Recently, I was talking to a friend who wanted to meet up but we both had so many commitments in our diaries, we couldn’t find time to do it.

“Gosh, we really are back to normal, aren’t we?” she laughed.

We are. And mostly we love it. Let’s face it, there were months and months when many of us worried we’d never be busy again.

But this got me thinking about how we know when we’re busy enough, which is important, because being insufficiently busy can lead to mental health problems, as can being too busy. Like Goldilocks and her porridge, the ideal is to get it “just right”.

As a rough guide, when we’re appropriately busy:

  • We feel useful and productive
  • We sleep well – because we’ve done enough with our day to feel pleasantly tired
  • We have a sense of satisfaction with the variety we have in our lives

These are good feelings to have.

However, if we’re not busy enough, we tend to feel every day is the same, and rather dull. We may also be prone to insomnia and feeling low.

But when we’re too busy, we’re rarely happy either. Our head spins. We find it hard to relax. Our dreams are full of stressful situations. And we never seem to be able to find time to do things we want with people we love.

Many individuals who were living hectic lives prior to the pandemic resolved during the various lockdowns not to return to the “treadmill” they felt they’d been on. And some haven’t. A significant percentage have left jobs that no longer felt right for them.

Others have negotiated continuing to work from home for at least half the week because they want to avoid daily commuting and the surplus hours that adds to their workload.

I’m sure people are right to try to simplify and streamline their employment; I’ve certainly witnessed first-hand how men and women can make themselves ill when they’re too busy.

I used to have several therapy clients from the finance sector prior to the crash of 2008. Their hours were inhuman. Often, they were in the office from seven in the morning till nine at night. They didn’t eat properly. They overdosed on coffee. They developed health problems like ulcers and high blood pressure. They were seriously stressed and many of them had no libido.

I hope no one reading this column has a comparable schedule these days. But if you do work excessively long hours which make you feel overwhelmed, and there’s no possibility of homeworking, is there anything you can do?

Start by grabbing any spare time going. Get out for a walk at lunchtime, for example. And, by the way, yes, you must eat lunch. Also try relaxing techniques such as mindfulness or meditation, and exercise in some way at weekends. I remember one high-powered woman who regularly took 10 minutes away from her desk to go and sit on the stairs. She said it emptied her mind because she was “nowhere in particular”. She did get some strange looks but refused to let that bother her.

You might also want to talk to colleagues about more permanent solutions, and take your joint ideas to your boss.

This month, more than 3,000 workers from some 70 UK companies are embarking on a trial where they’re paid the same as usual but will work only a four-day week. Would your firm consider this? There have been similar studies in other countries where employees have not only been happier as a result but more productive too.

Is this the future? I think it should be seriously considered, particularly as people are grappling with the reality that they’re going to have to work well into old age.

Finally, I want to mention something that seems to happen to most of us as we grow older. It’s a very disturbing sense that our brains can’t cope with the range of tasks we’re trying to accomplish. These may be activities we’ve always managed easily before – like getting the beds made-up and extra food prepared when children and grandchildren are coming to stay.

The first time I became aware of this weird development was 10 years ago. Up till then, I’d prided myself on my ability to thrive on pressure and long hours. But one night before what was going to be a busy, but routine, day, I lay awake feeling unaccountably alarmed, and my mind wouldn’t rest. In the end, I got up, had a hot drink, looked at my “to-do” list for the morning and crossed off two of the items. I then went back to bed and slept immediately.

Loads of my friends, clients and colleagues have described this feeling to me, so I know it’s something that creeps up on lots of us. When it happens to you, sit and have a cup of tea, and think about what you’re hoping to cram into your day. If you feel stressed and unhappy with the scale of what you’re attempting, then eliminate some elements of what you were planning to do. We may be marvellous for our age, but we’re not robots! And we need to be busy enough, but not swamped.