When you’re having feelings of anxiety, productivity can feel out of reach. It can be easy to overestimate the time or effort required to complete a task or even underestimate the work you have already done. You may even start to feel guilty or overwhelmed when a task has slipped through the cracks. It’s important to know that there are ways to remain productive no matter how anxious or overwhelmed you’re feeling. To do so, we first need to understand anxiety, what happens to the brain when we feel anxious, and how those symptoms can interfere with productivity.
What is Anxiety?
Although anxiety is often equated to feelings of stress, it’s important to know that anxiety is actually your brain’s natural reaction to stressful, dangerous, and unfamiliar situations. It’s a natural feeling of fear or apprehension about what’s to come. While a certain level of anxiety is normal and even helpful in detecting those stressful or dangerous situations, too much anxiety isn’t healthy and can eventually lead to anxiety disorders. If you start to notice that you are carrying feelings of anxiousness with you all of the time, you may have developed an anxiety disorder.
What Happens to Your Brain When You Feel Anxiety?
When you are feeling anxiety there are a few fundamental changes that start to take place inside the brain. The first change is that your brain begins to flood with stress hormones. These hormones are meant to tell your body that something bad or scary is about to happen. Their goal is to help you cope with the oncoming danger. When the threat is gone, the sympathetic part of your nervous system is meant to take over and calm you down. However, when you are suffering from anxiety, achieving calmness may be out of reach and instead, you get stuck in your overwhelming feelings. If you experience chronic anxiety, this can affect your ability to think rationally. When you become anxious, your brain’s ability to handle and organize information begins to drop significantly. As a result, you can become confused and easily overwhelmed. Learning, planning, and remembering also become really difficult.
Anxiety can train your brain to hold onto “negative memories.” When anxious, your body is under a lot of stress which can then lead the hippocampus to skink. The hippocampus is the part of your brain that processes long-term and contextual memory. A shrinking hippocampus can make it difficult to hold on to a lot of different memories and information. Because of this, the hippocampus can latch on to the familiarity of stress and anxiety, making negative memories the ones that tend to stick.
Anxiety will also make your brain hyperactive to threats. When dealing with consistent attacks of anxiety consistently, triggering your fight or flight response. An overactive amygdala that sends too many false alarms will result in you feeling constantly anxious and under attack. These symptoms can all lead to a lack of productivity as the brain can find it difficult to process information and complete tasks when it senses that it is in danger.
How Do I Move Through Anxiety and Get Things Done?
Despite the feelings of hopelessness when fighting your anxiety, there are several things you can do to move through those feelings and accomplish your goals. Check out our four top strategies for being more productive even when you are feeling anxious.
Strategy 1: Expect and Accept What You Can Realistically Accomplish
Oftentimes when people are feeling anxious, they overestimate what is a realistic amount of tasks that can be completed in a certain time frame. To combat this, it is important to take a step back, assess the situation, and then look to accept the reality of what you can accomplish. It’s important to remember that completing some of your tasks is better than completing none of your tasks.
Strategy 2: Create A To-Do List With Only Five Action Items
It can be easy to overdo it when creating a to-do list by listing out every little thing that pops into your head. Rather than doing this and immediately becoming, even more, overwhelmed, we recommend you create a realistic to-do list that takes care of your top five priorities. If it helps you to clear your mind, you can create a separate list, with all of the things you were hoping to accomplish, but remember that this list should be discarded or put away once you have decided what today’s five tasks will be.
Strategy 3: Prioritize: Create Your To-Do Lists Based on the Answers to the Following Questions
If you’re having trouble deciding what to prioritize on your to-do list, ask yourself the following question. What is a “must-have accomplished” task vs. “nice-to-have accomplished” task? You’ll want to work on the “must-have” items first.
To further narrow your list, you can ask yourself the following questions.
- What tasks need to be completed today?
- Is there anything that should be complete first because it’s urgent or time-sensitive?
- What tasks must get done so that I can get through the rest of the day?
Strategy 4: Divide Your Tasks and Time Into Small Chunks
When you’re anxious, your mind may be telling you that you won’t be able to accomplish your goals because there is simply too much to do. However, once you have your prioritized to-do list, it becomes much easier. At this point it’s important to do a quick assessment of the time that you have to complete those tasks. In order to avoid overstimulation, you’ll want to break down those tasks into reasonable (and small) chunks of time. Be sure to allow yourself time for breaks to mentally and physically reset between tasks. Pro-tip: Consider setting a timer on your break times. This can help you make sure that you are staying on task.
Strategy 5: Forget About Doing It All Perfectly
This one may be difficult for those who are perfectionists but understand that being a perfectionist is holding you back from accomplishing your goals. As hard as it is to let go of that fear, it’s better to do an average job at something than to do nothing at all. Take a deep breath and focus on the task at hand. Once the first task is completed, it will help create the momentum you need to keep moving forward.
Remember to treat yourself with kindness. Anxiety can lead you to feel outnumbered by tasks that aren’t objectively that difficult to complete. That being said, becoming overly self critical for feeling anxious isn’t going to make it go away. In fact, it can make it a lot worse!
After a long day, it’s important to give yourself a little extra care and space to emotionally recover. Be sure to set aside time to reflect on what you were able to accomplish. This can later serve as a gentle reminder that you are able to get things done, even when you have anxiety. Following that, it’s time to do whatever you enjoy doing, even if that something is nothing at all!
To learn more about how to manage your mental health, check out the link below: