Getting anxious when you have too much to do and getting nothing done!

modern day anxiety
Dr Elaine Ryan
Written by Dr Elaine Ryan Psychologist and Founder of MoodSmith® Elaine obtained her Dr in Psychology from the University of Surrey and has worked in psychology for 20 years. Dr Ryan specialises in Intrusive Thoughts, OCD and anxiety-related conditions.

If you feel that brief wave of anxiety when you have an outstanding task to complete, this post is for you.

I’ve felt swamped with the tasks I have to do and have recognised that I cannot start tasks; I scroll through Facebook instead. I’m certain I am not the only one who cannot complete necessary tasks, so I thought I’d address this in a post, explaining how I overcome this.

What is getting anxious and not being able to start a task like?

Here is one of my recent examples. I had work to complete for my accountant, and I could try to ignore it, but it kept appearing on my ‘to-do list.

When I thought of the work that I was ignoring, I felt anxious and did something else instead, scrolling on Facebook.

I realised that it wasn’t just work for the accountant I was putting off. I was also procrastinating,

  • Completing work on the website
  • Anything work-related
  • Forms that needed completing
  • Add your own things that you put off to this list

All the above outstanding things demanded my attention, but there were too many competing demands for my time and only one of me. This resulted in anxiety.

We have a natural tendency to move away from unpleasant things. The stress experienced from too many things to do is something we can want to push away to avoid unpleasant emotions.

It is not the task that you are ignoring; you are avoiding the uncomfortable emotion.

What is a competing demand?

I’m a psychologist (as many of you know) and run websites and online courses. I also do housework, cooking, cleaning, laundry and walk the dog.

There’s only one of me and too many demands in my day.

You might find it useful to think of competing demands as different things that you have to do.

The competing demands for my time were;

  • Starting work for the accountant
  • Completing forms
  • Work-related stuff

Stress can arise when there are too many demands competing for a limited resource. The limited resource, in this case, is me. I have 24 hours in the day. During which I also need to sleep and eat. Pretty soon self-care can go out the window. When I talk about self-care, I am referring to going for walks, getting time for myself, or doing things that I enjoy.

In a perfect world, I would have time to recharge my batteries, get my ‘me time’ in, but sometimes life is just not like that.

I am being realistic about this. I could say make sure you have ‘x’ amount of time in your day set aside for whatever recharges your batteries, but sometimes life takes over and this is not possible for a while, until you felt the strain.

Then, if you are like me, you do not rectify this, as once you feel the strain, you do not have enough resources left to come up with a plan. You, as a limited resource, have run out of steam!

Just noticed there now. The dishwasher beeped, and I got up to turn it off. When I came back my instinct was to scroll on Facebook. Watch out for those habitual responses. They are time wasters – distractions that may not be working for you.

Then the post came a few minutes later, and I got up to get it. (I’m working at home.) On the way back from collecting the post I noticed some ‘stuff’ on the table that needed sorting and I just caught my urge to sort the ‘stuff’, but left it and came back to what I was trying to do, which is write this article.

That might seem like a mad ramble, but is an important point, as if you are like me, it can feel like you have a grasshopper mind, where you switch from one thing to the other, when sometimes it is more helpful to complete one thing at a time.

“I stopped at the end of that last paragraph and opened my phone. It was not ringing, there was no need for me to do that – it is a habit – and one that distracts me from what I am trying to do. I closed the phone, but I can only assume I was going to open Facebook or some other App that would not help me complete this article.

I think you get the picture. And I would urge you to find what your own distractions are – the things you do when feeling overwhelmed as they become habits. Once the distractions become habitual they then become a competing demand for your limited resource – you!

The important point to grasp is that they don’t make you feel anxious! I said a moment ago, that when all the things I had to do popped into my head – I did none as my brain wanted to get rid of that uncomfortable feeling of anxiety. Now I have painted a picture of how I do that, which is by either.

Completing minor tasks that I did not intend to do, or

Mindless scrolling on Facebook

What will help?

The key to this is being able to manage the anxious feelings, rather than push them away using social media or whatever you notice yourself doing to distract from the stress that arises.

Facebook is accessible, just click the app – it’s not like I have to go into another room and get it.

If you do similar mindless scrolling, I would suggest trying what I did. Take Facebook App or (insert your own mindless scrolling app) off your devices, or some of your devices.

It’s hard to break habits, but it’s a lot easier once your brain becomes conscious of what it is doing. In my case, I would be on Facebook before I realised it, it was not a conscious decision, during an important task I would never have the conscious thought.

Let’s stop what you are choosing to do and scroll through Facebook!

Taking it off my phone meant that when I opened my phone, it became a conscious process as my ‘go to’ app was gone.

I replaced this with a breathing exercise (you can use an app or just breathe.). Why? If I opened my phone, it was because that old anxious overwhelmed feeling was trying to take me away from what I was trying to do. Breathing helped me to calm the anxiety enough to allow me to return to my task.

I will not say that this will be easy, but it’s not the end of the world either! Even if you just realise the things you do that either zap your time or take you away from the things you have planned to do, that is an impressive start.

For example, I have almost completed what I want to talk about in this post and knew I was just about to open my email. This is also a habit and was, on this occasion, not a conscious choice. Rather, it was a habitual response that would trick me into thinking I was doing something worthwhile, when in fact it was stopping me from writing this last paragraph!

Last word. Last paragraph was written but there was still the urge to open my email account. Watch out for those ‘urges.’ They can be very strong.

Talk yourself through it if you have to.

  • Did I decide to check my email?
  • Is it something that I will deal with now?

No. Then it is a habitual response that wastes my time and distracts me from what I am trying to do.

B r e a t h e

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