Are you constantly racing to cross items off your to-do list, juggling several tasks at a time, and feeling like you’re behind schedule? Do you get agitated by any impediment, however small, that attempts to slow down your progress? Then you might be dealing with “hurry sickness.”
Hurry sickness is a behaviour pattern (not a diagnosable condition) characterised by chronic rushing and anxiousness and an overwhelming, persistent sense of urgency — even when there’s no need to be moving so fast.
The term was coined by cardiologists Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman and popularised in their 1974 book, “Type A Behavior And Your Heart.” (At the time, they posited that people with Type A personalities were more prone to heart issues. The strength of that association was later called into question.)
Turns out, “hurry sickness” is a component of the broader Type A personality complex, according to John Schaubroeck, chair and professor of management at the University of Missouri’s Robert J. Trulaske Sr. College of Business.
“If one is chronically in a hurry, one is also very likely to be highly driven to achieve small outcomes in the short term, to be competitive, and to be impatient with others,” he told HuffPost.
What Hurry Sickness Looks Like
1. You treat everything like a race.
Some situations do require us to move with haste — like when we need to meet an important work deadline or get to the airport on time for a flight. Others, however, do not. People with hurry sickness have trouble differentiating between when the hustle is necessary and when it isn’t.
“If you find yourself treating even small, everyday tasks like shopping, eating or driving as a race, and any delay causes feelings of anxiety, you might be dealing with hurry sickness,” said Lee Chambers, an environmental psychologist and well-being consultant based in the UK.
2. You find it impossible to do just one task at a time.
When you’re dealing with hurry sickness, multitasking is your friend.
In fact, focusing on just one task — even for a short time — feels unbearable to you. You’ll try to figure out what else you can squeeze in while you microwave your lunch or brush your teeth, for example, said Richard Jolly, an organisational consultant and adjunct professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
3. You get highly irritable when encountering a delay.
Standing in line at the bank, sitting in the waiting room for a doctor’s appointment or getting stuck in traffic really gets your blood boiling.
“You get anxious and frustrated in traffic even if you do not need to arrive at your destination at a particular time,” Schaubroeck said.
Another sign? You’re the kind of person who presses the “close door” button in the elevator repeatedly. You’ll do anything to avoid wasting time, even if it makes you look kind of ridiculous.
“Half the time, those buttons aren’t even connected to anything but a light bulb — they’re what’s called a ‘mechanical placebo,’” Jolly previously told Fortune.com. “But even if they worked, how much time would they save? Five seconds?”
4. You feel perpetually behind schedule.
When you’re dealing with hurry sickness, there never seems to be enough hours in a day to accomplish what you need to do. And no matter how much you get done, you always feel like you’re playing catch-up.
5. You interrupt or talk over people.
Your impatience isn’t just limited to long lines and traffic jams — it spills over into your personal relationships, too. You may not intend to be rude, but you’ve been told that you have a habit of cutting people off mid-conversation.
“You frequently interrupt others when they speak, particularly if they speak slowly,” Schaubroeck said.
6. You’re obsessed with checking things off your to-do list.
You love the burst of satisfaction you get when you complete a task and get to cross it off your list. But that high doesn’t last long — you quickly move on to the next thing.
Moving at this fast pace doesn’t actually make you more productive. Instead, it makes you more prone to errors.
“[Hurry sickness] shows up as a hyperawareness of what you need to do, constantly playing over and over in your head,” Chambers told HuffPost. “This can be so over-consuming that you actually end up forgetting things or making mistakes because you’re rushing and thinking about the next task while doing your present one.”
How Living This Way Can Be Damaging Over Time
Moving through the world in a perpetually rushed state can have negative effects on your physical and mental wellbeing, your work, and your relationships. For one, chronic stress can weaken your immune system and interfere with your sleep schedule and energy levels, Chambers said. The unrelenting feelings of urgency also make it difficult to stay focused, which may affect your work performance and mood.
“It impacts our behaviours, especially toward others and situations that delay us, resulting in feelings of failure, being irritable and hypersensitive and, at times, angry and frustrated,” Chambers said.
The need to accomplish more and more in less and less time diverts attention and emotional bandwidth away from the meaningful relationships in our lives.
“We lose patience with those we love who don’t move at the same speed, we are not present with them, and we struggle to be connected and empathetic, as emotional support for others is a time drain,” Chambers said. “This ultimately leads to loss of tempers, conflict and even breakups and fallouts.”
Advice On How To Deal With ‘Hurry Sickness’
Consider what’s truly time-sensitive and what can wait.
Treating every task like an emergency that must be handled ASAP is a recipe for chronic stress. Prioritise what actually needs to get done and move the other items to the back burner. Try thinking of time as more of a friend than an enemy, psychologist Michael Ashworth wrote for PsychCentral.com.
“Excessive time urgency is a problem in thinking,” he wrote. “Everyone has some pressure to get things done. However, if you consider everything is equally urgent, you’re likely to experience stress problems. Rethink your view of time, how you relate to it, and what is really important to you. Place events and tasks in proper perspective.”
Carve out small windows of time for self-care. Then, gradually increase them as it becomes more comfortable.
When you’re dealing with hurry sickness, relaxing may not come easily at first. So start small: Instead of booking a weeklong vacation, try setting aside an hour on the weekend to go on a hike or curl up with a good book.
“Use this time to reconnect with things you enjoy, and let the feelings float by as you regenerate and do something enjoyable,” Chambers said. “Reading, talking, walking and meditation are all examples of ways we can relax in an enjoyable way.”
Create an evening routine.
If you have a hard time turning your brain off at night, establish a nighttime routine that helps you wind down and ease into sleep. That might include a cup of tea, a warm shower, journalling or whatever feels calming to you.
“Sleep helps us feel regenerated and emotionally balanced but becomes the enemy of speed and, even worse, is harder to get when constantly anxious,” Chambers said. “Finding an evening routine that works to gradually switch us ‘off’ promotes better sleep quality and quantity, boosting both our recovery, our well-being and how focused we are the following day.”
Give yourself time to think.
When you’re constantly bouncing from one task to the next, you get bogged down in minutiae, unable to see the bigger picture. Allowing time for deep thought may feel like a waste at first. It’s not exactly an action item you can cross off your to-do list. But it’s necessary if you want to work toward your larger goals.
“There is a phrase that originates in Florida: ‘When you are fighting off the alligators, it’s hard to remember to drain the swamp,’” Jolly said. “Today, we can spend our whole lives fighting alligators — emails, Zoom calls, social media — and never achieve things that are going to help us ‘drain the swamp.’”
Get support from loved ones.
Changing deeply ingrained behaviours isn’t easy, but you don’t have to do it alone. Ask your support system to point out when you’re falling into old habits and help you replace them with healthier ones.
“With the support of your family, your colleagues and friends, you can build a support base that can help you identify your patterns and triggers, keep you accountable to slowing down, and keep you from falling back into old habits,” Chambers said. “If it becomes a continual struggle, professional help is available to work with you.”