Anxiety, time and I: Refusing to give up happy moments for a deadline
By Erin Botten
Some mornings, I wake up in pain. My shoulders are hunched up, and my chest is tight. In fact, everything is tight. I snooze my alarm, giving up my ambition for a grand productive morning that I had romanticised the night before. I have an essay due – a big one. And a presentation, and some documents. But all I want to do is stay in bed, waving off the surges of guilt and growing pain.
Eventually, after an hour of intermittent daydreams, social scrolling and tossing about, I do in fact get up. Another hour and a half after that, I might (just maybe) be ready to start my dreaded work. This happens a lot: the internal fighting of what I’m actually doing vs what I should be doing, and why am I taking so long and procrastinating – get up! It’s deadline season, you don’t have time for this!
Time is something that I now see as a luxury – the things I could do if I just had a little more time. I romanticise the notion of time in the same way I romanticise summer, reading and men, being under the delusion that with just a little extra time everything would be better.
The irony is, during COVID, whilst everyone was embarking on University and navigating Zoom, I had that luxury of time, and I was not as productive as I thought I would be.
I’d been furloughed by work, opting for a gap year instead of university, and speaking to a guy. Initially, I painted, basked in the spring sunlight, and occasionally read. The problem was, I had no deadlines, just time. The irony of it all? The same pain, that tense suffocating sensation running through my back and chest, woke me each morning even then, even with no deadlines.
So, what do I do? That’s the question I’m asked over and over again by various counselling organisations: “What stops you from x?” and “So what are your aids to help you through it?” My answer?: I just get on with it. I.e. nothing, I ignore it, because I don’t know what else to do.
But as I’m sat here, in Ali G on a gorgeous sunny day, it’s got me thinking, what should I do? I’m currently writing this, avoiding writing two paragraphs on Marcus Garvey’s and W.E.B. Du Bois’ approaches to education and black liberation for my long essay/ IRP – a SALC privilege. That in itself has been wearing me out, and in my mind, I haven’t even gotten started!
But that’s where I catch myself in a lie – I have gotten started…I’ve done so much… I’ve made 30 pages of notes on my reading (too much, I know this now), finally submitted my 1,000-word review, and have more than enough time to get this done. See, what I’ve realised about anxiety is the constant lies that it runs on.
‘I haven’t got enough time!’ – yes you do. ‘I’m wasting time just lying here in bed!’ – no you’re not. ‘I feel so overwhelmed I just don’t know where to start!’ – that’s okay. Everything is truly, and honestly, going to be okay because these anxieties I have are really just a bunch of lies.
That helped a little, initially, but the pain is still there as if symbolising the deadlines looming over me. Why? Because in the panic and romanticisation of time, I refused to give myself any. Every day I worked, or thought I should, in order to conquer this deadline and get a grade I’d be proud of.
Again, the irony is, by the time the deadline comes around, I’m burnt out. I no longer care if I get a good grade or not, I just want it done. It is only then, after spending daily hours relentlessly writing and reading only to give up right at the end, do I waste my time.
So, what should I do? Realistically, without the unhealthy romanticisation of time which stems from the notion that productivity is everything, and procrastination is the devil. Well, take some time! And enjoy it.
What does this mean, taking time? Well, for me, it means, by choice (and not burnout) not feeling guilty about spending time for myself as opposed to my deadline. I do not need to work every day, or even start in the morning. In fact, it’ll be better if I don’t. By not trying so hard to be productive, forcing and convincing myself to work when I know I don’t want to, is more productive. I’m energised, relished and happy – an ideal state of mind to achieve that first.
It’s hard, with anxiety, just give up these impulsive and unhealthy feelings of guilt and shame when it comes to approaching deadlines with limited time left. I’m still battling it. However, these are a few things I’ve found that help me reset and ignore all the background noise in my mind.
When are you happiest?
I’m not a morning person or an evening person. I’m an afternoon person. That means I enjoy my lie-ins until 10am, and I’m pining for dinner by 7pm. My best time to work is 1-6pm, because even when I try and work in the morning (to ‘maximise my time’) I ultimately faff until 1pm.
Realising I’m an afternoon girlie means I can ultimately spend my work mornings hyping myself up. This morning, for example, I read my book (in bed obviously), did my makeup whilst eating breakfast (personal preference) and did the laundry. For me, that is an ideal happy morning, peacefully taking my time without a sense of dread or guilt.
Learning your turn-offs
What helps me shut off, blocking out those irritating lies my anxiety wants me to believe? TV.
I love TV, so much so that I wrote a list of the best exam-season TV to enjoy and rewind to. It’s all-consuming, investing in fictional dramas or distant lives, eager to know what happens next. At the moment, I’ve been watching You, with the appearance of Joe Goldberg (not the murder habits…) working wonders as a turn-off.
Sometimes, at the end of the day, I want a screen break. For this, I conduct a little bit of self-care.
Books, nail painting, face masks, long hair washes, yoga, four-hour naps, baths – these are routines I usually feel guilty about. But, without them, I burn out quicker, causing me more pain in the long run.
If my anxiety is really bad, and my turn-offs don’t work, I turn to CBD gummies. This helped remove the pain and within the hour I’m so happy. Maybe not the best idea for lectures (apparently I was a little too happy according to a friend) but you get the gist. Finding something to take the edge off, like a glass of wine or vape, can help as long as their consumption isn’t abused.
I still wake up in pain some mornings and feel bad for being in bed after 10am, but I’d be a hypocrite to say anxiety is easy to make go away. It is hard and persistent, but ultimately a liar. And that’s something I need to remember. I can enjoy my time and still meet my deadline, without sacrificing my happy moments to do so.
In the meantime, enjoy this piece of TV gold I think about when I’m anxious…”It’s anxiety, Sandy!”