On a brisk, no bitter cold, Friday morning in November, I pulled into the lot at the office. Immediately I noticed there were fewer cars in the parking lot, and thought to myself. “This is great. I can get caught up on all the things I couldn’t get to this week.”
I plugged my laptop in and got started. Then my phone rang. While I was on the phone, in instant message popped up, and then another. One thing after another, and before I knew it I was feeling overwhelmed.
Reminiscent of days I’d take a vacation day from work to deep clean the kids’ room, I didn’t know where to start. I thought back to those days. At the time, I didn’t fully understand anxiety. I’d start early in the morning, just after they got in the 🚌 bus for school. The first couple of hours were the worst. I’d literally hyperventilate, having to remind myself that it was going to be ok 👌. However, looking at the ridiculous mess in front of my eyes foreshadowed the enormity of the task I felt I’d never complete.
Slowly, I would begin to make progress, starting in one area. I found that as I began to organize a bit, throwing away things no longer needed, and grouping together like items, a new pattern of organization began.
After a few hours, I could begin to see a clearing through the mound of toys and stuffed animals and my anxiety would subside a bit. I had to see the progress so that I could feel better. Baby steps.
As I thought about those days, I tried to apply the advice that I now give to my piano students when they feel overwhelmed with a new song to learn. There are some principles that, if I can remember to apply to all of life’s situations, I would be much better able to eliminate anxiety.
1. Break big problems into smaller ones and tackle one at a time.
When we look at an enormous problem, sometimes the anxiety we feel over that problem can immobilize us, which sometimes adds to the anxiety. Before long we feel as though we can’t do any of it, so we don’t.
2. Get moving
The longer we procrastinate the worse the problem feels, which adds to our anxiety and makes everything seem worse. When we move past inactivity, even in something small, we see progress, which helps us to move to the next thing, and then the next.
3. Look back to see how far you’ve come
Take time periodically to look around and acknowledge progress. Whether looking around at the toys that are now organized, being able to play the measure that we previously couldn’t, or seeing that the pile of mail is smaller than before, acknowledging the progress we’ve begun to make has a subconscious affect on our psyche. The message confirms that we are headed in the right direction and motivates us to keep going.
4. Celebrate the success and take a breath
It may seem sometimes that the hamster wheel never stops, but it’s important to find times when we can pause to celebrate what we’ve accomplished. Even if we take only 60 seconds before moving to the next task, take the time to figuratively cross the task off the TODO list. If you are a list maker, cross the task off the literal list. In doing so, we celebrate the accomplishment which motivates us to keep going.
My Friday didn’t get any easier, but by following the advice above, I was able to cross a few things off my list and motivate me to keep going.