A productive way out of anxiety

Illustration by Absurd.design

Illustration by Absurd.design


A couple of weeks ago, towards the end of the year, when things tend to pile up, and to-do lists seem to get longer by the minute, I found myself in a difficult mood. On the one hand, my mind was racing, continually reminding me of all the open "tabs” I needed to address, new things were popping up, and completed tasks were surfacing again and again. But on the other hand instead of tackling them, maybe pulling longer hours, crossing off things, moving ahead, I found myself paralyzed. Unable to get out of bed in the morning, failing to remember the things that two seconds ago felt too urgent to let me eat in peace, the moment I set down at my desk. This went on for a while, whereas the feeling of failure and guilt was getting stronger with every uncompleted task.

One evening, what felt out of the blue, but could have been after a few lines of scribbling in a journal or trying to quiet my mind through some deep breaths, it dawned on me. I opened my noisli.com text editor and plunged away, writing myself a personal letter and detailed instruction for the next day.

Read below what I wrote myself that evening.

Clear your schedule for the next day.

No meetings, no plans, nobody to hold you accountable for anything.

Make it so you could disappear for one day.

Forget about your mess at home, or if you are a mess yourself.

Pack your bag. Prepare everything you need to get work done.

But before, write yourself a letter. Start with a greeting. Follow with the instruction, this is what you have to do now. Write down everything that comes to mind. Write down everything that appears when you close your eyes. Everything.

Now rank it. Start with something easy. Get the little things out of the way.

And then with the biggest. The smallest followed by the biggest.

What is causing the most anxiety? Write the very first step down you can do to tackle it. Now the second. And the third. Write down everything you would have to do, for it to be resolved. Everything YOU can do to solve it. Even if it depends on other people. What if you were alone. Write down everything you could do. Plan a break. A nice lunch. Be realistic, things take time. But you will do only the things that you're writing down now. So be smart. And honest. Write down the next thing you are worried about. You know what you have to do to make it go away. No, nobody will help you. Or, they only will if you have done more than your share. Continue to write down your actions steps. One by one. One thing at a time.

You have a plan of action now. Nothing can go wrong. That's all you have to do. You have successfully completed your first task. Now you can relax. Everything is taken care of for tonight.

Try to get as much sleep as possible. It won't be easy, don't force it.

Wake up early. You have a plan. It can be exciting.

Give yourself a little bit of time in the morning. Not too much. But don't rush.

Your path ahead is clearly visible. You don't need to run.

Leave the house. You have everything you need with you. You have the right mindset. You have a plan.

Go somewhere where people are working. Buy a day pass for a co-working space. Sit in a Hotel lobby. Go to a library foyer. Somewhere where nobody knows you. Somewhere there is movement. Somewhere people work. Surround yourself with productivity. Anonymously.

Then sit down. The first step is clear. It's waiting for you, explained, laid out in front of you. You don't have to do this forever. Just for 25 minutes. Set your timer. Listen to something repetitive. Or a song, on repeat. Background noise. Something that you enjoy. Something that doesn't require attention.

The first task is an easy one. Still, when your timer goes off, get up. Move. Look what you're doing. You are facing it. This is it. Your path out of anxiety. Sit down after five minutes. It's the scary stuff now you will have to do. But it's ok. It's just the first step. It's only 25 minutes. Then you can get up.

Now you've done the first step. It wasn't tough either. The difficult things are coming. But enjoy it. Cross it off your list. Write it down, in big bold letters. DONE. Drink water. Get fresh air. And continue with the next step. Cross it off your list. DONE. What did you write down next? Oh, yes. It's obvious now. You remember again. It's ok. Things need time. But you are realistic. Continue. Your forth break is a bit longer. Your eighth break is the longest. You're on a roll. Crossing things off. Starting a new task. Taking breaks. Drinking water. It's only today. Today you don't have any plans. Tomorrow you'll make plans again. Continue. When you get tired, get up. When you get stuck, write down why. Why? Break it down into small steps.

But stick to the list. Nothing new. Nothing else. Only the list. Cross it out. Continue. Continue. Until you're done. You will be done. You will have results. Tomorrow you will share them, too. But today, you could disappear for one day. You went to a place, where you shone the light on all those dark corners. You've untied the knots. Sometimes, not all, but you know how now. You have a new plan. You have new tasks. You will get to them in due time. Now you know how. And if you ever forget, you start from the top again. That's life. That's the cycle. That's samsara.

Learn to enjoy it. You're doing great.

How long does a mood like this last for you? What helps you get out of the funk? Let me know in the comments below.