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How to Improve Your Mood by Becoming Less Busy

Three Methods:

Oddly, the term ‘busy’ is associated with a level of pride and self-satisfaction. You may think that saying “I’m busy” is equivalent to saying “I’m thriving” or “I’m productive.” It’s not. In fact, busy-ness is often linked to chronic stress and burnout. Keeping busy can make you resent your responsibilities and relationships. It can also cause a sour mood. Improve your mood by becoming un-busy. Do this by decreasing your obligations, going about your day at a slower pace, and incorporating more fun and relaxation into your routine.


Reducing Your Obligations

  1. Say “no” to responsibilities that do not serve you.Value the time that you have in life. While it is great to help others and most people like to be helpful, it can be draining if you feel like you're leaving no time or attention for yourself. The more time you give away to help others the less you have for your own personal care and needs. It is okay to say “no.” You may often say “yes” by default to the demands of others, never realizing that you have a choice. You don’t have to agree to every request thrown your way. Before agreeing to new responsibilities, ask yourself a few questions.
    • Is the request solely for someone else’s benefit, or your own? Will taking on this task push you closer to a goal? Does this request serve your ultimate purpose? Will taking it on make you feel better about yourself in some way?
    • If not, politely decline. Say, “I appreciate you offering, but I will have to say “no.” I have a lot on my plate at the moment.”
  2. Prioritize your to-dos.Don’t live according to other people’s agendas; live by your own. You can become less busy immediately by clarifying your priorities. Each month, set aside time to pinpoint one or two major goals. Then, divide those goals into feasible weekly and daily tasks.
    • Add these priority tasks to your to-do list and star them. These tasks should receive most of your attention. Other non-essential tasks will get done if you have the extra time at the end of the day or week.
    • By following this method, you will feel more satisfied because each day you will have accomplished the tasks that are most meaningful to you. Plus, by focusing primarily on your priorities, you can free up more of your time for leisure.
  3. Stop multitasking.Are you one of those people who glorifies your ability to multi-task? If so, stop it today. Multitasking opens you up to more mistakes and doesn’t give you the opportunity to fully apply your attention and efforts to one task at a time. Instead, start batching.
    • Group similar tasks together and work on those for a period of time. Then, switch over to a different batch of similar tasks.
    • For example, if you need to run errands like dropping off dry cleaning or picking up groceries, do these tasks in the same time period. Then, handle administrative tasks like sending emails or making phone calls at the same time.

Slowing Down

  1. Take multiple breaks throughout the day.Taking regular breaks can prevent burnout, help you regroup after demanding work, and offer a much-needed mental respite. Find a relevant cue such as when a new hour approaches or when you finish a batch of tasks.
    • Use your break to walk around your office or go outside for some fresh air. Do some light stretching. Visit a coworker in another department for a quick chat. Drink some water or have a light snack.
  2. Stop rushing.If you have a tendency to rush through tasks or from event to event, your mood may be suffering. Feeling like you are always in a race against time can take a toll on your mental and physical health. You are not focusing on the present moment when you’re in a rush. Plus, on some occasions, rushing can actually increase your chances of making mistakes.
    • Only rush when doing so saves you time. For instance, if you need to hustle to meet a deadline, by all means, do so. But, if you are putting pressure on everyone to hurry up with tasks for no real reason, rethink this strategy. Don’t rush simply to reinforce the glorification of busy.
  3. Learn to let go and practice mindfulness.Many people often experience depressive and anxious moods due to an overactive mind. These are people who experience a lot of racing thoughts of worry, or other internal dialogue causing much stress over concerns of the past or future events and experiences. It is best to clear the mind, let go of these thoughts, and put more energy toward being in the moment. Mindfulness allows you to clear your mind of the worry, which will help lead you toward a more productive, organized, and stress free life.
  4. Eat mindfully.In a rushed and busy life, you may scarf down most of your meals as you’re driving from place to place or while doing other tasks. This disconnect with the process of eating impacts your satisfaction, and can lead to overeating. Stop eating mindlessly and start enjoying food mindfully.
    • When you eat, only eat. Turn off the TV, put down the gossip magazine and your cellphone.
    • Eat with others and enjoy thought-provoking conversation rather than entertaining yourself.
    • Choose nutritious, plant-based foods to take up the majority of your plate. Before you eat, think about all that went into the meal you are eating (i.e. who harvested the food, who prepared the food, etc.). Admire the different smells, textures, and colors. Take a small bite and chew at least 20 times before taking another. Return your fork to your plate after each bite.

Adding Mood-Boosting Activities to Your Schedule

  1. Say “yes” to more excitement.Just as you should learn to say “no” to excessive demands that don’t serve your greater purpose, you should learn to say “heck yea!” to any invitations for fun. If you’re always busy, you may relegate leisure activities to the bottom of your list, placing emphasis on work and other responsibilities. Fun is just important for health and well-being as productivity, though.
    • Say “yes” when a coworker asks you out for after-work cocktails. Say “yes” when your partner asks you on a weekend getaway. Nod with excitement when your kids ask you to play hide-and-seek. Take out time regularly to enjoy yourself and the people who are important to you.
  2. Play with pets and/or kids.Animals and small children have a special ability to lift your mood when you’re overwhelmed from the demands of life. Set aside time each day to play with your pets and/or children.
    • Toss a Frisbee to your dog or take a walk around the neighborhood. Shut down your laptop early and read your child a bedtime story. Dedicate some special time for these little ones and you’ll naturally feel better.
  3. Schedule in weekly “me-time.” One of the main reasons many adults find school or work so unfulfilling is because they never make time to decompress. Remember, all work and no play doesn’t make you very happy. Schedule in time, at least once a week, to do something just for you.
    • Visit a nearby spa for a massage. Take a book out on the lawn or near a body of water for a relaxing reading hour. Wake up 30 minutes early to enjoy your coffee in quiet. Take yourself out on a date to a nice restaurant. Any of these can help you unwind so you’re at the top of your game at work or at home.
  4. Get physically active on a daily basis.Exercise is the ultimate mood-booster. Sadly, physical activity falls into “would be nice to do” the category for many busy adults. As you reduce the non-essentials on your schedule, work in more time to get active.
    • Set aside at least 30 minutes per day on most days of the week for exercise. Go for a walk or run. Get on a rowing machine or stationary bike at the gym. Have an intense dance session with your best friend or kids. Just do something to get your heart pumping.
  5. Develop a nightly relaxation ritual.You already know that you should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night. But getting there doesn’t have to be another chore to check off your to-do list. Make sleep an experience by creating a special bedtime ritual.
    • Light a scented candle. Turn on some relaxing music. Run a warm bubble bath or take a shower. Journal. Shut down your computer and phone and do some light reading instead.

Community Q&A

  • Question
    What if I have homework to do and three instruments to practice each day? They all have to be done daily.
    Nat White
    Community Answer
    Try to take time each night for yourself if you have no time in the day. Appreciating the relaxation of bedtime can go a long way to improving mood, as it can give you something to look forward to. Also, ask yourself if practicing three instruments each day, every day is more valuable to you than improving emotional state through me-time.
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