The Myth of Keeping Busy

If you’ve experienced a loss, someone at some point has likelytold you to “keep busy”.  

Have you tried it? Did it work? Or was it just a distraction?  

The idea that keeping busy will fix your broken heart or help you recover more quickly is one of the biggest myths about dealing with grief.  

Myth 1# Distraction doesn’t equal healing.  

Being told to “keep busy” by well-meaning family and friends is similar to the other long-held myth that “time heals all wounds”. And just as time doesn’t necessarily heal, neither does just ‘keeping busy’. Pushing yourself to stay active provides false hope that you’ll be able to avoid or fast-track the grieving process.   

Like other potentially compulsive behaviours, staying busy is, essentially, just a distraction and will always disappoint as a coping strategy. Ultimately, your grief will still be there after the distraction of busyness ends.  

Myth 2# Stop running on the spot.  

Yes, it’s true; distraction can provide temporary relief from the pain of loss, but there are healthier approaches to dealing with grief, facing the loss directly, and finding constructive ways to deal with pain. Talking with an understanding family member or friend. Attending a support group or seeing a counsellor. These are all things that will have a positive impact on your grieving experience. 

It’s difficult to change a situation or feel you have choices if you’re running and hiding from the problem by keeping busy. In truth, distracting yourself in the face of grief can undermine your confidence in your ability to cope.  

Myth 3# Busy doesn’t work  

Distracting yourself with work, household chores, and other activities might help some people, but it’s not a cure-all. It would help if you devoted time and energy to feel the loss.  

No one likes to feel bad, so it makes sense to want a distraction. But distraction isn’t recovery. Avoiding normal and natural feelings of grief could even prolong your grief. 

Facing grief head-on is the least painful way to recover from loss in the long run.  

Expert Tip: Practise self-care  

When you’re grieving, keeping busy only serves as a distraction and buries your pain under every activity piled onto your plate.  

Remember, keeping busy is not self-care.  

So how can you take care of yourself while grieving? Yes, we’re all individuals. And yes, we each have our way of working through grief. But there are ways we can avoid the trap of busyness:  

Face your feelings. The painful emotions that come with grief are a natural and normal response to loss. Trying to suppress or hide from them will only prolong the grieving process. Acknowledging your pain and taking responsibility for your feelings will help you avoid the problems often caused by unresolved grief, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse and physical health problems.  

Express your feelings. The most effective way to do this is through some tangible or creative expression of your grief. Try journaling or writing a letter to give a voice to your emotions. Or start an art project celebrating the person’s life. Find an outlet that allows you to work through your feelings of grief.  

Feel whatever you feel. It’s OK to be angry, to cry or not cry. It’s also OK to laugh and find moments of joy or to let go when you’re ready. Your grief is your own, and no one can tell you when you should be “over it” or when to “move on”.  

Look after your health. Be aware of short-term relievers like food, alcohol, drugs, anger, isolation or workaholism. These things can become harmful when used for the wrong reasons and hide or avoid your grief. Try to sleep well. Try to make healthy food choices. Try to be physically active. And, importantly, allow yourself to feel your grief as it’s the best form of self-care.  

The information on this website is not a substitute for medical advice, nor is it used for diagnosis and treatment. You, or anyone you are concerned about, are encouraged to seek professional advice and treatment from General Practitioners and/or qualified practitioners and providers in specific cases of need.  

If you are in crisis or think you may have an emergency, immediately call Emergency 000. If you’re having thoughts of self-harm or harm to others call Lifeline on 13 11 23 to talk to a skilled, trained counsellor. If you are located outside Australia, contact your local emergency line directly.