Is Keeping Busy Your Coping Mechanism?

Are you constantly busy? If so, how is it connected to your coping strategies? In this article, we'll explain.
Is Keeping Busy Your Coping Mechanism?
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 21 November, 2022

You probably often wish that your days had twice as many hours in them. When you get into bed at night, you realize that you haven’t stopped all day, and you’ve had no time for leisure and rest. This isn’t usually a problem if it only happens sporadically. However, if you’re constantly keeping busy and can’t find the time to reflect for a moment and talk to yourself, you may be using this attitude as a coping mechanism.

Of course, being productive is both positive and necessary. Not only does it help you fulfill your obligations, but it also increases your confidence in your possibilities. When fulfilling pending tasks, your body releases substances that provide you with pleasant sensations. In addition, staying active and busy helps you to stay healthy, fight disorders such as anxiety and depression, and avoid overthinking.

Nevertheless, this isn’t always the best strategy. In fact, if you’re using it to camouflage or escape your difficult emotions, it can lead to complications.

Worried man working
Working or always having a full schedule can be a mechanism for escaping from reality.

Is keeping busy your coping mechanism?

If you’re a really active and productive person, you may not even have realized that this could be a problem. Here are some signs that your attitude may not be entirely healthy:

  • You have a packed schedule every day. In fact, you’ve no room for maneuver since you’ve dedicated every hour of the day to an activity, from when you get up until you go to bed.
  • You’re always active and on the go. Resting seems like a waste of time to you. Or, it makes you uncomfortable to be idle.
  • When you’re alone, and with nothing to do, you feel that your thoughts and emotions assail and overwhelm you. To avoid this, you get moving as soon as possible or get busy with some task or another.
  • When something negative happens or you argue with someone or feel sad or upset, you find something to occupy yourself so you don’t think about it. It’s your way of dealing with problems.
  • Normally, you feel burned out, exhausted, and frustrated by your pace of life, but you find yourself unable to stop or give up any activities.
  • People around you have become concerned about you or have made you realize that you should slow down.
  • You never spend time reflecting on how you feel, or what you think or need. There are no moments of calm, tranquility, and silence in your daily life.

Available coping strategies

Keeping busy doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In fact, having goals and objectives and working toward them with perseverance and in an organized way is extremely useful and beneficial for your psychological health. The problem lies when you use this strategy as a coping mechanism. In other words, avoidance becomes your way of coping with adversity or difficulties.

There are various types of coping strategies. Some are focused on the problem (in order to solve it) and others on managing the emotions that the situation produces. These strategies can be reflexive (analyzing what happened), reactive (acting impulsively), or suppressive (seeking to evade and avoid what’s happening).

In reality, none of these strategies are any more effective than the others. It all depends on the context. For example, if you can solve the problem, it’s useful to get started on it. If not, the best you can do is work on acceptance. Likewise, distracting yourself and avoiding uncomfortable situations or emotions can be useful at certain times. That’s because it allows you to calm down and take a step back.

Nevertheless, evasion shouldn’t be your only mechanism or resource. Nor should you use it in every situation, as this has consequences and can generate problems.

Why keeping yourself busy isn’t always a good move

You must remember that your emotions can’t be repressed, suppressed, or ignored forever. Indeed, they all fulfill a function and you need to listen to them, feel them, and experience them. If you don’t, you’ll be harming yourself in several ways.

  • First of all, repressing your emotions can cause your body to end up somatizing the discomfort that you’re trying to ignore. This affects your health.
  • By avoiding what you feel, you lose the opportunity to get to know yourself better, to know what you need, and how to act to improve your situation. If you don’t allow yourself to reflect and feel (as unpleasant as it may be), you’ll continue to act by inertia and on autopilot. Consequently, you’ll continue to find yourself involved in situations that harm and upset you. If you want to grow and improve as a person, you must have the courage to look within and talk to yourself.
  • Your links with others may also be greatly affected if you’re choosing to keep busy instead of dealing with what the relationship needs. After all, an argument, disagreement, or dissatisfaction in a relationship isn’t solved by going for a run or focusing more on your work. This only perpetuates the problem and can make your partner feel invalidated and neglected.
couple talking
Your relationships with others, along with your relationship with yourself suffer when you’re always busy.

Stop keeping yourself busy

In short, if you’re keeping yourself busy as a coping mechanism, you’re turning your back on your needs, and those around you, as well as the situations that require a solution. Therefore, it shouldn’t be the only strategy you employ. To change this dynamic, start by taking small steps every day. For example, set aside time in your schedule for reflection and introspection. Start looking for times when you can analyze how you’re feeling, or even start keeping a therapeutic journal.

Also, start opening up to others. Let those close to you serve as your emotional support and don’t be afraid to express yourself or talk with them about your emotions. In fact, this is a really useful and positive coping strategy. Similarly, learn to rest and make your peace with leisure and silence. Instead of looking at it as a waste of time, see it as an opportunity to take care of and connect with yourself.

This doesn’t mean that you’ll become a sedentary, lazy, or goalless person. It means you’ll stop using productivity and the outside world as ways of avoiding your internal world. Remember that the more difficult and uncomfortable it is for you to get in touch with your emotions, the more necessary it is that you learn how to do it.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Aranda, L., Buedo Guirado, C., Dumitrache, C. G., & Di Giusto Valle, C. (2017). La importancia de mantenerse activo en la vejez.
  • Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. Springer publishing company.
  • Patel, J., & Patel, P. (2019) Consequences of Repression of Emotion: Physical Health, Mental Health and General Well Being. International Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research – 1(3):16-21.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.