My challenges with anxiety are sourced in my childhood.
The adults in my family of origin had issues – anger, shame, perfectionism, arbitrary with a need to always be in control and to be right.
I’ve mostly worked my way through my childhood issues and my anxiety is (usually) easily manageable.
That is until I get surprised by events that will set off my inner child’s fears and have anxiety escalating like a rocket being launch to the moon.
Not only can it happen that quickly, but it’s difficult to stop it from spiraling out of control.
Take a few weeks ago.
The cause: A certified letter from the State of Connecticut about the taxes I owed as a result of having a relationship with a scam artist.
There was nothing new in the letter. Nothing I didn’t know. Nothing threatening about it . . . except for the fact that if I didn’t contact them in the next 10 business days they’d start foreclosing on my home.
Talk about an arbitrary and controlling entity!
It took a few days for my tax attorney to get back to me with the unwelcome news that I was on my own to deal with the State.
Then 30 seconds later . . . . . . .
Every time I tried to put a coherent thought together fear would rush in like a tsunami and start drowning me.
And the anxiety kept escalating.
Soon it would be beyond my control, and I’d become so overwhelmed it would take me days to recover.
I couldn’t let that happen. But it came on so fast, hit me so hard, and scrambled my brain so badly that I couldn’t mentally reach out and grasp even the simplest of breathing techniques that could help me!
But some part of my brain knew what to do.
The next thing I knew I was sitting on the side of my bed, pen in hand, pad on lap, and writing down everything I could think of that could prevent the State from throwing me out in the street.
One thought led to another. Though the anxiety was still charging through my body, the threat of it disabling me was diminishing . . . rapidly.
Did my creating a to-do list really stop an anxiety attack?
Was This a Miracle?
You know how it is when the anxiety attack comes out of nowhere and it’s a bad one.
You feel like Alice in Wonderland eating from both sides of the magic mushroom simultaneously.
Is it really possible to derail such a monster?
Could it be as simple as sitting down and writing a to-do list?
In the past, I’ve created to-do lists when there were too many ideas whirling in my head.
Doing one helped me focus, and that in turn quieted my mind.
Never did I think though that doing a to-do list could be an effective way to stop an anxiety attack – especially a bad one.
Yet, that’s exactly what happened.
It was a pretty lousy to-do list too. My handwriting was barely legible, and some of the ideas I came up with were wild and impossible.
Yet, creating that to-do list stopped the attack from escalating out of control.
Trying to Be Successful with To-Do Lists
Do you use to-do lists successfully?
For YEARS, I’ve tried to get in the habit of doing them.
Books have been written about how to use a Franklin Planner (I have two of them), and you can find YouTube videos on how to use them as well.
I love the Franklin Planner books with their wonderful productivity ideas and hacks.
I have tried using them multiple time overs with the result that I have 3 of their binders – none of which are used to help me be more productive.
Then there’s the to-do list handling method I developed for myself and even wrote about in this article How to Tame Your To-Do List with Ease and Increase Your Productivity (editor’s version).
Don’t let the above title fool you. This is not an easy way to tame your to-do list as it requires a mindset change. The original title was: How to Tame Your To-Do List, Increase Your Productivity, and Reach New Heights of Success.
I developed the process for myself as a way to alleviate the effects of both chronic anxiety and my incessant need to “get things done”. My days of doing one thing after another were exhausting me.
Though I no longer setup a to-do list as described in the article, I am still mindful about how I approach my daily tasks.
Learning from the Miracle and Other To-Do List Attempts
Since the day the to-do list stopped an anxiety attack, and a bad one at that, I’ve been doing a lot more thinking about task lists.
The Taming Your To-Do List from the above article does work, and it can help you be more productive.
Once I made the shift in mindset though, it has served its purpose, and I lost interest in keeping it up.
Though I love what you can do with a Franklin Planner, I don’t think the same way that the Franklin Planner process wants to get you organized.
Yet, properly created task lists do help you be more productive. Increased productivity does lead to being more successful.
Heaven knows you and I want to be more successful.
So the questions for me became: 1) What kind of to-do list would help me be more successful? and 2) Would creating a to-do list be able to stop an anxiety attack regardless of when it happened or what caused it?
Strangely enough, the answer to the second question helped me figure out the answer to the first one.
