Anxiety Can Make You Feel Stuck (And Feeling Stuck Can Make You More Anxious)
In my therapy practice, I’ve seen anxiety take endless forms–worry, fear, panic, stress, tension, frustration, irritability, angst, dread and more. As I’ve said before, it’s remarkable how much meaning we pack into this one little word. It also makes anxiety a domain that is rife with metaphor. Sometimes I think about anxiety as a car engine that won’t start or an effort to move a car while the parking brake is on.
One form anxiety takes is late at night when you’re trying to fall asleep but can’t or on the weekend when you’re trying to focus on your kids, but you just keep thinking about a project at work. This is the sort of anxiety that comes when you’re sitting on something–a project or a task that needs to be done and for whatever reason, you’re not doing it.
This can often lead to a spiral. Anxiety makes you feel stuck, which makes you feel anxious, and this can make you feel even more stuck. And so on.
How Can You Prevent This Anxiety Spiral? Recognize When You’re Sitting On A Task And Take Action
To-do lists and tasks that drag on tend to take on a life of their own, with the rhetoric of laziness or procrastination readily available to define their meaning (as in, “I’m just being so lazy” or “I’m such a procrastinator”). These function as creative dead-ends, leaving no room for curiosity or creative exploration.
It helps to get good at recognizing when you’re sitting on something, whether it’s a task that makes it from one draft of the to-do list to the next (and the next) or the email that lingers in your inbox. I beg of you, ask the questions: “Why am I not doing this? Why am I stuck? What can I do to get unstuck?”
Socialize The Task (And The Anxiety)
Asking someone to help you be accountable (“I’m going to text you in an hour when I finish this thing”) or asking someone to sit with you while you complete what’s making you anxious can help you get unstuck. In socializing the anxiety, we can borrow from someone else’s nervous system, in a sense. Regardless of their own relationship with anxiety, your anxiety-inducing task isn’t likely to move the needle for them. We can borrow their calm and remove from the matter at hand. We can essentially say, “Just tell me what to do.”
Accountability is an important part of this. In a work setting, we often have the accountability of the boss or the person for whom we’re delivering a product. While this can be a drag, it tends to organize our relationship with getting things done in a way that limits our ability to sit on tasks and allow anxiety to fester.
But, what if you’re the boss? Or you’re working on a project that lacks a hard deadline? In those cases, you can manufacture a sort of artifice of accountability by socializing the task to meet some of the same need. Writers quite commonly do this when working on long pieces by making use of friends, editors or writing groups to keep them on track.
Abandoning a task or project is also an action. It’s something we don’t always allow ourselves to consider. But, maybe you’re not doing it and it’s causing you anxiety because it doesn’t need to be done (or worse, it’s a bad idea to do).
There may be good reasons we are sitting on things that make us anxious. It may have to do with the very inadvisability of that thing. A possible move to make, so to speak, is to ask the questions, “What does my inaction tell me? Is it mere laziness? Or is it something more subtle?”