A Case for Not Always Being Busy

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A Case for Not Always Being Busy

 Jennifer Freed, PhD

Why do we find it rewarding when we’re busy or overworked but feel guilty for resting and taking time for ourselves? Being uncomfortable with stillness is common, says psychological astrologer Jennifer Freed. She finds that some people overcompensate with productivity because they don’t want to face their inner needs. But taking time to

check in with yourself is valuable because it allows you to show up for the world with renewed energy and grace. Freed feels that the key to being more balanced is equal parts exercise, healthy eating, reflection, and creativity. She gives tips below on how to fulfill each need based on astrology. Getting away from the culture of busyness and into this new paradigm requires work, and the first step is leading with compassion instead of comparison.


Self-Care Is Work

As the world continues to be on a roller coaster of crisis and opportunity, it has never been more important to put on our own oxygen mask first. We can successfully meet the complex and ongoing demands of this time only if we respond from optimal well-being.

Recently, eight members of the administrative team from AHA!, the nonprofit I cofounded, spent four days at a leadership and renewal retreat (after everyone was COVID-tested). We spent a few hours a day in leadership workshops; the remainder we spent resting and getting much-needed physical activity.

In our first round of check-ins, at least two of our staff remarked that they felt guilty for being away on retreat when there was so much work to be done.

These are mothers who not only work forty-plus hours a week for this nonprofit but also cook, clean, and arrange childcare for their children learning at home.

They came to the retreat feeling malnourished, out of shape, and exhausted. As a leader, I strongly suspected that if they continued to give themselves away at this rate, they would be headed toward health challenges and emotional disorders.

•••

If you identified with our admin team members’ statement “I don’t feel like I deserve a break because there is too much to do,” you are in strong company. This attitude has become the norm for too many.

The stress of 2020 could have long-term consequences. As we muscle through this time, we can notice some overarching social contracts that have harmed our health and well-being, contracts that have become harder to keep with the added burden of this pandemic.

One such contract involves a narrative in which overgiving and overworking are indicators that we are living noble and honorable lives. Multitasking and being plugged in at all times have become badges of strength and social collateral.

We are being presented with an enormous opportunity not only to change some historic inequities in our country but also to deal with one of the most harmful beliefs we have collectively succumbed to: the idea that selflessness is next to godliness.

It takes work to resist the crushing messages that we are only as valuable as our tireless output for others. Our cultural habit is to applaud folks who say things like:

“I pulled another all-nighter!”

“I can’t wait to finally have a moment to have a martini.”

“I am just so busy that I don’t know where to find the time for exercise.”

“Wow, it’s amazing how much you’ve gotten done this week!”

“I got only four hours of sleep last night and have a ten-hour day today.”

And rarely do we compliment one another for saying things like:

“I had a lot of rest and time to contemplate today.”

“I spent the morning taking time to nourish my body and soul.”

“My job is such a great support for the balance of my well-being.”

We have unconsciously equated time for ourselves with weakness, indulgence, or laziness, and we have loudly equated manic productivity and multitasking with valor, goodness, and laudability.

Many of us feel that if we’re not expending more energy than we could possibly have, we won’t be valued. One team member said it this way: “I’ve had this idea that in order to earn my oxygen, I’m supposed to work, work, work, and put out tons of energy and effort. I fear that showing up in a relaxed, calm way means I’m slacking off or being lazy.”

In some cases, hyperactivity covers up other issues, like loneliness, a sense of irrelevance or meaning, unhappy relationships, and unaddressed trauma. Issues like these are a source of great difficulty and unhappiness, and they are solvable only when we take time to look under the hood. The busier we get, the more denial we can live with. We have to get out of the adrenaline- and cortisol-fueled race of the perpetual doer and into a more restful, balanced physical state in order to even begin to address these deeper issues.

As we race around, absorbed in our own busyness and the importance we think it lends us, we lose sight of the bigger world that surrounds us. Now is not the moment to take our eyes off of that big picture.

Imagine a million ants racing to build their one little hill; right next to their gargantuan feat is a creek about to run over and destroy all their work. This is where we find ourselves. It’s time for us to become the Queen Ant who knows her inner and outer territory so well that she can lead others to work well instead of to follow blindly.

•••

The truth is that resisting the manic martyr work narrative takes active protest. The social rewards people get for being hyperproductive are powerfully seductive. Taking time out to rest, play, connect, and create is the work of soul-making. It is a labor of love to halt the excessive grind and to plan time each day for exercise, healthy eating, reflection, and creativity.

One way to begin: Start doing a check-in with folks you care about. At AHA!, we do this weekly with our staff of twenty-five, as well as with teens in our groups.

The exercise goes like this:

Rate yourself from one to ten on self-care. If you’re doing the following things every day of the week, give yourself a ten; if you’re not doing any of them, give yourself a one; if you’re doing some of them some of the time, find a middle ground:

  1. Cardio exercise

  2. Going to bed at a decent time (even if you have trouble sleeping)

  3. Consuming nutritious food and beverages

  4. Taking time for contemplation (prayer, meditation, journaling, sitting under a tree)

  5. Taking time for some creative expression (dance, art, doodling, cooking, journaling, writing)

For example: Last week, I did most of these things every day except for eating well. I went off of my usual clean-food diet and ended up with a stomachache for a few days. So I would rate myself at a seven.

Many of our staff and teens have reported that being accountable to the group each week by sharing their self-care number has increased their prioritization of their well-being. This simple check-in has helped us create a climate where balance, not prostration to endless output, is rewarded.

Each of us needs to find others who will support our well-being and create a culture of reinforcement for self-care. If we are going to stop this unsustainable pace of hyperactivity, we need to depend on one another to cease the competitive and comparing narrative of who is most productive and exhausted.

Within every person is the seed of wholeness waiting to be planted and tended. Astrology gives us twelve signs that point to a balancing system of energy that, if heeded, will supply us with the cues and practices to move toward a centered and balanced life.

Here’s what we can learn from the energy of each astrological sign about self-care.

Aries: Get up and out and do your cardio before the day sucks out your energy.

Taurus: Prioritize hugging and positive touch. Get bodywork if you can.

Gemini: Study words of affirmation and spend time with friends laughing uproariously.

Cancer: Make your own highly nutritious and comforting food.

Leo: Make sure you have at least one creative outlet or hobby you do regularly.

Virgo: Eliminate toxic elements from your life—both people and environmental substances.

Libra: Surround yourself with beauty and make sure your small and big spaces sparkle with joy.

Scorpio: Dig into the deep emotions. Make time for and support the release of difficult feelings.

Sagittarius: Never let your habits and routines become too dull. Make sure to keep stretching your physical and philosophical horizons.

Capricorn: Set up schedules that highlight time for quiet reflection and rest. Be intentional about this.

Aquarius: Make sure you have a crew of friends who love you and listen to you and hold you to high standards of self-love.

Pisces: Spend time doing nothing but imagining and dreaming. Listen to music and dance. Live into positive possibilities.

Self-care is not an indulgence for those who have free time; it is a fundamental need of each human being and a prerequisite for bringing the planet itself back into sustainable alignment.


Jennifer Freed, PhD, is a consultant, a workshop leader, and an author with more than thirty years of experience in the fields of psychological astrology and social-emotional learning. Freed serves as a consultant for the app Co-Star and is the author of Use Your Planets Wisely: Master Your Cosmic Potential with Psychological Astrology.


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