In a heavenly court, three legendary men are debating the greatest question of all: What is the meaning of life?

Jean-Paul Sartre, the great French existential philosopher says, “To be is to do!” All in attendance applauded the intellectual acumen.

Socrates condescending smirks at Sartre and says, “To do is to be!” and the crowd claps in admiration of the profundity.

Frank Sinatra comes to the podium, offers a serene smile, and with his rich baritone sings, do-be-do-be-do”  Mr. Sinatra gave the proverbial mic drop and all in attendance erupted in adulation of the wisdom.

Seriously, when did it become a badge of honor to be busy?

I don’t know when it happened or why, but I have definitely been guilty of getting caught on the hamster wheel. And I’ve noticed more and more people getting caught on it, too.

It seems that especially here in the U.S., people are often focused on what I call the “endless to do list.” We run from one activity to the next, commuting to work, carpooling kids, shopping, and weekend warrior-ing. Even during a pandemic, we are consumed with how to mix things up, even more so perhaps because so many of our “go to” activities are unavailable or taking place in altered environments and formats. And not surprisingly, this way of living, in which we are constantly on the go, either in reality or metaphorically, creates tremendous stress.

The Science of Stress

The fact that stress can have a negative impact on our health is certainly not new. But being able to identify when this is happening and intervene on our own behalf is something that many, if not most of us, still struggle with.

In addition to the more commonly known effects of stress, like cardiovascular disease and depression, chronic mental stress actually creates premature aging by shortening DNA telomeres. This can ultimately lead to a shortened life span. As reported in Psychology Today, many of the circumstances people are dealing with this year, like untreated depression, social isolation, long-term unemployment, and high levels of anxiety, make the outlook bleak for our telomeres.

Living in a constant flurry of activity also affects our physiology by activating the sympathetic nervous system and causing the release of cortisol and adrenaline. Similar to other states of chronic stress, the body is put in a state of flight or fight and is unable to turn it off. The body remains in this upregulated state which may lead to undesirable physiological and psychological effects. This may be especially true for survivors of trauma who may already suffer from mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD.

However, thanks to epigenetics, there are ways to mitigate the harm done by states of chronic stress and prevent further damage to mind and body. Lucky for us, epigenetic studies have shown that lifestyle choices, such as diet, exercise, stress management, and social support can have an impact in a very short time and may ultimately lead to a lengthening of telomeres. Good news, indeed.

One Remedy - Just Be

So how to counteract the compulsion toward business? 

The direct antidote I’d like to offer is that instead of the daily “to do” list, or at least in addition to it, create a daily “to be” list. 

Schedule daily activities that allow you to be in the present moment, ones that give you access to stillness (if that’s your jam) or mindful movement, to joy, wonder, and awe.

Items on your daily “to be” list could be scheduling time for things you love. Another idea could be to learn something new. Or to simply stop planning, thinking about, and preparing for what’s next for a moment. Tips on being in the present moment can be found here. Other ideas for how to simply be are here.

And if you’re still in need of inspiration, read this writer’s hilarious, self-deprecating rant on the busy badge and his personal journey to a life of more “being.” In this Medium article, innovator and entrepreneur, Pete Sena describes busyness as “a cloak worn to navigate a world filled with FOMO” (translation for non-millennials and the pop-culture avoidant: Fear Of Missing Out)

In a similar vein, Carl Richards challenges New York Times readers to “try doing nothing for a while.” Richards' rails against the assumption that busy equals better by arguing for the necessity of “being” time, especially for those engaged in work that is primarily cerebral. He wrote, “For knowledge workers, large chunks of unstructured time are not rewards for doing good work — they’re prerequisites for it.”

So my prescription for busyness is beingness. If busyness is a theme in your life, try taking something off of your “to do” list and make time “to be.” Even a few minutes a day of being can have a profound impact on body, mind, and spirit.