First of all, who hasn't experienced that numbing anxiety when you begin to think of getting things done, and realize how much there is to get done?
That anxiety triggers thoughts and feelings which, in turn, make it even harder to get things done, to start moving in a way which will leave you at the end of the day with a comforting feeling of accomplishing, of being in control.
Feelings include that sickening sense of dis-ease, of agitation even, in the pit of the stomach. Or, if the anxiety has really taken hold, an inability to stay still. Some people's response to these physical sensations is to feel short of breath, jumpy, and overwhelmed.
Thoughts which arise, may include:
- I don't know where to start.
- What do I do now?
- I can never make a dent on what I have to do today.
- Make a list - I wouldn't even know what to write down first.
Some people's immediate priority becomes one of doing anything to crank anxiety levels down. So they go for coffee, watch tv news shows, or get lost in a novel. Or, they create clever - but not productive - strategies to push the anxiety feelings away.
Of, course, though such approaches offer temporary comfort, in an objective sense they just push the inevitable further into the day.
What's the inevitable, you ask? Quite simply, figuring out what needs to be done this day, and undertaking meaningful, constructive action.
Anxiety first thing in the day can be thought of as being on a forest path which splits into two paths - so which path to take?
Only one of the paths will lead us on to a day of accomplishment, of getting things done.
If we go to the left, we take the way of doing everything with our thoughts and feelings except those things which lead on to constructive, planned, committed actions.
We take the left fork on the path if we put off doing anything for an hour, so we can calm ourselves watching the telly, playing games on the computer, getting a Twitter high, or reading a thriller novel.
If we take a Valium, and go back to bed for an hour - "I will feel better when I get up later" - we take the left path.
If we choose the right fork in the path, we take the way of starting our day with constructive choices, which lead us forward to actions and accomplishments as the day progress.
When we take the right fork we are saying to ourselves, "I feel anxious. I don't like the way I feel. I don't even know what all I have to do today, or how I'll get it done.
" But, I do know there is one powerful thing I can do, right now, to feel better."
Most people who face this start-of-day anxiety do not have a clear picture of what they need to do during the day. What they know is there's a pile of tasks, meetings, errands, etc which they need to do. Some of these activities are more important than others. At this point, it's not unusual to think, "oh my God, I'll never get it all done. I feel like crap!"
At this point it's natural and understandable to feel overwhelmed - the flip side of this, the good news, is at the point of overwhelm the two paths are clearly before us. We saw the left-hand path is not a helpful one for us to take.
So, what to do?
Choose the right path.
The best thing to do when faced with this anxiety is to make a list, and let that list evolve into your plan for today. The irony is that, at first, starting to make this list may seem to boost the anxiety even higher. My response, and it's not meant to be unsympathetic, is: "Bite the bullet. Get a blank piece of paper, and start making the bloody list!"
Once you start making your list, the pile of "stuff" in front of you starts to untangle itself. In making the list, you are choosing the right-hand path. You are doing something that is relatively easy, and which will give you a sense of already doing something which, in turn, helps to overcome anxiety, and enables you to get things done so you can feel much better by day's end.
I begin my day (when I haven't managed to do it the night before, which is even better) by making headings in my notebook for Appointments, To Do, and Notes.
I reflect on what is time sensitive today. Checking my master calendar/task list (if you don't have one of these, you probably should), I see I have a phone call I must make at a particular time. I have a couple of errands to do, and I mark them under To Do - but if I realize the best time to head out for errands is around 2 pm, I also put the errands against that time. And later in the evening I have a dinner meeting. Because I am using a notebook, I can take as much room as I need for any of my headings.
Sitting with my coffee, reviewing my master list, checking my notebook for work left from previous days, ideas I want to follow up on, and so on, I add to my list of what I hope to do today. When I come across items, which I realize won't fit on my list for today, I add them to my master list.
I am now well on my way along the right-hand path - which is also the right path to be on for having a satisfying day of achieving what you need to do.
If I have a lot of to do items on my list, I reflect on what is the best order to follow in doing them, and put the appropriate number against each task to guide me in sticking to that ordering during the day.
What has happened in following this process I've just outlined?
I have done a few things:
- I have allowed myself to put up with the discomfort of anxiety, which sometimes increases at the thought of making a plan.
- By the time the plan is made, anxiety is significantly less, because I have the assurance I've captured on paper everything I need to (so nothing will be overlooked), and that some good things will happen today.
- If I'm feeling especially pessimistic or down on myself, or if outcomes are uncertain for some things I have to do, the act of making my plan gives me a powerful message: By following this plan I know my overall anxiety will be less. I also know that, even if all my actions do not lead to success, I will have some successes, and my sum total of actions today will result in more successes tomorrow.
If you have made your list the night before (the better thing to do), you may still have anxiety in the morning. Re-reading your list, and affirming what you will do in the coming hours, will send the anxiety on its way, while giving you a chance to improve it.
I wish everyone that comforting sense of accomplishment, which arises as the day ends, and we realize how much we have accomplished.