Anxiety can be crippling. Women are nearly twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. I can’t identify exactly when I knew I had become an anxious person, or perhaps I never became this person, perhaps I was born this way. Either way knowing the cause of my feelings has certainly helped me better cope with new responsibilities, motherhood and entrepreneurship. All of which are overwhelming thoughts for the anxious mind.
There’s been a lot of ‘new’ happening over the last few months and it’s not been easy to manage, however I put the following strategies in effect to make the transition easier.
Make a List
Not only does a list organize your thoughts, but sometimes what feels like a mountain of work to an anxious mind is just……‘1. Buy bread. 2. Follow up with plumber 3. Answer emails‘…. ok this may be over simplified. However I’m increasingly aware that maybe my anxiety isn’t that mild. And through introspection I’ve realized that my mind can create a mountain out of a molehill. I add all the day-to-day sundries to the to-do-list in my mind and then all of a sudden the list seems endless and overwhelming. So the first step is to write it down. Anxiety’s cure is security . Security that everything is under control and will work out. And the first step in creating that security is order… through a check list. Something tangible that can demonstrate what really has to get done, and what’s left to do. 9 out of 10 times my lists look less scary than they ‘felt’. And I complete them with 80% less difficulty than I had expected.
Master each task before I add a new one
Like most of you I’ve got a mountain of items that make up my day-to-day and I’m expected to get it all done in 24 hours. How do I fit it all in? Because yes the lunch kits have to be packed. And yes the washing needs to be done. And yes the homework has to be supervised. And yes the groceries aren’t going to buy themselves. And yes the cooking is my responsibility. And yes we all have that family member that you need to check on. And yes exams are just around the corner. And yes we have to show up for work everyday and maybe even take some home with us.
So what do I do? Well it’s a combination of things, and one is to master each task before I add a new one. Its like juggling. The juggler learns to master juggling two balls, before three and four. And in sequential order. I master new tasks firsts before adding any more to my plate. This way when I make my list it’s of new action tasks only and not filled with sundries that make the length overwhelming. Additionally the sundries don’t overwhelm me because they have become second nature. I’ve given myself enough time to master them one by one. Adding new tasks only when I feel capable of the current work load. If I’m not ready to start a task I don’t even add it to the list! I put it on my list for next month, or the next three months. I let my mind know that one isn’t urgent, it hasn’t come up yet.
Set Realistic Completion Dates
Next I set goals with realistic end dates. Completion dates are necessary but if the timelines aren’t realistic all they do is add to my already existing anxiety. So I give myself the needed time. The anxious mind doesn’t work like the next person’s, so if it’s going to take you a little longer than most to complete the task then start earlier, if the completion date is predetermined. So in planning your kid’s birthday party say. If it’s a date you can set, then make it as far out as you need, so as to not increase the stress of completion. Sometimes it’s just the timeline that’s scary. Once you get started you’re done in half the time anyway, but it’s not rare for me to procrastinate simply because the timeline terrified me.
Take a break when you need to.
We’ve got so much happening these days that we never think we’ve got time to stop. My motor is constantly running. So I push through until my anxiety controls me instead of the reverse. I’ve learnt to resist the urge to believe that everything is top priority. The email can be answered tomorrow. Yes, ‘they’ can see that I checked their WhatsApp message but that’s ok. They can also wait til tomorrow. Too much at the same time will likely result in your becoming mentally overwhelmed and reducing your productivity almost to zero. Instead, when you feel the anxiety building…stop, breathe and step away. Sometimes I just put all of my ‘Top Priority’ work aside and do something completely idle that I know will relax my mind. And guess what? No catastrophes have yet been reported as a result.
Delegate and Choose your opportunities wisely
We all want to do it all, we get excited at new opportunities and we want to accept them all. Most of the time naively thinking that we can. If it’s a business opportunity you can only do as much as your resources, your time being one of them, will allow. And the same goes for motherhood and opportunities in your personal life. I know I for one want to be around for my kids, do homework with them, make sure they eat three square meals a day, packed with vitamins, 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, possibly even some leafy greens. Be sure they get good grades, are doing well socially so I plan play dates etc etc….just doing this for myself is responsibility enough! And can be mentally draining.
The solution is a combination of learning to say no when I can no longer add a task without it adding more anxiety than I can reasonably tolerate. And delegating out the tasks that I can. These can mean delegating management of certain functions at work, and at home. Cleaning, cooking, even homework supervision with the kids. There are no medals handed out for having done every single detail yourself. Be kind to yourself and accept and seek help where you can get it.
I’ll admit that I’m still working on this one. Switching off all devices, all social media, all technology. Even if for an hour a day. Our brains need a chance to recharge. I don’t do it often enough but when I do I sleep more soundly and wake up more relaxed.
I’ve wanted to start yoga and meditation for over 6 years now. I clearly haven’t made it a priority, and I suppose in my anxious mind I believe I don’t have the time. The truth is that I haven’t MADE the time. However if you feel like I do I’ve found some everyday practices that I am sure employ the same principles. And they are simply for me to ‘Go Slow’. Take your time. Drive slowly. Move slowly. Allow your mind to settle. Your heart rate to slow down. Your racing thoughts to evaporate.
Living in the Caribbean I had become accustomed to racing from one spot to the next, always hustling to pick the kids up, drop them off, get work done in between and then start all over. And somehow I believed that rushing made my chances of getting things done better. Then I moved to Toronto, got hit with four-way-stops and 30km/hr speed limits and something phenomenal happened. I slowed down, got where I had to go in the same time, and my whole energy slowed down along with my speed.
I now try to actively practice slowing my pace in all things, but the gym. lol. Recognizing that the end result will be the same but getting there will be more calm, intentional and enjoyable.