Write four papers.
Read six books.
Send out job applications.
Clean the cleaning supplies.
Register for tests.
Do hair, makeup, get dressed.
To-do lists are an organized anxiety sister’s best friend, but at the same time, they can be overwhelming. So overwhelming, in fact, that I often experience what I have dubbed “To-Do List Paralysis.” That means that there are so many things that I have to do, that the mere thought of it leaves me lost, scared, and unsure of what I should tackle first. Instead of just diving right in and plowing through my tasks, I become paralyzed and do nothing. This often results in me lying on my bed, trying to shut out those things that I know have to get done. I am plagued by feelings of uncertainty, such as figuring out what is most important and what must get done first. I know that I have deadlines for school, but sometimes I avoid getting a head start, which I know will make my life easier closer to those daunting due dates. It just seems like too much to start doing anything at all. I don’t know what I should do first, and it feels like the list is too long. It will never get done, so what’s the point of even starting? This “paralysis” period is also often accompanied by typical anxiety/panic symptoms, such as shortened breath, rapid heart rate, and feelings of overwhelming doom. Time gets wasted, and then I end up feeling more miserable than I was to begin with. This is no way for an anxiety sister to live.
The best solution that I have come up with for this problem is to treat every item on my To-Do List as a baby step. In other words, I reframe my thinking so that I am only concentrating on one task at a time. I will not lie — this is difficult! But, it is extremely helpful when planning out a day because I am able to better focus, thus producing better results and in turn, alleviating anxiety. If I can focus my energy on doing one task so I am not frozen with fear by the thought of the other things that I have left to do.
The other piece to this puzzle is to be realistic with a To-Do List. I have learned that I essentially set myself up for failure when I assign myself too many things to do in one day. This also sometimes means prioritizing, realizing, and accepting that I might not be able to do everything that I would want to do (such as forgoing a workout when I have a fifteen-page paper due the next day). It is also important not to beat yourself up about not getting around to everything on your list — accept it and move on.
So the next time you find yourself experiencing “To-Do List Paralysis,” take a deep breath, assess your list, choose a task, and don’t look back. A baby step forward is still better than an afternoon lost being anxious on the couch.