I will tell you a smashing truth: it’s hard to be productive when anxiety hits home. As a person with a first-hand experience of this, I find that working on the next big thing is hard when anxiety have a hard grip on you.
Somehow, I’ve read on a Medium article (though I can’t search for it anymore) that productivity hacks don’t work when you have anxiety. I greatly second the article: it really is hard to be productive when your brain is literally panicking.
Anxiety forces your brain into a fight-or-flight mode, dedicating all mental resources to searching for threats — real or imagined— such that you don’t have anymore time to focus on the task at hand.
It also clouds your mind, rendering you unable to focus properly on certain events or tasks. That’s the reason why anxiety attacks can feel disorienting: you suddenly wander in a train of thought yet your brain consciously tries to get out that thought.
In that sense, focus is lost to anxiety. Unfortunately, a great deal of productivity hacks that I read these days require focus and flow — something that remains elusive for those who suffer anxiety.
Over the years, my desire to become a truly high-functioning person has been impeded by bouts of anxious episodes. I domy best to defeat my anxiety and become productive, employing the best of hacks to succeed. At the end of the day, however, I feel miserable when I can’t accomplish any single task because my mind wandered or got lost in a nervous thought.
But recently, I have also come to an epiphany: I don’t need to feel miserable when I can’t accomplish anything due to anxiety. These three realizations made me feel okay when I can’t be productive or pull my shit together:
1. During those times that I’m okay, I can slay my to-do list — even if it meant one step at a time.
There are really trying times when I can’t focus on a task that I should have done. My mind fixates itself on a certain fear-inducing thought during bouts of anxiety.
But I also know for myself that anxiety and panic will go away some time, so I have to keep telling myself that I will be okay. It is just how the brain works, especially when it is in a crisis mode. Fear, like any other emotion, fades and goes away.
So, I know for myself that I will be okay. This first realization that helped me tremendously during those times when I was besieged by the worst episodes of anxiety.
Ironically, this realization also helped align myself towards adapting to my body’s needs. I don’t need to force myself to focus when my mind is not cooperating. Instead, I know that my monkey mind will quiet its chatter and soon, I will be back to sanity again.
The times that I’m okay once again are the times where I can slay the day’s task. For some weird reason, the thoughts in my head die down and I’m endowed with razor-sharp clarity to do what I need to do. When this happens, I check my to-dos from my favorite to-do list app and see what I need to do first.
I conquer all of my tasks as much as possible during these peaceful times. However, I know that more tasks could be a burden, so I sometimes start with a square one and remind myself that it’s okay to do one task.
It’s okay to take baby steps. After all, I’m still contributing towards the completion of a task at hand. There are many times that I took only the smallest steps. Looking back, however, I’m grateful that I took those since it still affected my life in a big way — and for the better too!
2. When faced by the worst, I can force myself to try anyway — even little by little.
There are times, however, when my anxiety just completely overwhelms me. A feeling of panic and dread sets in, and my mind can’t stop fixating on the thought that made me anxious. When that happens, I know that shit is going to hit the fan.
Those anxious episodes are a huge setback to me. Especially, at times when they were preceded by weeks of seeming calm and serenity. During these moments, I try my best to stick to a routine. I also try my finish my tasks and to-dos for the day.
But it really is hard. My mind just panics. Thoughts just race out of my head. I can’t concentrate at all. As such, my motivation to do one task simply disappears. Now, I just want to resort to my comfort zone and do nothing.
This is where I learn that sometimes, even trying out a task will do wonders for myself and my sanity. Yes, I know it may seem counter-intuitive, but forcing myself to focus and fixate helps me forget — even for a moment — the thoughts that put a huge burden on my mind.
It doesn’t matter if I just took baby steps to do something. What’s important, however, is that I did something. I should be proud, because even in the face of unrelenting and cruel anxiety episodes, I was able to do something. I was able to conquer my anxiety for a second.
Now, it could be really hard to try to force myself during times of extremely anxious episodes, but I just do these three things: breathe, assess the situation, and affirm that everything is going to be O.K.
3. There’s always a silver lining in everything, even if all else fails.
Time and time again, I affirm myself that it is O.K. to fail — that even the best effort can fail in the worst of times. If such moments happen, I repeat in my head that everything is going to be fine one day. With the right effort and mindset, everything will turn out to be better in the future.
Monumental to having a right mindset is this belief in a silver lining. Call me super optimistic, but I think that believing in a silver lining is the only thing that will save from a terrible rut during some days.
On times when I can’t be productive due to extreme anxiety, I just can’t stop wondering how miserable I’ve become. Being miserable only contributes to that dreaded feeling, fueling my anxiety episodes even further. To balance the negative feeling, I always try to think positive — even if that positive thought seems so far away. After all, a little bit of positivity won’t hurt, right?
It’s okay to be not okay
My point is simple: there are times when anyone of us will be besieged by bad moments, and it is okay not to be okay during these moments.
Modern society has put a premium on relentless work, and the focus is always on doing more work and being productive all day. But for those who suffer anxiety like me, it can be hard to keep up with this relenting demand. As such, feelings of misery, doubt, and worthlessness can crop up from time to time especially when the mind won’t simply cooperate.
But now I’ve learned that I don’t have to give in to these feelings. These three realizations made me realize that I don’t need to be miserable when I can’t be productive because of another anxious episode. Because after all, I will still be okay if I can’t function properly for the day — for there is another day to keep fighting on.