Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The guinea pig’s guide to managing time shortage and anxiety

This is the second in a two part series. To read part one click here

Part of the inspiration for my blog came from a British journalist’s book length on-the-ground account of the Spanish Civil War in the mid 1930s which he titled A Field Study of Modern War.

In the same spirit, I attempt to write as something of a guinea pig myself. Here are the findings from my personal field study into dealing with anxiety problems associated with time shortage.

1. Slow down 

Don’t put it off any longer. Anxiety problems mess with us by inducing anxious feelings without due cause. If you suffer from “hurry sickness” like I have then you need to reduce the speed at which you operate. The tortoise always beats the hare in the long run anyway.

2. Allow things to take the time they are supposed to 

Don’t let something you would ordinarily enjoy doing become arduous by being rushed. As an example, I have found myself feeling generally far less anxious since I began stopping properly for meals.

3. Learn to say “no”, and know when to take things off your plate

Enough said.

4. Put the cart back behind the horse 

Don’t allow pseudo necessities get in the way of what matters more. I was interviewing a well known sports commentator recently who had a mental breakdown a couple of years ago. He realised he had neglected to spend time with his son because he was a workaholic (to the point of accruing 105 days of annual leave). He has found it such a relief since then to rearrange his priorities.

5. Be organised 

Anxiety thrives on a lack of confidence and clarity about how we are spending our time. Simple things such as a well kept diary/calendar and a daily or weekly to do list can be extremely helpful here.

6. Be subversive 

There are two levels to this. The first regards going against the grain of the culture many of us live in which promotes the idea that having a crazy busy, run-off-my-feet lifestyle is to be admired and even striven for. Withdraw from competing with workmates and friends for the title of who has the most exhausting life.

The other level to being subversive is about undermining one’s own inclination to be in a state of constant hurry. For instance, when I find myself with a lot on my plate I find it helpful to ask the question: “If I had all the time in the world, what would I do now?” Pondering the answer has on many occasions helped me cut a clear path through decision-making fog.

7. Be realistic 

It is natural for best case scenarios to dominate expectations for the routine aspects of life. Average case scenarios are a much better guide.

8. Take rest seriously 

Quality rest can be hard to come by, but we all need it. I find it helpful to think of rest in the categories of daily (e.g. sleep and meal breaks), weekly and periodic. To neglect any of these - much less all of them - is not sustainable for brain or body.

9. Consider the reassurance the Gospel offers

I know how debilitating it is when anxiety provokes me to be in a constant hurry. Time and again I have found the words of Jesus to be the balm for my troubled mind and body.

This is because he teaches that the key to living confidently with anxiety problems lies not in my own ability but rather in God's provision. I find it deeply affirming to be told that there is actually more to life than meets the eye, and that I am valued highly by my maker. He puts it this way in the Gospel of Matthew:

"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? … Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."

"Get off the treadmill!"