Keeping busy to avoid thinking: does it help?

In this article, we will try to understand why you may be keeping busy to avoid thinking, signs of doing so, what to do if you’re keeping busy to avoid thinking.  

Keeping busy to avoid thinking- is it a coping mechanism?

Yes, keeping busy to avoid thinking can be used as a coping mechanism by people. People may do this to avoid feelings, or to avoid addressing something unpleasant. 

We live in a fast-paced world that expects a lot of us. Perhaps we’re attempting to devote a significant amount of time to our work, our relationships, or our seemingly endless to-do lists.

You must, after all, be able to pay your bills!

However, there are times when we purposefully pile on commitments or keep our schedules so jam-packed that we don’t get much sleep so we don’t have to deal with painful or uncomfortable emotions.

This could become an obsession that harms your life and health more than it helps.

Keeping yourself busy at all times might have a negative impact on your self-esteem and self-worth. The more you keep yourself occupied, the more you strive to avoid being in the present.

 When a person is unhappy or dissatisfied with the way their life is going, it is believed that they will keep busy. While staying busy can help us divert our attention away from problems, it can also raise tension, worry, and mental strain.

“We use busyness to distract ourselves from unpleasant feelings. You don’t have time to catch your breath, let alone reflect on truly terrible residual emotions, when your to-do list is continuously throwing appointments after appointments at you.” — Psychologist Nick Wignall

In the long run, this won’t serve us because those emotions will ultimately surface; yet, in the short term, being busy seems better than dealing with whatever it is we’re burying.

It’s like shaking up a bottle of Coke and then telling ourselves that it wasn’t worth it since it didn’t burst immediately away. But we all know what happens when that shaken bottle is opened.

Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, recommends looking into the following questions: Do you feel like you’re running away from something (rather than toward it) because you’re so busy? Do you get nervous or uncomfortable when you don’t have a task in front of you? Do you instantly try to fill unstructured hours or alone time with distractions (such as social media) when you find yourself with a few unstructured hours or alone time?

Exhaustion, according to Claudio Zanet, a marital and family therapist and co-founder of 360 Relationship in San Francisco, is one of the most telling symptoms that a client is keeping busy to avoid a feeling. Zanet specialises in all types of relationships, whether it’s a client’s relationship with themselves or others, such as romantic partners, family members, or coworkers. “Many clients who come to me during a trying time have exhausted themselves and are exhibiting symptoms of anxiety and/or despair.”

Some of Zanet’s clients will go all out at work, bringing work home with them, and always be “on.” Clients of Bonior’s have been preoccupied with work in order to avoid thinking about their divorce. This prevents them from grieving, which is necessary for progress. In other words, it simply “defers the problem,” according to Bonior.

For many people, staying busy has been their coping mechanism for years. “They’ve integrated this into their defensive structure as a technique to protect themselves from uncomfortable feelings,” Zanet says, “and it’s delivered incredible benefits in their life.” However, when people begin to experience anxiety, despair, or exhaustion, he believes the technique has run its course.

For Zanet’s clients, experiencing an unpleasant emotion is terrifying. “I’ve heard many clients describe their dread as if they’re plunging into an abyss: a massive black hole from which they won’t be able to escape,” he said. They believe that if they try to comprehend the emotion, whether it’s anger or sadness, they’ll be unable to do it.

Is it healthy?

Keeping busy as a way to avoid certain emotions or uncomfortable thoughts that you don’t want to deal with, at first thought may seem okay, but in the long run it is, ultimately not your best option. 

We as a society place a high importance on staying occupied. We’re accustomed to working tirelessly toward our objectives, and we regard laziness as a character fault.

It’s totally acceptable to be ambitious while yet living a complete life. It’s also fine to have healthy distractions to keep yourself occupied on occasion.

The issue emerges when we keep ourselves occupied on purpose (or even unconsciously) because we can’t bear the concept of just being present with our thoughts and feelings.

People who are obsessively occupied don’t have time to address their inner experience. We reject our feelings as a result of this constant distraction.

While this may be a fast fix for avoiding unpleasant thoughts and feelings, it only intensifies them over time. The pressure inside of us continues to rise, similar to the soda comparison. We may not burst right now, but it’s inevitable that we will at some point.

The adage that “the only way out is through” is correct. While being busy to avoid depression may seem like a good idea at the time, it will not assist you in the long run. Emotions can only be healed by processing them. You can’t comprehend them unless you first acknowledge them, which you won’t be able to do if you’re continually distracted.

