Hello, lovely reader! How’s your day going so far?
Today I’d like to broach the awkward subject of anxiety; specifically, anxiety related to pressure and stress. We all feel anxious, tense and worried at various points in our lives, and it can be petrifying (in the original sense of the word, i.e. it temporarily immobilises you). Fun aside: when I was about eight years old, my family went on holiday to Norfolk and, good little Catholic clan that we are, we invited the local priest round for dinner one night. Apropos of absolutely nothing, he kindly informed us that the word ‘petrified’ comes from the idea that the apostle Peter was the rock upon whom Christ built the Church, and that it basically means being as still and solid as a rock. I have no idea how true this is. Looking back as an adult, it doesn’t seem very likely. I’ll look it up. Anyway…
The problem with being immobilised by worry is that it prevents you from resolving the very things that are making you feel stressed. Being so worried that you can’t think straight is no way to tackle your to do list, and giving yourself insomnia over a crisis is not going to do anyone any good. So what the heck do we do about it?
Well, first things first: make that to do list. Even if it’s full of jobs that that you’re sure you’ll never be able or in the mood to do, write them all down. All of them. Break bigger, scarier tasks into smaller ones, and include every single item that is giving you even the smallest amount of stress. That way every item you tick off that list (including, if you like, “get out of bed”) gives you a sense of achievement, and it will make the daunting tasks seem less scary and separate from your day to day life.
Secondly, prioritise. Which email has to be sent off first thing in the morning? When is that job application due in? Order the tasks in a way that honestly reflects which ones you need to do first. If you’re anything like me (i.e. a hopeless procrastinator) you’ll probably find that those big, scary tasks have all ended up at the top of the list. Ah…
Here’s what you do now. You set yourself a goal – one scary task and two small ones, for example – to do today. Be realistic about how much you will be able to do in the time that you have. Don’t worry too much about tomorrow, or the next day, or the rest of the week. One of the reasons that anxiety is so debilitating is because it forces us to look at the sheer enormity of our workload and it makes us feel overwhelmed. Well, scrap that. We only live one day at a time.
Intersperse your to do list with little rewards. Keep it simple: a piece of chocolate, ten minutes on Facebook, a big cup of tea – and don’t integrate your treats with your tasks. You won’t enjoy them if they’re alongside your stress. Give yourself something to work towards, not something to distract yourself with. Once you’ve achieved your goal, stop working for a minute and focus on enjoying your reward.
I know that this all sounds incredibly simple and obvious, but it’s surprising how little time we spend properly looking after ourselves and how, after years of exams and deadlines and suchlike, we don’t always give ourselves a chance when it comes to being productive.
So be nice to yourself, and have a stupendously brilliant Tuesday.