, and crystallized knowledge.”

According to Bryant, “staying busy can make you feel better, especially if it results in productivity.”

“Being productive releases endorphins known as “happy” hormones, and this experience can leave you feeling empowered and confident while creating positive momentum,” Bryant explains. “Staying busy can also help with reprogramming your mind by distracting yourself from negative thoughts and replacing them with positive busy actions.”

However, there’s a thin line between staying busy for the sake of productivity and avoiding your feelings. The latter may be detrimental to your well-being, which you may want to keep an eye out for.

“Avoided behavior suppresses your unwanted feelings resulting in a buildup of emotions that can manifest into anger, frustration, resentment, isolation, and many other unhealthy mental states,” explains Bryant. “You can only internalize for so long before it affects your mental and physical health.”

There are several signs of staying busy to avoid your emotions. These may also be subtle signs of depression. According to Dr. Bryant, look out for the following:

  1. Anytime you begin to have feelings, you dive into staying busy.
  2. Upon stopping your busyness, your feelings immediately return, leaving you sad or hopeless.
  3. You find yourself feeling angry, frustrated, short-tempered, or anxious.
  4. You no longer have time to take care of yourself or slow down.
  5. You find other people commenting on your busyness and asking if you’re okay.
  6. Your schedule is completely full with no wiggle room for anything else.
  7. You feel burned out or exhausted because of your packed schedule.
  8. It’s been ages since you’ve checked in with yourself.

Do some of those signs feel familiar? If so, that may be a good thing, because awareness is the first step to improvement.

If you find yourself using busyness as a coping mechanism, consider calling a close friend or loved one to ask for their support in accessing your emotions. You don’t have to do this alone.

But if you don’t have a safe space to turn to, Bryant recommends journaling or recording your emotions. “Once you’ve poured out your emotions, take self-inventory on how you feel and want to feel,” says Bryant. “The goal is to get out what’s been suppressed.”

Other ways to create space to address your feelings are:

  • making time to spend time outdoors
  • starting to note how you feel throughout the day
  • making rest or “me time” a priority in your schedule
  • trying a guided meditation specifically for busy people
  • asking yourself, what do I need to feel taken care of?

Suppose you’ve done your self-inventory, taken “me time,” and still find yourself feeling sad or returning to busyness to relieve anxiety, sadness, or depression. In that case, your next step could be to contact a mental health professional. Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource may help.

Remember, busyness isn’t always bad.

But if you’re not feeling well or feeling unlike yourself, it may be time to check in and see if your busyness is a sign of something else. Step by step, you can find a schedule that feels good.

And know that, no matter which step you take, every step is progress.