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The Busy Syndrome

A few days ago, I sat on my bed bawling on the phone with my mother. In the past 72 hours, I had accumulated a total of eight hours of sleep, eleven hours of classes, and another seven hours of meetings. I was exhausted – physically and mentally. I desperately needed rest but had so much to accomplish. But here’s the kicker. I wasn’t crying about the amount of work I had.

Every student juggles a heavy workload and I wasn’t about to start complaining about mine. I was, however, upset that I was resting. After spending an hour re-reading the same paragraph about Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, I realized that I was simply too strung out to work. I decided to take a nap. But I didn’t sleep. Instead, I lay there for an hour thinking about what I should do after my (nonexistent) nap and contemplating whether or not I even had the right to rest. Like it’s a privilege to relax. I may be an extreme case, but I am not alone. I am simply one of the many “busy syndrome” victims here at Bucknell and beyond.

The busy syndrome is as contagious as the flu, as trendy as the iPhone, and ubiquitous as Lulus on campus. Think about it. During the day, you can witness Bucknell students constantly scurrying to and fro classes, meetings, practice, study groups, and work. It is as though it is inevitable for us to be busy. But is it? Could it be that the busy mindset is just a syndrome of our constant ambitions and anxieties? Could it be that our default busy mode is born out of the feeling of anxiety or guilt when not working on or doing something?

In “The ‘Busy’ Trap,” Tim Kreider suggests that we impose busyness on ourselves. Tim declares that we are “busy because of (our) own ambition or drive or anxiety, because (we’re) addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.” We have found a way to make our busy lives the trendy, socially acceptable (and encouraged) way of life. Busy people are validated by the sense of doing because doing something is better than being idle. Even more, recent research by Hsee CK, Yang AX and Wang L. suggests that we, human beings, have an inherent desire to be busy. No matter what the reason for being busy – the ten-page paper on a strategic analysis of the ISIS crisis or the extra ten-minute drive to the organic grocery store instead of the good-old superstore – we need to be busy. But have we taken it too far?

Somewhere along the lines, we have turned this need to keep occupied into a form of anxiety that actually paralyzes us from enjoying the true joys of life. Instead of engaging in activities that purely satisfy our fundamental needs, curiosities, and passions, we have taken on extra burdens simply to fight against the feeling of triviality and idleness. But how efficient are we in our busyness? Are we really utilizing our energies in the best way possible?

So the next time you are feeling overwhelmingly busy, weed out what’s really important to you and what’s just an added burden. If you’re feeling guilty about not being as busy as you normally are, think about whether or not you’re still using your time effectively. Take the time to rest or catch up with friends if you haven’t been able to do so in the midst of your jam-packed schedules filled with who-knows-what. Don’t be so ill ridden by the false need to be busy.




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