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Divide and Conquer Anxiety, Stress, and Procrastination

Take three steps to emotional freedom

If you are weary of feeling anxious and stressed, are you procrastinating on coping? Let’s take a divide and conquer approach by first separating anxiety from stress. Then, we’ll look at how to substitute action for procrastination.

Separating Emotional Issues

We commonly use the words anxiety and stress to describe unpleasant feelings. However, there is a difference.

  • When anxious, you anticipate something threatening coming your way.
  • When stressed, you are negatively reacting to a change.

In many cases, you’ll deal with each condition in a different way. I'll suggest a sample change technique for each.

How you think about what is going on can raise or lower your tension. So, you'll also need to think about your thinking to gain relief. We'll look into that angle as well.

When worry leads to anxiety

Worry is a part of needless anxiety. This is a mental uneasiness about possibilities that rarely happen. You worry about your health. You worry about your finances. You worry about your future. Indeed, you may worry to the point where you are distracted by worrisome thoughts and electrifying feelings of anxiety. Can you free yourself from this mind-emotion double bind? You can if you know how.

Let’s say that you worry a lot about horrific things happening to you or to those close to you. You have a headache and worry that you have a brain tumor. Your headache goes away and you feel emotional relief. Your friend is late and you think something awful happened. Your friend shows up and you feel relief.

As your worries keep changing, your anxieties continue. That is partially because relief reinforces worry. When relief regularly reinforces worry, worry is more likely to recur. Let's call this the relief from worry effect.

How do you stop dizzying yourself in a worry --> anxiety --> relief cycle? To disrupt this cycle, counter the relief from worry effect with a coping effect. As a first line of defense, try creating a relief from coping effect with a four-step change process. You write out: (1) a worrisome situation when you are in the midst of it; (2) your worries about the situation; (3) coping questions; and (4) coping answers. Here are two examples:

  • Worrisome situation: headache. Worry belief: “I have a brain tumor.” Coping question: “Where is the proof that my headache means I have a brain tumor?” Coping answer: “I’ve had headaches like this before and aspirin works.”
  • Worrisome situation: Friend late. Worry belief: “Something awful has happened.” Coping question: “If my friend was worried about me being late, what advice would I have for my friend?” Coping answer: “Suspend judgment. I could have been stuck in traffic; the battery on my cell phone could have discharged and I couldn't tell you about being delayed.”

When you experience a relief from coping effect, you know that you’ve acted effectively. By repeating this four-step process, you build a coping skill. You benefit by rewarding yourself for coping, nipping worry in the bud, and worrying less.

When conditions are stressful

Stress is a negative physical response to a change. Stresses, such as a change in water temperature or pollution can stress an oyster. Regarding stress from changes, we are like the oyster. Changes stress us in negative ways. Unlike the oyster, we can turn our stresses into mental nightmares.

A hot day, a traffic jam, hearing a thumping sound from a blaring sound system in a nearby car—all can temporarily feel stressful. Anger yourself over stressful changes, and you will turn a bad situation into something worse. (Some stresses are more psychological and durable. Your employer holds you accountable for results that you can’t control.)

When stressed, you have a problem to solve.

  • One solution is temporarily to accept what you don’t like. If you are stuck in traffic, do you have a better choice than tolerating the inconvenience?
  • Another solution is to resist blaming the universe for inconveniences and annoyances. With a clearer mind, you are in a better position to choose between alternative ways of coping.
  • A third solution is to change location when you can. If you daily face oppressive work conditions, a change in environment can feel like paradise. However, such changes are often a matter of timing and finding new opportunities.

By building emotional reserves to help balance stress conditions, you may be better able to execute coping solutions. We'll turn to that next.

Get Procrastination off Your Back

When you procrastinate, you risk swirling about in a vicious cycle of anxiety-stress --> procrastination --> anxiety-stress. If you know how to separate anxiety from stress, and

Stress Glasses

what to do to cope with each, you’re on the precipice of curbing anxieties and stresses and procrastination. Still, when swamped by anxiety and stress, you don’t have much space for coping.

Stress Glasses

what to do to cope with each, you’re on the precipice of curbing anxieties and stresses and procrastination. Still, when swamped by anxiety and stress, you don’t have much space for coping.

Part of your challenge is this: When your emotional reserves already feel depleted, how do you replenish them and lower your risk for procrastinating? Imagine three stress glasses:

  • When your inner world froths with worries, anxieties, and fears, you already feel overwhelmed by too many strains in your life. You try to shelter yourself to protect yourself from feeling worse. Yet, your worries, anxieties, and fears remain. You have reached a tipping point where it doesn’t take much added stress to put you over the edge. This is glass one. By regularly using the four step-coping process, and systematically eliminating stresses from your life, you earn more space for coping.
  • You are normally able to roll with the punches. However, you are cautious about extra stresses that you associate with making changes. You feel like you are threading water. You’d like to do more with your life. You’ll try to gain more advantages every so often, but you don’t try too hard. This is the glass two. Take time out each day to do something relaxing, and you can add emotional space for meeting desired new challenges.
  • With low stress, your inner world flourishes. Your tolerance for stress is high. Your thinking is fluid. You actively engage yourself in promising new ventures. You continue to learn more about yourself by learning what you can do. You feel emotionally free. This is glass three. However, avoid resting on your laurels. That’s a formula for adding stress to your glass.

Are you ready to try a different way to build reserves to prevent or reduce anxiety, stress, and procrastination? Here is a simple thing to do that has scientific support. Plan to spend at least five minutes twice a day observing a quieting nature scene. Either a live scene or a photo of a landscape, such as the one below, will do. That act can start you on the path of building emotional reserves.

For more strategies on how to overcome anxiety, click on The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety (Second Edition). As a bonus, you’ll find 35 tips from top anxiety experts.

Peaceful Place

Peaceful Place

(c) Dr. Bill Knaus, All rights reserved.

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