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BBS is everywhere. It affects a lot of people, from business executives to retirees, from teachers and educators to lawyers, doctors and other professionals. There is growing concern that even the family pet is not immune. What is it? It’s Busy Brain Syndrome.

Busy Brain Syndrome is rapidly becoming the modern scourge of brains at work. Overtired, over-pressured, and over-committed, BBS leads to a massive drop in performance and productivity.

How does BBS show up?

It’s sneaky, developing gradually over a period of weeks or months and is often fully developed before you realise you’ve been infected. The symptoms of BBS can include:

  • Increased irritability and distractibility
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Difficulty switching off
  • Loss of detail and accuracy in work undertaken
  • Increased risk taking
  • Black and white thinking
  • Poor decision-making
  • Poor sleep

Worse still it makes the person with BBS feel terrible, though they can’t quite put their finger on what’s wrong.

When I first met Ken he was a worried man. He thought he was in danger of “losing his mind.” In his long tenure as a senior manager, he had always excelled. He was well-liked, well respected and good at his job. Except now things had changed. Irritable and snappy, he was finding it hard to keep up with work pressures, he had difficulty falling asleep at night, always felt tired and had a nagging sense of impending doom.

The American Psychiatrist Edward Hallowell in his HBR article Overloaded Circuits: Why Smart People Under-perform was the first to describe BBS or Attention Deficit Trait. Since then, as workplace pressures, time poverty and the pace of change have continued to rise, so has the incidence of BBS.

What causes Busy Brain Syndrome?

In a word, lifestyle. In four words it is our choice of lifestyle. You see we’ve somehow bought into the notion that success only comes from putting in a lot of hard work and effort, which is true, except when we take it to extremes. We are human, not machines.  Driving ourselves too hard over prolonged periods of time puts us at risk of mental distress, exhaustion and burnout.

This is not about condoning slacking off or expecting others to do our work for us. It’s about ensuring your brain is optimised for best performance, so you are confident in your capacity to work to your true potential, and not self-combust.

Bringing out our best selves acknowledges the vital role our choice of healthy nutrition, exercise, adequate good quality sleep, and stress management strategies make.

Take back control.

BBS is a consequence of poor choices, not a life sentence. It develops from adopting lifestyle and workplace practices and behaviours that are not sustainable in the longer term. Recognising things need to and can change for the better, is the first step to recovery.

Building better brain health is essential for better cognition, mental and physical well-being. Having a framework to follow allows you to put in place those small changes to how you operate, that can often make the biggest difference. That’s why working with a mentor will assist to keep you on track and accountable to your goals.

Over a few months, Ken began to implement new ways of thinking and doing, building on his increased level of brain awareness. Soon he was back to his old self, much to his relief and to the delight of his wife, family and colleagues.

It’s not that we don’t know what is important; it’s just that busyness and life can get in the way of our own self-care, which then gets relegated to the bottom of the laundry basket.

High performance requires self-awareness, resilience and a healthy brain lifestyle.

Are you pushing yourself too hard?

Is BBS causing you loss of motivation or your joie de vivre?

Does your workplace have a strategy to recognise and manage someone at risk of BBS?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.


  • Shelley Richards says:

    Thanks for this great article, Jenny. You have certainly put into words what many people are experiencing but just think "this is how it is, these days – everybody is so busy". Several years ago, I adopted a different approach and find my life much more fulfilling and I’m happier, too! I can perform much better too of course (which is no surprise, is it?)…

    • Dr Jenny Brockis says:

      Hi Shelley,Yes, no surprise and how great that you made that decision to do things differently. It’s so easy to get swept up into a state of perpetual busyness thinking that’s the way to go because everyone else is doing it.

  • Joan Russell says:

    Thanks Jenny, ~~ Dr. Jenny Brockis, for putting into words so much of the fashion of our culture at the moment and giving practical solutions , esp. choice and taking back control of one’s life. I will definately pass this article on to my son (age 33) and I am so glad I have been retired now for 4yrs and am really enjoying all my daily choices …. can walk, enjoy nature, socialise, read, listen to music, watch Joyce Meyer on TV 44, bake and cook and help others with so much more of my time. Life is good esp. here in Australia. We have huge daily choices, attitude being vital, and opportunities to take responsible care of our bodies ….. the vehicle we use to get around in — it makes sense ….so all the best in your work and your honest, helpful and inspirational and encouraging and factual articles. Thanks.Sincerely, Joan Russell

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