Have you got Hurry Sickness?

While it may sound made up, hurry sickness is real: it has real impact on your physical health, as well as your mental health.

Do you find it takes too long for the lift door to close? What about microwaving your coffee for 30 seconds – do you feel you need to do something else in that time?

These are symptoms of “hurry sickness”, and while it may sound made up, hurry sickness is real: it has real impact on your physical health, as well as your mental health.

Hurry sickness is a major factor in heart disease. It increases the stress hormone cortisol, which suppresses your immune system, raises your blood pressure and increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.

What is it?

Hurry sickness is defined as “a behaviour pattern characterized by continual rushing and anxiousness; an overwhelming and continual sense of urgency.”

Richard Jolly, a London Business School professor and executive coach defines hurry sickness as “the constant need to do more, faster, even when there’s no objective reason to be in such a rush.”

Author of The Power of Patience, MJ Ryan explains it further: “In this state, every tiny obstacle becomes a mountain of a problem, every person an irritant to be done with so I can move onto something more important.”

It’s not new

While we might think of this endemic urgency as a new thing – borne of techno-stress and 24/7 connectivity, it’s actually been around for a very long time.

It was first coined back in the 1950s by cardiologist Dr Meyer Friedman who was researching causes of heart disease. Dr Friedman was the one who identified the “Type A personality” – the urgent go-getter who find it hard to slow down.

What’s the cause?

It’s easy to point to externals. Technology, reduced staffing since the GFC, more competition for our jobs; social media showing us successful people who work crazy hours, or who manage to “do it all”.

And it’s true, there are many aspects of our modern life which seems to expect and demand speed.

However, it’s also true that some people are more prone to hurry sickness. Almost everyone has too much to do, and feels they don’t have enough to get it done; enough time, enough support.

Yet many people are able to switch off, and slow down when they can. People with hurry sickness find it very difficult to slow down.

Fear is a big factor. Fear that you’ll fall behind, that you won’t “make it”, that you won’t be able to deliver brilliantly enough if you don’t pedal really, really hard. Fear that if you say no to that opportunity, you’ll never get another one.

What’s so bad about moving fast?

When you’re in a constant state of urgency, your brain is stuck in a constant state of fight or flight mode. You’re flooded with cortisol and it’s difficult to access the executive level functions in your brain.

"Working at breakneck speed for extended periods of time does not enhance productivity; it reduces it," says Dr. Edward Hallowell, author of CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap! "When we work too fast for too long we get tired, become inefficient, make mistakes, and become unable to think clearly and sharply."

What’s the solution to Hurry Sickness?

While the obvious answer is “slow down”, it’s not that simple. People with hurry sickness often find that slowing down only increases their stress: it forces them to think about everything they’re not doing.

The more subtle answer is to find a sweet spot between periods of busy achievement and periods of ease and enjoyment.

1. Find the balance

“Most of us want to be productive, make a difference, achieve significantly, AND be happy and connected,” says author and entrepreneur , Nathan Collier. “The challenge is to find that sweet spot: long periods of flow and engagement where we are motivated, maybe even driven, but still have the patience and wisdom to enjoy life and the people in it, to daily count our blessings, to pace ourselves for the long haul.”

2. Practice slowing down

Practice doing some things slowly. Not all tasks need to be done quickly. Can you clean your teeth super slowly and mindfully? Without checking your phone?

3. Manage your expectations

Those with hurry sickness often assume they must achieve the impossible every day. Are you trying to do more than you are reasonably capable of doing? Learn your limitations and focus on one thing at a time.

4. Deal with the fear

Ask what is the worst and best that might happen if you slow down and pace yourself.  If you don’t get absolutely everything done today, what will happen? Not everything is life-and-death. 

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