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If you go from bored or bustling to binge-eating, it’s time to understand and address the root of the problem and respond effectively. Boredom and busy-ness are normal emotional states that may be trying to tell you something, but sometimes they’re pure habit. The goal is to manage them.
I see us as having four emotional/physical energy states: 1) nothing to do, 2) some stuff to do, 3) lots to do, and 4) more than you want to do. Having nothing or something to do is just that—neither good nor bad, just a description of being.
Every situation is unique and, therefore, our environment dictates the general energy level required of demands and available options. If you’re a recently widowed person living alone in a new city, you might feel bored a lot. Or, as a single parent working full-time and raising three children, you may rarely have a spare minute.
Some people go into full-blown panic mode when they’ve checked off everything on their to-do list and are left with nothing to do. My client Marjorie feels guilty if she’s not engaging productively in peak form every minute of the day, while my client Tomas feels chronically empty, useless and fearful that he may have left some vital task undone.
When we have lots to engage us, we usually feel satisfied and justified in taking a rest (aka doing nothing). However, that state doesn’t last long for some people because it feels unfamiliar and they’re afraid of doing nothing, so they seek something—anything—to do. Other people find doing some stuff pleasant because it gives them a nice balance between doing a lot and doing nothing.
Many folks who have lots to do enjoy it because they enjoy feeling engaged in work, hobbies and other people. To them, being busy (which they call active) is a great way to live. Using time productively or creatively makes them feel alive. But when they pass beyond doing enough and go into overload mode (more than), they fear disappointing themselves or others and may feel stressed.
The goal is to learn to accept and be comfortable with each and all modes—nothing, some, a lot and more than—with an eye toward being mostly in the first three modes. If you occasionally need to amp up to do more than usual, so be it, as long as it doesn’t become a lifestyle. Ditto for doing nothing which too often can make you feel crummy about yourself and affect your self-esteem. The key is balance and flowing easily from one mode to the next without judgment.
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