To-do Lists 2 – Anxiety 0
Your mind has uncanny and sometimes very unique ways of helping you out.
In this case, it was a nighttime anxiety attack that woke me up.
As it was buzzing its way through me and hitting me up with everything that was wrong in my life, I grabbed pen and pad.
At the top of the page I wrote, To-Do List. Because I was having some trouble thinking, I started by added stuff that I routinely did during the day.
From there, the list grew as wrote down everything I could think of that I needed to do.
Just getting it all down on paper helped quiet my inner critic, calmed my mind, and dissipated the attack.
How cool is that?
It does look as though creating a to-do list is a viable pattern interruption that will stop an anxiety attack.
Looking over the list the next day, I realized that some of the items had notes next to them. Things that need to be remembered or done first before the real task could be completed.
Most planners or date books didn’t have the necessary space to handle that information.
Also on the list were similar types of tasks that had to be done for each of my three websites, this one, my writing and consulting website (QuinnEurich.com), and my new retail site (ShortLeggedDog.com) where I sell the information products I and other people have developed
Plus, there was my work schedule for my part-time job as well as appointments that needed to be taken into consideration.
Plus, I was trying to follow Minette Riordan’s advice about putting only six actionable items on a daily task list.
Plus, there needed to be a way for me to be more than just productive. At the end of the day, I wanted to feel successful – like I’d accomplished something significant.
I wanted to feel as though I had deliberately planned a day that was geared towards me being successful. I wanted a plan that would actually help me to create the success I wanted – one day at a time.
The New To-Do List Process!
You may be doing something like this already.
For me, being able to come up this type of process is all part of my continual development to move past my personal barriers.
Since so many of those barriers were created when I was a child and are buried in my subconscious, I’ve learned to keep trying and experimenting until I find something that works.
Here’s the thing about having a childhood that was chronically traumatizing – you don’t have the opportunity to learn or experience things that will be useful to you later on in life.
That means you have to learn and experience them as an adult.
Continual growth means you’re always developing or refining processes in the present that you may outgrow and put aside in the future.
The New Process: Creating a Successful Day by Eliminating Unnecessary Stress and Anxiety
- Weekly: Create a master to-do list that includes both scheduled events, such as meetings or picking up/dropping kids off, and the tasks you need to accomplish that week.
- For each item on the list, include pertinent information such as travel time, research, pre-work, or any thing that you need to know about a particular task or event that will make it easier for you to accomplish it.
- Daily: Identify both the top 6 actionable items/tasks that you want to accomplish that day and all the scheduled events for that day.
- Look at each item, review the notes to see what will help you accomplish that task successfully.
- For scheduled events, identify travel times and anything that could interfere with you getting there on time such as: construction, weather, or having to get gas. This will help you schedule the appropriate amount of time so you don’t get rushed and become stressed.
- If at all possible, break non-scheduled tasks into time-segments of 30 – 45 minutes so you can take quick mind-refreshing breaks.
- Figure out how to best accomplish what needs to be done, and put it on your daily schedule. Remember to include any travel times.
I don’t know about you, but I have some bad work habits that cause me stress and can make me anxious.
This process helps me keep the stress to a minimum which in turn practically eliminates task related anxiety.
That’s because I plan a day to not only get things done, but to do them in such a way that optimizes my success in doing each one of them!
The Winning Ingredient
The key to the process is #4 – the notes that each item has.
For example, on the days I have to go to my part-time job, there are things that need to be done before I can leave the house.
Physically getting ready, making something to eat, taking care of the dogs, and depending on the time of day, taking a longer way to the office because of construction.
All those things take time, but I would only plan for them mentally. By including that time in my daily schedule, I now plan my other work around it.
Doing it this way your schedule begins to reflect the reality of your day and not what you think you can or should get done.
By giving you a whole picture of your “real” day, you can then adjust either what you’re trying to accomplish or figure out some other way of trying to do it.
And because you do your daily planning at night, you sleep better because you’re not trying to remember everything you have to do and how you’re going to do it..
Creating a to-do list when an anxiety attack hits is a good method of interrupting the attack and keeping it from escalating. To-Do lists can stop an anxiety attack.
Creating one to help you successfully plan your day so you’re less stressed is a good way to keep anxiety at bay. To-Do lists can reduce anxiety.
To-Do Lists – a one/two punch combination for knocking anxiety out of your life!
Go do one now!
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