Are you in the grip of hurry sickness?

“But don't you understand, I'm a platinum frequent flyer!” bellowed the man who had just pushed in front of everyone else, including me, in line to board a flight from Auckland to Sydney at 6am yesterday morning.

If people thought they were busy back in 1959, how would the same people feel about living in 2014?

“There is only one line today sir, so please go to the back of the queue and take your place, like everyone else,” responded the flight attendant in a calm, firm tone. Boom! She put him right back in his place. Mr Platinum begrudgingly dragged himself to the back of the line and had to wait, like normal people do, to board the plane.

This got me thinking. Was Mr Platinum afflicted with such a sense of entitlement that he genuinely believed himself more important than everyone else? Or are we all becoming a little like him, increasingly behaving with an irrational self-focus that is taking over our lives? Are we so busy, so wired, that we're actually becoming unwell?

After finally boarding the plane myself (in a patient and non-entitled fashion), I relaxed into my seat and started reading an article in the New Zealand Listen magazine. It was about Arianna Huffington, the founder of internet news site The Huffington Post, who learned about dealing with success the hard way.

“The crunch came when after a stint of 18-hour days she keeled over, gashed her head, fractured her cheekbone and was hospitalised with exhaustion,” the story said. Huffington, like the majority of us, had been on the treadmill of life and thought that if she kept pushing the speed-up button and raising the elevation higher, she could achieve greater success.

She had a severe case of what is sometimes termed “hurry sickness”, which impacted her sleep, her relationships and her health. And she wasn't the only one who suffered. Being in such a hurry also impacted her ability to make the right types of decisions in her business. It actually slowed her down.

Lisa Curry's appearance on A Current Affair last week detailing her marriage breakdown due to "Rushing Woman's Syndrome" created a lot of backlash. And while I agree with the doctors and psychologists incensed by a non-medically proven condition seen to be promoting a product, I can also see what Curry was attempting to affirm – that the constant busyness of our lives leaves us depleted, fatigued and out of balance.


Road Runner syndrome

I sometimes refer to it as Road Runner syndrome – an addiction to the speed of life and a worrying sense of time urgency. People with Road Runner syndrome measure their lives in bits and bytes and have an overwhelming feeling that no matter how fast they go, they're still falling further and further behind.

The term "hurry sickness" was originally coined back in 1959 by two cardiologists (Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman) who were researching personality types and defined the very well publicised 'Type A' personality. They described a key element as a “harrying sense of time urgency”.

Yep, that's right, people were even talking about an addiction to haste 55 years ago. And back then there was no internet, wi-fi, smart phones, online banking, iTunes, Facebook, Twitter or Tinder. Back in 1959 we didn't have clothes dryers, microwaves, one-minute oats, two-minute noodles, or seven-minute abs. And we didn't have drive-through carwashes, dog-walking businesses or people like Jim to mow our lawns.

If people thought they were busy back in 1959, how would the same people feel about living in 2014?

If we can't download it or drag-and-drop it in a few seconds, we become impatient. If we can't buy it in a pill, a potion, a bottle or a lotion, we feel robbed. If we can't fuel our insatiable need for instant gratification, we try and get a fix somewhere else.

Is this you?

Are you the type of person that races from appointment to appointment, task to task, and project to project? When colleagues ask how you're going, is the common reply “flat out, frantic and fried!” If you're nodding your head right now, try answering the following questions.

1. Do you drive 5-10 km/h over the speed limit, even when you're not late?

2. Do you constantly change lines when you're in a queue, attempting to find the fastest line?

3. Do you finish other people's sentences for them?

4. Are you constantly connected to your mobile and other forms of technology?

5. Do you constantly tap your fingers or feet when in meetings or talking to others?

6. Are you already thinking you're too pressed for time to finish answering six stupid questions about whether you have hurry sickness?

Why slow works better

Arianna Huffington has performed a complete u-turn and explains that unlike her, we shouldn't need to be in such a hurry in order to succeed. Huffington comes across as being almost evangelical in her belief that people can get to where they want, faster, by actually slowing down. (Did you hear that, Mr Platinum? Take a breath and calmly walk to the back of the line. It's actually good for business.)

Huffington has even launched a new site, The Third Metric, dedicated to health and balance and experiencing the joys life has to offer.

As I was walking through Customs I caught a glimpse of Mr Platinum jumping from one queue to the next, his shoulders hunched and his entire body tightly wound up. Ironically – or perhaps not - the line I chose, the one he was first standing in, ended up moving faster and I was through ahead of him. I was tempted to say something as I walked past him, but I refrained and just had a little smile to myself.

Take it easy and breathe

Hurry sickness doesn't necessarily mean you are going to suffer from burnout – it just puts you in a higher risk group, especially if you don't take steps to control it.

Hard-core “Road Runners” need to re-learn how to slow down. This will feel counter-intuitive for many people who have been taught that to get more done, you have to work more or work faster. In many instances, I see people and companies dramatically improve their output by building in periods of rest and recovery.

Are you suffering from hurry sickness? Have you learned to manage your addiction to speed?

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