Updated: May 22
"Feeling the need to be busy all the time is a trauma response and fear-based distraction from what you'd be forced to acknowledge and feel if you slowed down." - Maxine Carter
People who have experienced trauma in some shape or form respond in different ways. Some shut down and withdraw from situations. Others do whatever it takes to avoid thinking about the traumatic experience. Feeling the need to be busy all the time is a trauma response. You’re deliberately avoiding your trauma by throwing yourself into overdrive.
PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) affects many people. If you have PTSD and can make it through your day despite any symptoms you feel, you might be a bit of a workaholic. You try to avoid the painful memories of your traumatic experience(s) by diving into project after project.
You might find relief in being busy, but the truth is that staying busy is a trauma response. Your symptoms of PTSD reflect someone who is capable of functioning in the world as long as you remain stimulated. It’s possible that you’re afraid of what will happen when you stop moving.
Signs of PTSD
Suppressing your emotions, getting up each morning raring to go and never taking the chance to check in with yourself, and ignoring all the bad things that happen, can be signs of PTSD. It’s also possible you have Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (c-PTSD), which is a result of adverse childhood experiences and ongoing neglect and abuse.
Our society doesn’t recognise all of the different types of trauma as equal. We know that war veterans most likely will have PTSD, but what about a person who was in a car accident? Or someone who has experienced sexual trauma or violence? Trauma is trauma and affects everyone differently, but shares some common symptoms when it comes to PTSD and c-PTSD.
If you have PTSD, you probably wake from nightmares only to throw yourself into a long workday that ends in chores or engagements, and anything else that keeps you constantly moving. The busier you are, the less time you have to think about what happened to you.
Feeling the need to be busy all the time is a trauma response. 100%. When you go through something terrible, you don’t want to think about it again. You will do everything you can to avoid re-living those moments from your traumatic experience(s).
By filling every moment of your day, you keep yourself from feeling distressing emotions. But you’re not doing yourself any favours because you’re not processing the trauma. Staying busy is a distraction.
Everyone responds differently to trauma. It depends on what the traumatic experience was and how long the trauma went on for. Unprocessed trauma can affect your physical, mental and emotional health. It can also affect your relationships and work life. Avoiding processing your trauma has serious consequences.
Unprocessed trauma is stored in the body. Studies have shown that unprocessed trauma can lead to health conditions such as stroke, heart attack, problems with your weight, diabetes, and cancer.
Beyond physical illness, unprocessed trauma can affect your mental health as well. Here are a few ways that unprocessed trauma affects your mental and psychological health:
If any of these sound familiar, you may be dealing with unprocessed trauma. And as you now know, staying busy is a trauma response. If you’re staying busy all the time, I encourage you to think about the motivation beyond just getting stuff done. And then I encourage you to seek help and process with a therapist the trauma you’ve experienced.
Staying Busy is a Trauma Response
We all want to forget the bad things that have happened to us. But because feeling the need to be busy all the time is a trauma response, staying busy isn’t helping you. It’s actually harming you. But staying busy is how many people cope with trauma.
Busyness may not feel like a negative thing. But if you spend your whole life on the go, you’ll never stop and address the difficult emotions under the surface. You can get sick and your mental health will suffer.
If you’re already there, don’t worry, there’s hope. Counselling is the first place to start with unprocessed trauma. Be honest with your counsellor about your busyness. They’ll remind you that staying busy is a trauma response. They’ll also help you process your experience and provide coping skills and tools for you to use to maintain mental well-being.
Besides counselling, another way to manage your unprocessed trauma is to lean on your friends and family for support. Identify the people you trust and let them in. They want what’s best for you. If you find it difficult to talk about what happened, practice asking for what you need. It could be a hug, it could be a shoulder to cry on, or it could be quality time with a loved one.
It’s also important to prioritise self-care or else you’ll burn out. Some ways to practice self-care are through exercise, eating well, drinking enough water, relaxing with a cup of coffee or tea and listening to music, setting healthy boundaries in relationships, and practicing saying “no.”
That last one is important for all of you out there who like to stay busy. If you can say “no” to extra work or extra plans or other things that keep you busy all the time, you’ll be left with facing your emotions, which is a good thing. It’s scary, but it’s good in the long run.
Counselling Can Help You Realise That Staying Busy is a Trauma Response
I’m going to emphasise this again because it’s so important to process your emotions with a trained professional. If you do manage to stop yourself from being busy all the time, you’ll need coping skills and ways to manage the strong emotions that might come up during downtime. It’s all part of the healing process.
I am a fully qualified counsellor based in Orpington, Kent
I work with clients with problems including: depression, anxiety, panic attacks, stress, low self-esteem, low self-confidence, identity issues, relationship problems, self-destructive behaviours,
self-harm, childhood sexual abuse, sexual violence, domestic violence, domestic abuse, trauma, PTSD, eating disorders and body image problems
I am easily accessible from local areas near me including Orpington, Bromley, Chislehurst, Petts Wood, Sidcup, Beckenham, Sevenoaks, Tonbridge, Knockholt, West Wickham, Chelsfield, Swanley and Bexley
Face-to-face in person or online counselling