zoot

I'm addicted to superhero movies, donuts, craft beer, playing in the woods, and reading YA fiction. I'm a writer by day and a dreamer by night.

Time Management, Productivity, And Anxiety Disorders

Time management is something I have been thinking about a lot recently, especially how it relates to my own anxiety coping mechanisms. A few weeks ago, I put an extension on my Chrome browser to keep me off Facebook and Twitter which helped me manage my productivity for my first week doing freelancing work. But then I had a few big anxiety triggers: namely taxes and travel, and I started really seeing how my anxiety disrupts my productivity.

I guess I’ve always known this, but because I don’t have the distraction of a 9-5 job where someone else held me accountable, I never realized how less productive I’d been when the only person holding me accountable was the girl with anxiety issues. Now I seem to be getting a clearer look at my time management as I wrangle trying to be productive around trying to function with anxiety.

My anxiety seems to come in two major categories: Functioning and Non-Functioning. Functioning anxiety usually is me suffering in silence, sometimes quiet literally. I’ll just go about the day-to-day needs quietly, but I’ll be noisy in my head, battling my demons. My kids often ask me “What’s Wrong?” a lot on those days because I’m less talkative than usual. This is kinda my “generalized” anxiety disorder response.

But then there are very specific, severe anxiety triggers and a lot of those tend to take over my brain and make “functioning” very difficult. Sometimes this is a full-blown, by the textbook, acute panic attack. But I have a good handle on those triggers and tend to avoid them. A perfect example is driving. I have had anxiety attacks while driving and it is NOT PRETTY so I have learned how to avoid those situations which is why I no longer take left turns anywhere and avoid terrible merge lanes during peak traffic times.

However, my reaction to less acute severe anxiety triggers – like taxes or impending travel – looks a lot like a type of attention deficit disorder. I lose the ability to focus on anything when there are severe triggers and I suddenly I’l find weeks disappear before I realize it. It’s like when I have BIG things I’m worried about on the horizon, things with specific end dates, I lose the ability to focus on anything but that looming deadline or event. This was exemplified when we were trying to sell our house and the giant dread of this big looming chaos sent me to medication for the first time.

As I reflect on the last few weeks I’ve realized how unproductive I’ve been towards writing goals and some small looming tasks I’m assigned for volunteer organizations. I could have sat down several times to focus on those things but it was like my brain was so preoccupied with our taxes and my impending Spring Break travel that I never could quite get myself on any rhythm of productive focus. I would bounce around various activities not actually completing anything because I couldn’t focus, or I could totally veg out on episodes of One Day At A Time no problem, because that required zero mental effort. But it was like anything that involved my brain to focus for any length of time could not happen because the second I activated the “thinking” part of my brain…my worry over travel or taxes took over.

I think for a lot of people, this is the “My house is never cleaner than when I had an exam coming up,” phenomena that my Dad experienced. When you do OTHER tasks instead of the one you SHOULD be doing, but for me? I can’t do ANYTHING. Anything except veg on social media or with television. And I solved the social media problem with extensions and now I need to…what? Face my fears? Create lists that separate scary things into small manageable tasks? Take a sedative? Throw away all televisions?

We send off the big check for taxes today, so that’s done. And travel ended last week, so that’s done. So, in theory, I should be able to focus more this week but I’d really like to hear back from anyone else who maybe suffers from this type of thing. The inability to use their brain for any useful length of time because anytime they engage it, they immediately go to OH MY GOD THERE IS THIS TERRIBLE THING I HAVE TO BE WORRYING ABOUT IN THE FUTURE mode.

10 comments on “Time Management, Productivity, And Anxiety Disorders

  1. I don’t have this issue, but my husband does. Both clinical anxiety and ADHD, and when something stressful happens (big work project or family Illness), the thought spiraling goes into overdrive for him.

    Things that help him:
    1) Wellbutrin – he takes a morning dose of the longer lasting version and then an afternoon booster dose of the shorter acting version (2-3pm). His doctors and he found that the once/day dose wasn’t getting him through a full work day. This has been a process of changing meds/and dosages to optimize both his anxiety and ADHD.

