Tea by the lake

Avoiding the busy-ness trap

If you’re exhausted by the time the weekend rolls around and feel like there’s an ever-growing list of things to do in an ever-shrinking time span, you are not alone. According to the Australian Psychological Society’s annual survey, three in four Australians believe stress is affecting their health.

This could have something to do with the fact that we are among the most wired citizens on earth. Australia outranks both the UK and the US in smartphone ownership. We’re equipped with time-saving technology but that 24/7 connectivity means we feel busier than ever, with emails, messages and app notifications scattering our concentration.

In Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has a Minute, US journalist Brigid Schulte describes this sense of being constantly behind as the ‘modern overwhelm’. She argues that we have come to equate busyness with success, yet research shows that working in 90-minute bursts with breaks in between is more efficient than working longer hours.

Tips to achieve calm


Productivity experts recommend making a to-do list each evening to mentally prepare for the following day, remembering to prioritise the tasks on that list. At the same time, they warn against over-scheduling; you need time in between appointments to digest what has been discussed and to mark your progress.


In his 2010 bestseller Be Excellent at Anything,¹ corporate leadership expert Tony Schwartz debunks the ‘multitasking myth’. His interviews with top executives show that setting fixed times for responding to emails, as well as an auto-reply communicating this to senders, can have a big effect on how harried you feel throughout the day.

Respond to signs of stress

Recognising when you’re overwhelmed is essential to your long-term health, according to Emma O’Connell from Psychology Melbourne² which runs classes on stress management. “Noticing warning signs such as feelings of fatigue and tightened muscles is helpful. Then you should look at whether your diet, exercise and sleep patterns need to change, as well as how connected you feel to a support system,” she says.

Diet and exercise

Rather than reaching for the sugary biscuits for an energy boost on a stressful day, O’Connell recommends healthy snacks or a small piece of dark chocolate for a calm-inducing endorphin hit. Better still, get moving.

It’s well known the release of endorphins triggered by exercise can relieve feelings of stress, while research published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine³ last year confirmed that taking a 10-minute walk through a green space rather than an urban one is the quickest way to induce calm.

Calm your mind

Meditation and yoga are popular stress busters, but there’s no one-size-fits-all method. O’Connell suggests carrying out a mindfulness exercise on your commute home or having another ritual to break the day between work and leisure, such as changing your clothes, to diffuse feelings of stress.

The power of music to relieve anxiety is scientifically proven, but that doesn’t have to mean Mozart or whale sounds – creating ‘pump-up’ and ‘calm-down’ playlists that are personal to you will be most effective.

… and take control

Psychologists and business coaches agree that being realistic about what you can achieve each day and having the confidence to say ‘no’ when asked to do more is vital to maintaining a healthy outlook and fulfilling life. That might mean turning off the iPhone right after you read this.

Take 5 and DE-STRESS

  1. Breathe in through your nose for three seconds and then out for three; repeat for two minutes
  2. Tense and then relax the muscles in your body, starting at your toes and working up to your face
  3. Read or watch something amusing; laughter can boost endorphins
  4. Write your worries on a piece of paper, then throw it away
  5. Turn off computer, TV and phone screens at least an hour before you go to bed.

What are your tips for de-stressing?

¹ http://goo.gl/aGNSIL 
³ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23467965 OR http://goo.gl/bIjnkp

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