I’ve been doing some deep work related to healing over the last several months. What I’ve realized is that I have been the one responsible for creating all the drama and anxiety in my life. For anyone dealing with anxiety, this is a huge admission—and it has been extremely cathartic.
Most of my life I have lived in a constant state of, “I have to do X” and I would let it repeat over and over in my mind, running wild. The effect was nearly devastating to me. My brain was stretched to the maximum, I felt angry, I felt exhausted, and I would inevitably forget things—and if I forgot something, my word did I lose it. I’d never forgive myself. So then I would also carry the weight of simply forgetting something minor as a failure for absolutely no reason. And the cycle would repeat and repeat.
I started looking at my other habits and realized that a lot of this was part of my personality. In an effort to be accepted and to prove I was doing “enough” I realized I was taking on too much. Project after project, commitment after commitment. And then in my down time, I would crash so the important things were not getting done—the things that were important to me. THIS is what created the exhaustion and overwhelm. I was there for everyone but myself and I realized that I was expecting them to pick up for me like I did for them. Naturally I’d feel taken advantage of and cycle into anger. And the truth is simple: not everyone will be there for you as you are there for them so choose how you spend your energy wisely.
And that is what I started doing and THAT was a game changer for me. The things I need to accomplish are a priority and where there is time left, that is when I look at anything else. For anyone else who is a people pleaser, you know how monumental this move is. This is the moment that you take control back of your life.
So I started simply by writing things down that I didn’t want to forget. It helped because I had a clear indicator of what I had to do rather than rely on my brain to remember everything. Can you guess what happened next? That’s right: Inevitably the list would spiral out of control. I had to simplify. I had to admit my humanity and understand that I couldn’t do it all—or at least I couldn’t do it all right now. In order to see progress, I would have to focus.
I had been working from a state of scattered attention so I took the time to write down EVERY little task that I wanted to accomplish—everything from caulking the tub to looking at business school. Then I categorized each task (health, business, home projects etc.). For anything that didn’t fit into a category, I asked if this is something that needs to be added to the list at all. If I was able to fit it in I did, if not it went to a side pile—and then I got to work. I want to add that this process took a lot out of me as well. Having spent years working on things for others, my to-do list always came from other people. Coming up with what really mattered to ME and deciding what I want to do from there was a journey of its own for this people-pleaser. But the unfolding process of finding what really matters to me is beautiful because I am reacquainting with myself and finding the pieces of myself that I’d left for “someday”—and I realized that “someday” is today. No one else was going to do it for me.
This process has been incredibly successful for me. It took a lot of trial and error for me to settle on this route and it took accepting my role in my current state. I was overcomplicating my life with everything I tried to fit in and spinning in circles rather than taking the right action steps. I also realized that simply getting done what needed to get done rather than putting it off “because I have time” changes things too—and yes that habit also contributed to my anxiety. Side note: I will admit that the anxiety is still there but it abates much more easily and far more completely than it used to—and it isn’t as cyclical, it has more to do with my lack of patience. So in those moments, I try to pause and reflect and simply refocus my attention. I’m not interested in wasting energy any longer so in those anxious moments the redirect is key.
My goal is to improve my life, not to waste it with anxious thoughts and regret of what I didn’t do. That means moving forward and DOING the work—and there is nothing like taking down a completed sticky note. The tasks on those notes are not things that can be done in one day so when it happens, it is a big deal and it is an indicator of progress. I feel a genuine sense of calm and even a little bit of pride when I am able to take one down. It helps me get clearer and clearer on where I am going and what I want my life to look like. And I feel peace knowing that those actions are getting me closer to where I want to be.