    2) Clonapin. He has a standing order for a certain number of pills a month that he can take “as needed” for in the moment anxiety. While it certainly helps, there are downsides (it’s a Benzo, so has addictive properties, it makes him sleepy and slower thinking) to this drug that we don’t love, so we’re still working on this one. He typically takes two pills a day down from 4-6.

    3) CBD Oil. We just started trying this two months ago, and it’s allowed him to ween off of half his clonopin dose. CBD Oil is non prescription, and legal in all 50 states. We’re buying it from a third party lab tested manufacturer in Denver, receptra, at $130/1500mg, which lasts him about a month. Marijuana is legal in our state, so we’re also booking an appointment with a doctor that specializes in marijuana/hemp treatments for anxiety to get some medical dosage help & see if our insurance will cover the costs of treatment.

    4) getting a good nights sleep. I started doing this a few years ago and husband decided to follow me this January – setting a bedtime, doing a set bedtime ritual, and getting to bed by then every night. Three months in, he’s noticing how much more alert and able to focus he is now that his sleep is regular.

    5) exercise. His psychiatrist actually prescribed exercise as part of his treatment plan – he said that the dopamine hit from working out (he mostly lifts weights for 15-30 minutes in the morning) has a big impact – and he’s found that to be very true. His days go so much better if he’s worked out in the Am.

    6) Lego – he got into LEGO several years ago, but finds the following the directions to build a kit meditative, soothing & relaxing. I think similar activities would be putting together puzzles or knitting/crocheting. Something engaging and repetitive both seems to be most useful.

    7) planning around it. We try to do things in our daily routines that help him manage his anxiety. For example, I do all the errands & store shopping & he does laundry, dishes & trash, because leaving home and being in crowds is hard. He leaves for work early to miss traffic in his commute (and comes home early for same reason). We spend the money on TSA precheck so we can go through airport line fast if we travel by plane, but we mostly do driving trips together. I do all the driving when we are together. We make plans to get out of town and in the quiet regularly (Woods/cabin, or private beach).

    8) soft things. We have three cats and they definitely help sooth, but he almost always changes as soon as he gets home into “soft clothes” – sweatshirts & sweatpants, comfy socks & slippers. Soft throw blankets & stuffed animals are also sensorily pleasing.

    9) no sugar or flour. We stopped eating this last January. I’ve kept off it with no breaks, and he hasn’t, but he felt so much better when he was completely off sugar & flour (and alcohol, which has sugar) It’s an easy coping mechanism and very addictive tho, so I know how hard it is to quit it.

    10) therapy/coaching. He’s been doing one or the other for years. Talking it out definitely helped. But cognitive behavior stuff overall tends to produce more results for him (therapy homework). He switched to coaching in the last year to get more behavioral/action oriented sessions. Coaching isn’t covered on our insurance tho, so a CBT therapist would also be helpful.

    What we haven’t tried yet, but I think could help (but it’s not me, again, it’s him, so he has to decide he wants to try it):

    A) meditation. He’s not interested at all.

    B) floating. I bought us a spa visit to a floating place. Haven’t gone yet.

    C) no caffeine. He drinks a pot a day. In part, I think, to combat the clonopin sleepies, but maybe if we can replace clonopin with CBD, he’ll consider cutting down. Every doc & psychiatrist he has says quit caffeine, but he’s not ready.

    D) heavy blanket. I keep saying we should buy one to try it, but haven’t yet.

  2. I have ADD and you just described it perfectly. I avoid things I don’t want to think about doing, and weeks will just disappear and I have no idea what I even did. I’ve been on ADD meds since I was 10, but I’m thinking I may need to add an anti-anxiety med as well.

  3. I struggle with time management and being productive too. I find that breaking tasks into super small, do-able steps helps me continue to move forward despite whatever else is going on in my head or life. I also shut my computer down and put it away for a couple of hours in the day and when I think of something I need to check or look up, I write it down for later instead of running back to fire up my laptop.