If you’re still not sure whether you’re keeping busy to escape depression or other sensations, here are some clues that you might be:

Your calendar is always full

A person who is keeping busy may feel compelled to fill their calendar. They can find it challenging to spend time not “doing.” If they don’t schedule anything or have events waiting in the wings, they may feel like they’re squandering time. When they see their schedule is entirely full, they may be the happiest. It’s critical to realise that this is a behaviour you notice in yourself in order to overcome this thinking.

You always end up doing some work 

You bring work home with you, work late, or work a lot of overtime in general. If you’re going above and above at work, carrying work home with you, and making your life all about work, it’s possible that you’re attempting to avoid dealing with anything else in your life.

You aren’t taking proper care of yourself 

In general, you are not taking care of yourself. If you’re so preoccupied with your work that you can’t recall the last time you ate, it’s possible that you’re not paying attention to your body’s basic signals like hunger.

You are unable to slow down 

Stopping to smell the roses may seem cliché, but for people who can’t seem to stop working, it might be difficult. You may be addicted to being busy if you have trouble taking in the minutiae of the day—the taste of your morning coffee, the smile on your coworker’s face, or the sounds of children playing in your front yard—because you feel compelled to move on to the next item.

It’s possible that you’re having trouble pacing yourself because you’re trying to avoid something unpleasant or painful.

Keeping busy is a bad way to cope. It may appear to be beneficial in the short term, but it can be harmful in the long run. We can only keep things bottled up for so long before they explode.

This can be changed by learning to cope in better ways and becoming more aware of your emotions. It could seem strange at first since it’s new and unusual, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good for you.

Other people point out how busy you are 

People frequently tell the busy person that they appear to be always busy or “on the move.” This may appear to be a self-evident indicator, but busy people may have difficulties seeing it in themselves, necessitating the intervention of others

.Others can see how busy we are and how much work we put in. It’s possible that statements about how busy you are signify something. 

If this is the situation for you, it may be beneficial to speak with your loved ones about it. Keep an open mind when it comes to what your friends and relatives are telling you

You feel guilty when you’re doing nothing 

We are under constant pressure to accomplish things since our society places such a high value on performance and production.

It has been the norm to believe and feel that, the more we accomplish, the more valuable we are

We are not doing anything when we relax, which is linked to unpleasant emotions like guilt, shame, and concern.  

You have become more social than before

People can become “social butterflies” as a result of their busy schedules, and they may feel compelled to move from one social situation to the next. What emotions do you have when you don’t have another work to complete?

 It’s a terrific starting step to be able to tell oneself what the busyness has to give. from social engagement to engagement “I’m just social,” or “I like to go out,” these people would say casually. They could find it challenging to be alone or spend time alone. Pay attention to this sensation if it sounds familiar. How does it feel to be alone? That’s something you can relate to. Is it making you feel anything else or reminding you of anything?

How to cope?

It’s a smart place to start by acknowledging your persistent need to fill your calendar. Examining the function of that behaviour could be beneficial. What does it have to offer? How do you feel when you notice your calendar is completely booked? What are you gaining out of rushing from one work to the next without pausing? How do you feel when your schedule is vacant, on the other hand? What emotions do you have when you don’t have another work to complete? It’s a terrific starting step to be able to tell oneself what the busyness has to give.

Slowing down as much as possible is a smart next step. Take a deep breath, pause, and pay attention to what’s going on around you. Begin with your body: how does it feel on the inside? Do you notice any tenseness or constriction? Do you experience joy, sadness, loneliness, rage, or something else? Where in your body do you have that sensation? Is it possible for you to let it travel through your body?

Then check if you can move on to tuning in to other people’s experiences. Instead of responding with a scripted response, slow down and genuinely listen to what they’re saying. Can you sense what they’re thinking and feeling? Is it possible for you to give yourself the time and space to truly be present with others? Feel what it’s like to be completely present with your family and friends.


In this article, we have discussed what it means to keep busy to avoid thinking, if it is healthy, signs of doing so and how to cope in such a situation. 


Is keeping busy a coping mechanism?

Being busy can be beneficial. As humans, we typically want to be productive and make good use of our time. It’s necessary to take a closer look when busyness takes over our lives and we cease enjoying life. If you believe that being busy has become a coping method for you, counselling may be beneficial.

What does it mean when one is busy all the time?

For you, being busy is a status symbol.

Because we live in a society that values hard work and production, being busy all of the time might make you feel like you’re succeeding in life and enhance your social position. Trying to be our best all of the time gives us a sense of worth and can become addictive.

Is keeping busy good for your mental health?

And now, according to a new study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, people who stay busy as they get older may have improved memory and cognitive scores. While this may be true–and it makes intuitive sense–also it’s crucial to remember that not all busyness is created equal.