4 Ways I Use Action as My Antidote To Anxiety
December 3, 2018
There were at least 80 boxes that I needed to move from the kitchen to the bedroom. They belonged to my friend, and she just couldn’t bring herself to move them for the past four months. So she paid me to get the job done.
A couple of hours later I was done. She thanked me, and asked me how I felt. I said, “I wish I could move the boxes in my life like this. Like, I know I have things to do, but I get so anxious, and then nothing gets done.”
You feel me, right?
Think back to the last time you had a ton of dirty laundry, a sink full of dirty dishes, projects due for several clients, and a boatload of unread emails. (It was overwhelming for me to just type that.) We’ve all been there—and then what do we do?
Well, I know what I do: I procrastinate like it’s nobody’s business. I hop on Instagram, scroll for a while, make a cup of tea, and suddenly experience the need to shop online.
In the face of too many things to do and too many choices, we can experience what research scientist call analysis paralysis. We like options, but research shows the more choice we have, the more we can freeze up.
What I’ve found that helps: action. As someone who lives with a mental illness, I’ve found time and time again that action is the antidote to anxiety. Write that down, boo. Pop it on a post-note, and save it for your next overwhelming Monday morning when you’re dreading the week ahead.
See, a lot of us go-getters have a billion thoughts swirling through our heads at any moment. If you add being a perfectionist to that, then you’re probs like, “Ahhhhhhh, nothing will ever get done a;dlkjfas;dlkjfasl;djfasl;jfd!!!!” But taking action—even a small, small action—can help us start to push past stress.
I know it’s helped me when I’m stuck. For example: Once I was worrying about a personal budgeting spreadsheet I needed to create. The task felt daunting, but I set my timer for 10 minutes, Googled some templates, and got to work. Once I started chipping away at it, I felt so much better and my Excel doc wasn’t too bad either.
Here’s what you do the next time you need to move the boxes in your own life.
1. Make Micro-Commitments
Diving into a task can be daunting—especially if has lots of steps.
To help clear the fear before you dive in, try and start small. Find the smallest first action you can take, and ask yourself: Can I just get this one little thing done?
For example: Instead of writing the entire paper, aim to get the first paragraph written. Instead of cleaning the entire house, take out the trash and pat yourself on the back for doing so. What you’ll find: Doing that first small task will create momentum and carry you through more steps in the process.
2. Assess and Prioritize Like a Boss
Fact: Everything might feel important, but everything isn’t urgent.
Personally, I use the Eisenhower Box as a guide to help me figure out what exactly needs my attention. It can help you categorize your tasks into the following categories: important and urgent, important not urgent, urgent not important, not important or urgent.
My favorite tool for prioritizing. Happy Friday! pic.twitter.com/FhhZrURw41— Mel Robbins (@melrobbins) August 25, 2017
For example, me scrolling on Instagram is not important nor urgent, but grocery shopping is urgent and important when my fridge has nothing but condiments in it. Next time you make a to-do list, take note of how important and urgent tasks are so you everything doesn’t feel like it has a due date of ASAP.
3. Identify Your Quicksand Traps
These are distractions that feel good at first, but eventually leave you in the land of “OMG, nothing got done”? Those are your quicksand traps.
My quicksand traps in no particular order: texting friends about nothing, Netflix, emailing people when it could have been a phone call, scrolling on social media— you get it. Get clear on those and notice when you’re doing them.
4. Think, Act, Feel (TAF)
I learned this tactic from a counselor years ago. We can prioritize, avoid distractions—and still get caught up in inaction. One of the best things you can do when you’re feeling anxious and have a lot do, is to pick something to do, do it, and get curious about how it made you feel later.
For example, I get irrationally anxious when I book travel. Some of the many anxious thoughts that pop in my head: What if there’s a better deal? What if my travel plans change?
But, I’ve learned to load up the reservation page, insert the dates, and go with whatever has the best review or whatever is convenient. Then, I allow myself to feel the feelings later. What I find: Thinking about the first step tends to make me more anxious than actually taking the first step.
So, whatcha waiting for? Don’t let this be just another article on productivity. It’s the sign you’ve been waiting for and I’m right with you. My invitation: think about something that needs to get done, go do it, and let your accountability buddy or a friend know that you completed the task.
Read next: 3 Ways to Manage Your Anxiety