Panic Life

Fighting Stigma and Living with an Anxiety Disorder

Combating Anxiety: I'm Not Lazy, I'm Overwhelmed

Anxiety can appear like apathy, when in reality the person is overwhelmed

Sometimes I find myself sitting on the couch staring into space. I want to get up and do the things on my internal to-do list, but something stops me. So instead, I just sit there. This is a behavior I've engaged in so frequently that I barely notice it when it happens. Today, however, I started to analyze why it is that I do this. I came up with the answer: I'm overwhelmed.

From an outside perspective, one might thing I just want to relax or decompress. A more judgmental person might even call me "lazy." It's not laziness though, it's anxiety.

I'm sitting on that couch fearful of all the things that I haven't done and need to accomplish. There are so many items on that internal list that I feel paralyzed. I can't possibly accomplish them all. When I start to think about all of my tasks at once, my mind starts spinning and I don't want to think anymore. So I sit there and intentionally try not to think. 

The good news is, once you realize that you're overwhelmed you can do something about it. Here's what works for me when I feel like things in my life are spinning out of control because there's too much to do.

1. Get out a pen and paper and make a list of things you have to do

In my house there are two small children, so it may be difficult to find a pen. I might need to use a crayon or even an eyeliner pencil. Find whatever writing utensil you can and make that list. You might find that you are becoming overwhelmed while making the list itself. My suggestion is to make the list as general as possible. Don't start breaking down the tasks into smaller tasks.

2. Pick one thing on that list and just do it

It doesn't have to be the first thing on the list. Just pick something on your to-do list and do it. Think to yourself, "All I have to do is start this." Take action. It's probably going to feel uncomfortable while you're doing it. For example, I hate cleaning my living room, but I know it has to be done. Use the just do it mantra while you are completing the task. While you are picking up the dirty clothes from the floor of your living room think to yourself just do it. Before you know it it'll get done.

3. Reward yourself when you accomplish something on your list

First thing to do when you complete a task is cross it off the list. Then reward yourself. Watch a TV show you love, eat a chocolate bar, read a trashy magazine, read a good book for an hour. Do something that makes you feel good to reward yourself for completing your task. This reinforces productivity.

The next time you're sitting on your couch feeling overwhelmed, don't get down on yourself! Get out a pen or a crayon and make that list. 

Sarah Fader is a mental illness advocate and mother of two living with panic disorder in New York City.

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