Anxious mind? Try list-making

Let’s take a minute to imagine the inner workings of the anxious mind: fears, an overactive fight-or-flight response, racing thoughts, and much more. As someone living with an anxiety disorder, these are all thoughts, behaviors, and feelings that I experience on an almost daily basis. List making is a skill that I’ve used in my own life to help manage the racing thoughts.

I chose this topic because it has had such an impact in my life and has become a skill that I encourage my therapy clients to try. While this post focuses on anxiety in particular, the ideas can be used by anyone. Life is hard. The demands and expectations of our professional and personal lives can become overwhelming for anyone.

When all of these demands are swirling around in your head, making a list and putting these thoughts into one physical place allows your mind to take a break. Instead of ruminating about everything that needs to get done, you simply remind yourself that it’s on the list and that you’ll handle everything one item at a time.

TYPES OF LISTS

To-do lists can vary based on your needs. You can keep them on your phone’s notepad, on a paper pad, on post-it notes, on a calendar, in an agenda, etc. Choose a type of listing that works best for you. I use a variety for different purposes; for example, I use a daily agenda (paper) for my job and a whiteboard to manage tasks that my employees need to complete. I use my phone’s notepad for non-work to-do lists. I have a separate notebook (paper) where I keep various lists regarding writing topics. For long term deadlines/tasks that will come up, I use my Google calendar and set it to email me a reminder in advance. It’s safe to say that lists and organization are my jam!

With that being said, there’s no need to have several lists like I do in order to enjoy the benefits. Start off with just one list and see how it goes.

RULES FOR USING LISTS

  • You may not be able to complete it all in one day. Don’t place unrealistic goals on yourself. (I struggle with this one)
  • Prioritize- Take care of the essentials first.
  • Delegate- Are there others that can handle some of the tasks on the list? (I also struggle with this one)
  • Something new come to mind? Add it to the list and keep working on what you were doing.

BIG PICTURE VS. THE HERE-AND-NOW

Warning! When you list out everything that needs to be done, your anxious mind might turn on you! Looking at the list in its entirety can be quite daunting. You might start to think, “Oh gosh, I’m never going to get this stuff done in time” or “This is too much to handle.”

While there’s no avoiding the amount of stuff that needs to get done, looking at the list too much can be counterproductive. Remember: in most cases, you can only do one thing a time. To avoid getting overwhelmed, just pick the most important item and focus on getting that task done. There’s nothing more satisfying than crossing something off the list.

CONCLUSION

While it’s such a simple skill to help manage anxiety, list-making can become a powerful tool that can keep you organized and will hopefully prevent you from becoming overwhelmed.

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