Constantly having your hands full can take a serious toll on your mental and physical health. Here’s how to avoid the trap.

The other day I got a call from one of my friends, a media professional. She was on holiday — by the sea, at an exotic location — but she had been crying for no reason at all. Concerned that she was depressed, my friend called me from her hotel room, and I asked her about what was bothering her. Finally, she told me, “I don’t like doing nothing.” The absence of frenzied activity in her life had laid, it seemed, this Mumbaikar low.

That made me wonder if we have been unconsciously doping ourselves on “busyness”. Author and CEO Jason Alan Reeves wrote in his bestseller EncourageMinute 2007: “We live in an age where everything is rushed and busy. Our every waking moment is filled with something to do. If we wrote down everything we felt we had to do, it would probably fill a toilet paper roll. Before we know it, we are stressed, aged, ‘busy-ness’ junkies who fill even our vacations with meaningless tasks.”

Think of a regular day. We wake up and rush to complete tasks and struggle to cope with the blizzard of notifications from the digital world. Simply sitting for ten minutes to chat with family, or read the newspaper suddenly seems like a chore. Not surprisingly, our bodies are under constant “imagined” stress. The sympathetic nervous system — our body’s emergency response system — that gets activated during danger or threat (like a fire) is now activated constantly due to the perceived stress we are under (read: deadlines). When under threat, our body releases adrenaline to manage the stress. Unfortunately the more adrenaline our body releases to help us cope, the more we become addicted to the rush, and thus begins the cycle of us being adrenaline junkies.

How do we end the cycle?

Let’s face it: being a busyness junkie does come with some short-term rewards. A mood boost and ability to multi-task are some of the benefits. It is neither practical, nor easy for people to suddenly give up on adrenaline addiction. Recent research indicates that de-addiction from adrenaline might be one of the most psychologically challenging experiences of urban living. Therefore, massive changes are effected only when there is a health crisis (like a heart attack or high blood pressure). But most people could start taking small steps to set things right. Start with things that will use up excess energy and slowly promote relaxation.

1 Try a digital detox: Start small (such as by staying away from your phone for an hour) and increase it gradually to half a day and more.

2 Exercise: Forty-five to 60 minutes, four to five times a week is great. Avoid over-exercising, as it increases the addictive rush of adrenaline. Cardio combined with strength training burns excess stored energy. What’s even better is to alternate between cardio, strength training and yoga through the week.

3 Avoid stimulants: Adrenaline junkies are prone to having large amounts of coffee, energy drinks and pick-me-up snacks when they experience a dip in mood. All these substances stimulate adrenaline production and sustain the “high” through the day.

4 Get more than six hours of sleep daily: Adrenaline junkies find it tough to fall asleep and don’t wake up feeling fresh due to the overload of stimulants and adrenaline in their system. A simple way to reset the body clock is to use a sleep hypnosis app that starts slowing down the brain centres and helps to reach REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep stage, which is needed for rest and rejuvenation.

5 Give “unscheduled” mindfulness a go: Deliberate mindfulness can be, well, painful. Instead, practice some unscheduled mindfulness — such when reading a document, or eating. Pause and let your senses absorb the surroundings. Mindfulness, say experts, may soon start becoming more important than medical aid in our fast-paced, internet-driven world.

Rewards of being less busy

• More energy for daily tasks, sudden insights and a surge in creativity but without the accompanying “high”
• Good sleep
• Ability to ‘let go’
• Reduced fear, less anxiety and panic
• Calmer reactions to stress
• Less reactivity to sensory stimuli

This post originally appeared in Mumbai Mirror