  4. I have struggled with this all my life. I don’t really lose weeks at a time, but I will focus on one or two “big” issues to the exclusion of nearly everything else. As I’m thinking about it, I also tend to focus on things in chronological order. This means that I could have something due Thursday and it will be all I can focus on all week, even though I have an equally large (or larger) deadline for something else on Friday. I just can’t even think about Friday’s thing until I’ve done Thursday’s. Or I can’t even prep for a big meeting at 1 o’clock until after I get through the smaller, less important, thing at 11 (which doesn’t leave me a whole lot of time!).
    I’ve seen lots of people online recommend setting a timer for 20 minutes and only doing one task during that time, but I can’t seem to make myself focus on something at all, much less for 20 minutes, when I’m really stressed about it (or something else unrelated to that task). I’m not sure what the solution is, but if you find a good one, please share!

  5. I find hand-written “to do” lists very important and helpful. I will sit and brainstorm a BIG list of EVERYTHING. Then I will look at that list, and break it down into doable steps for the larger tasks, and write a list I could conceivably do in one day, or at most, two days. The utter satisfaction of crossing things off the list! Of KNOWING where my time went! It is very motivating to continue with other things so they can get ticked off.

    I’ve been a “to-do list” maker for years. Recently, not sure why, but I went a couple weeks without making any lists… I have to tell you, my anxiety got three times worse and I had no clue what I had or had not accomplished. So, if you don’t currently make to-do lists, you might try that.

    1. By the way, I put EVERYTHING on this list, even repeated daily tasks like doing the dishes and making the bed, even showering. The reward is just so great when you get to cross things off!!

    2. Lists are also super helpful for me. Even if get the same amount of stuff done without a list because it’s not a chaotic time…I FEEL more productive and satisfied when I can see everything I’ve done.

      I find it helpful to create tiered lists because my problems are

      1) A tendency to overcommit/overschedule because things are in different “buckets” in my brain and I don’t see the conflict until I’m actually trying to DO all 3 things at once.

      2) Being so overwhelmed that I don’t know where to start and so don’t do anything which makes me feel more overwhelmed and more inert (which I think is what you are describing Kim? or similar?)

      I also agree that putting EVERYTHING on the list is helpful. The more overwhelmed I am, the more granular my lists tend to be…shower, do dishes, etc ALL goes on there. When I am feeling better, writing out all those tasks feels like a pointless hassle but when I am drowning, it’s a good place to start and they are small wins I can use to break the inertia.

  6. My 17 year old has always suffered from social anxiety but in the past year she literally float her mind. It’s been (and still is) a huge battle .She has been diagnosed by a psychologist and psychiatrist as having OCD ,generalised anxiety ,panic disorder and social anxiety . Medication was helping for 2 and a half months before I realised she was totally distracted all the time ,unable to focus and struggled to follow a conversation without continually changing the subject. She was diagnosed with ADHD a month ago. Apparently they think the anxiety was masking underlying ADHD and once medication tamed the anxiety a bit the ADHD finally showed itself. It’s hard to understand as she has always been a good student ,dedicated and diligent and the OCD meant she was obsessive about studying . Now I have the issue of her being unable to focus .She writes her mid year exams in a week and I’m unsure as to how she is going to perform. She has been on ADHD medication for a month now but it’s a struggle to find what’s right for her and the present medication is not right (it’s triggering her anxiety) . Just wanted to share as her issues sound similar to yours and ADHD is a possibly ? Good luck … It’s a huge battle and is emotionally exhausting for all involved.

    1. Thank you for sharing, and good luck to your daughter. I feel like you described some of my worst days when you described her!

      And you are doing a great job, Mom, getting her the help she needs and not stopping until you feel like you’ve gotten to the bottom of it. And paying attention enough to recognize things. My Dad – wonderful as he was – didn’t have the language or the knowledge to know what he was looking at when I was doing so poorly.

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