I’ve been thinking, and thinking, and doing it as my life takes a tentative turn for the better!
I’ve been getting to know myself a little bit better through my most recent rough patch with anxiety. Through much-needed therapy and my own attempts to help myself, I’ve found some neat new coping strategies. I get a little shiver of delight thinking about them because – they mean – there is hope! There is something I can do and it will help and sooner than later, I will feel better!
Without further ado, here is my first in the series of anxiety coping strategies – the To-Do list!
When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling panicky…I simply remember there’s something I can do, anything at all, anything that isn’t sitting here flipping my marbles…
And then I write it down. And then I write more things down, all that seem like manageable tasks. Finally, I get to work doing them.
I’ve often heard, get the most difficult thing you need to do done, and everything after that will seem easy-peasy. This strategy has become counter intuitively very difficult when my anxiety worsened. Anxiety has the bad habit of making everything extremely difficult. Focusing on the biggest, most intimidating task on your mental to-do may just have the effect of scaring you so badly that everything seems insurmountable, even getting out of bed. This can drag on for hour, days, weeks, months, as everything around you becomes larger, scarier, more seemingly dangerous.
It happened to me.
Looking at your ‘easy tasks’ to-do list, you might notice something. These tasks are small, even as they may be part of a bigger, more complex plan of yours. Practice doing small tasks will be an amazing lesson for when you do eventually get to that big “insurmountable” project. We all know that every big task is really just a series of small manageable tasks, but especially if we have anxiety, we may not know how to put that theory into practice.
To sum up, the next time you’re stuck in panicky paralysis, try this:
1) Write down some stuff you could do write now
2) Make they are really easy, really defined little tasks. Think, “Go to kitchen. Take out milk and cereal. Pour and eat. Wash dish and spoon.”
3) Cross tasks off as you go
You might find:
1) Writing and doing these small tasks may calm you down
2) Even if you’re not doing the BIG thing you think you should be doing, you’re getting more accomplished than by sitting and panicking
3) The practice of doing small tasks to eventually accomplish something bigger may carry on into a big project. Next time you try to tackle one, you may find it easier to break it down into small steps!
Here is a TEDxClaremontColleges talk by David Allen that reminded me of this strategy.
Some stellar quotes from it:
“The more it’s on your mind, the more it’s not happening. The more you’re inappropriately engaging with it.”
“More time is not what you need. You need psychic bandwidth. You need space to think.”
“Psychic bandwidth” is exactly what I’ve been losing to anxious thinking, and what I am working to recover and keep.