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Hurry Sickness

Is the quest to do all and be all costing us our health?

At one time or another, many of us have experienced what Gardner Merchant calls hurry sickness. Merchant, a contract caterer, conducted research on about 10,000 people in the UK in order to assess the developing needs of British businesses. By definition, hurry sickness is “a behavior pattern characterized by continual rushing and anxiousness; an overwhelming and continual sense of urgency.” As if that isn’t bad enough, it’s also defined as “A malaise in which a person feels chronically short of time, and so tends to perform every task faster and to get flustered when encountering any kind of delay.” Sound familiar?

To add to the conundrum, our rapidly-expanding technology, which is exponentially increasing, is supposed to improve our lives by making things easier and providing us much needed time to relax. Smart phones have blessed us with effortless ways to communicate instantly; computers answer our questions in a split second and help us keep up with growing demands. But technology becomes part of the new problem we are feeling, not the solution. And the upshot is that in our uber-fast, uber-techno world, we are experiencing an epidemic of hurry sickness.

Spare Time? What’s That?

There used to be a thing called “spare time” (available time to do things other than work) which was greatly anticipated and enjoyed by those who had it. A few decades ago people pondered with relish what they would do with their spare time. After the clothes were hung up to dry, the dishes were washed, the family’s one and only car cleaned, the dinner cooked and the rugs dragged outside and beaten with a broom, maybe the family would enjoy a “drive-in movie” (for the young among you, it was a cinema consisting of a large outdoor movie screen, a projection booth, concession stand and a large parking area where customers viewed movies from the comfort of their automobiles), or an afternoon of bowling (a game played by rolling a ball down a wooden alley in order to knock down a triangular group of ten pins), or miniature golf (played with a putter on a miniature golf course comprised of obstacles); or a picnic (taking a packed meal and eating it outdoors).

As the years progressed technological breakthroughs supplied us with new household appliances that today we take for granted: Clothes dryers that steam the wrinkles out, dishwashers that clean not only the dishes but also the pots and pans, drive-throughs that wash and wax the car, toaster ovens and microwaves to warm up pre-packaged dinner and robotic vacuums that suck up dirt off rugs and dust bunnies on floors. All of these valuable time savers are meant to give us more spare time - which we rebranded and upgraded to “leisure” time (available time for ease and relaxation). Unfortunately – and ironically – for all these hi-tech wonders, we have less and less spare time. A recent USA Today national survey revealed that the vast majority of Americans feel they are busier this year than last year and they were busier last year than the year before, and for better or for worse, the pace of life is speeding up to make us feel trapped in a “time crunch.”

There’s a Reason It’s Called “Breakneck Speed”

We can try to sustain living at breakneck speed but sooner or later, physically, mentally and/or emotionally we fall apart. Our bodies – and minds – weren’t meant to endure continual stress. Blood pressure spikes – and eventually remains at an elevated level, hearts wear out, we become irritable and easily angered, and we get upset – sometimes to the point of weeping - from frustration and exhaustion.

Do You Suffer from Hurry Sickness?

If you suspect you suffer from hurry sickness – either occasionally or chronically - you probably do. Here are some clues:

• Moving from one check-out line to another because it looks shorter/faster.

• Counting the cars in front of you and either getting in the lane that has the least or is going the fastest.

• Multi-tasking to the point of forgetting one of the tasks.

• Accidentally putting your clothes on inside-out or backwards.

Sleeping in your daytime clothes to save time in the morning.

And according to social psychologist Robert V. Levine, PhD, in cities with the highest pace of life, men have the most coronary disease. Are women far behind? We think not.

The Cure

It’s becoming increasingly obvious that all this time-saving is killing us faster. What to do? As busy professionals who ourselves have suffered from hurry sickness in the past, but have been “cured” –somewhat, we’ve gathered a few tips that help keep this mind malady in check:

• S-L-O-W D-O-W-N. Not to the point where your productivity lags, but enough to remember that you will get everything done eventually – it doesn’t have to be right now. Manana is a good day to get things done.

• Take a few deep breaths - imagine the new air circulating through your body, revitalizing and refreshing you, as you practice meditation and Zen breathing.

• Walk away – even if it’s down the hall to the bathroom to wash your hands and collect your thoughts.

• Count your blessings – instead of the numerous tasks at hand. We are all blessed with so much goodness in our lives– we just need to remind ourselves of those special things and people in our lives.

• Be positive – Take time to remember past positive good times, make time to have some selected present hedonistic fun, and find time to plan for your brighter future. We believe more solid advice is waiting for your journey of learning how to live a more enjoyable life in our book, The Time Cure.

More from Rosemary K.M. Sword and Philip Zimbardo Ph.D.
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