Decision Making Anxiety

Catherine Pratt

This is part 2 in the discussion on anxiety. You can read part 1 here.

In part 1 we looked at how anxiety can be behind procrastination and introduced the Weekes Technique on dealing with anxiety. In this article, we're going to go deeper into the Weekes Technique as well as look at some examples and how decision making can also cause anxiety.

A multi-layered approach

When you first start using the Weekes Method, you'll probably find it works great for some situations. You notice you're feeling anxious, you allow the feelings to come, and you're able to let those feelings go so you can get back to focusing on what you need to do.

You may also start to come across situations which will require what I call a more layered approach. You'll know you need this when you find yourself in front of the tv again and wonder why the Weekes Method isn't working this time or wonder why you weren't able to notice when you started to procrastinate or avoid a task.

How To Tell When You're Dealing With Anxiety

The Weekes Method sounds simple and it is. The most difficult part is often realizing you're feeling anxiety. It can be very subtle and you may not realize at first that what you're feeling is anxiety.

To get past this, start looking at what you're avoiding or what task you're having problems starting. If you find yourself in front of the tv or playing video games, ask yourself if you're avoiding something.

The underlying anxiety often starts with the thought, "I want to do this..." but then you're not actually able to make yourself do it. The tricky part is that you haven't realized the thought of doing the task triggered a feeling of anxiety.

Basically, the best way to know if you're dealing with any type of procrastination or decision making anxiety is:

Any time you find yourself avoiding something or finding yourself wasting time, for example by tv watching or web surfing, you need to look at what you might be avoiding and how it might be causing anxiety and why.

Another tell tale sign may be found in how your body is physically reacting.

You may feel:

  • cramping in your stomach
  • tightness in the chest
  • like you're too wired to sit down and focus
  • jittery or tense
  • a sense of shutting down
  • intense feelings of dread or fear
  • a need to eat anything you can find or maybe food that's comforting to you
  • going "blank". You feel yourself just blanking it all out and the next thing you know the entire day has gone and you're not entirely sure what you did all day.

Everyone is different in how they react to stress and anxiety so you might  feel something completely different but if you start to pay attention to how you feel during the times when you know you're feeling stressed, you'll start to see a pattern.

You'll probably find that you tend to react in the same way when you're dealing with something that's causing you anxiety. Basically, you need to notice when something is different about how you're feeling. Pay attention to any tenseness somewhere in your body.

As soon as you notice the anxiety, you can move on to the next step which is to ask yourself what's scaring you or making you feel anxious about any of the things you want to do but can't get past the procrastination stage. Often you'll be able to get a quick answer about each topic. You know what's making you anxious and you'll see that it's the avoidance that's making the anxiety even worse.

Anxiety - Any time you find yourself avoiding something, for example by tv watching or web surfing, you need to look at what you might be avoiding and how it might be causing anxiety and why.

Identifying More Than One Anxiety

One of the main reasons you may find the Weekes Method not working is if there's more than one anxiety happening at one time. It may cause a shutdown until you process them one by one. It becomes too much to handle all at once and until you break them down, you're not even aware that overwhelm has shut you down.

I'll give you an example. The three big things that will often cause anxiety for me are the following and they tend to all happen at once:

  • Too many decisions
  • Fearing the unknown / uncertainties
  • Magnifying the task

Too Many Decisions / Too Much Anxiety

Let's say you have guests coming to visit and they're going to stay with you for a few days. You know you should clean up and do other things to get ready for their upcoming visit but instead you find yourself doing anything but getting ready.

To deal with this, you start with the first step and realize you're feeling tense about the visit. Maybe your gut feels tight or you have a headache starting. At first, it might not make sense to you as to why you'd even feel anxious at all. You want to see your friends so why would you be feeling anxious?

Keep exploring your feelings and think about what about the visit might be causing you anxiety.

Is it too many decisions? For example when someone comes to stay you might have to think about:

  • What general cleaning do you have to do but also what do you need to do to clean up your guest room?
  • What laundry do you have to do (sheets, towels, etc)?
  • What will you feed them?
  • What will you need to buy at the grocery store?
  • How will you entertain them?
  • What other tasks do you have to get out of the way before they arrive because you won't have time to do then while they're at your house?

There will also be a number of what if thoughts running around in your brain:

  • What if it rains while they're there and you can't do any of the outdoor activities you'd planned?
  • What if they're allergic to your dog?
  • What if they don't like the bed in your guest room?

Just the idea of someone coming to visit might trigger a huge list of things you have to do and a lot of them will require decision making and decision making might cause you great anxiety. 

There's also a deadline, they're arriving on a certain date and time, so this will also add to the fear of will you be able to get everything done on time?

So, numerous decisions are required for the one event, visitors coming to stay, and that can cause you to shut down and start to procrastinate.

You most likely also have other activities happening in your life as well which will add to the feeling of overwhelm. You may not want to deal with any of them so will shut down as a way to cope. All you know is that you can't handle numerous decisions right now.

When you're facing multiple decisions, it's not instantly clear that you're feeling anxiety about them. You'll just know you have a bunch of things to do and don't want to do them. Take this feeling of "not wanting to do them" as a sign that you may be feeling anxiety and may need to process those feelings.

The solution is to break them down into individual issues and process your feelings of anxiety using the Weekes Method with each one.

Another tip is to not beat yourself up for procrastinating. Your task might sound simple, clean up for your guests, but until you take the time to become aware of all the triggers being set off by this one event, you may be slowed down or in a state of paralysis. Be gentle with yourself and listen to your feelings while you process through each anxiety.

Fearing The Unknown / Uncertainties

The other anxiety you may be facing with the same event, visitors coming, is due to there being unknown factors involved.

For example:

  • Do any of your guests have allergies you need to be aware of?
  • What do they normally eat for breakfast?
  • What kind of things do they like doing? How will you entertain them?
  • Will they be comfortable in your guest room?

For some of these uncertainties, you can take action to find out the answers. For example, you could ask your friends if they have any allergies. You just need to figure out what's causing you to feel uncertain and then ask yourself if there's any way to find out the answers.

Other times you just won't know until the time arrives. You can't know what the weather will be like during their visit until the actual day arrives. For unknowns like this, the best solution is often to remind yourself that anxiety is our brains trying to manage scary situations or uncertainties, and oftentimes things are either beyond our control or unknown, so the only answer is to be at peace with that. Know that whatever happens, you'll deal with when it happens. Know that you'll be able to handle whatever comes your way.

Magnifying The Task

Magnifying tasks in your mind will make them appear overwhelming

Your anxiety may become worse when you start to think the task is bigger than it is. You can't face tackling it so you avoid it and by avoiding it, it will grow into something much harder, much more difficult, much more time consuming, much more everything in the back of your mind causing an ever increasing amount of anxiety the longer you avoid it.

As Nathalie Herrman says, "We are faced with something straightforward and relatively simple, and  because of mental associations, projections, and fearful implications, we over-complicate it to the point of procrastination and avoidance, and sometimes even paralysis. We make it out to be something so much more than it is."

How many times have you found that when you actually faced a dreaded task it was nothing compared to what you'd been fearing?

There's a few different ways you could approach solving this issue. The first is to ask yourself if you've let your mind exaggerate any of the tasks. For example, if you really thought about the task, could you get it done in twenty minutes as opposed to the hours and hours your mind may be imagining? How much of your fear or dread about the task is imagined?

You could also use the "What are you willing to do?" procrastination tip which is when you ask yourself what is the smallest part of the job you'd be willing to do which will then allow you to gain some forward momentum with getting the task done.

You could also realize you're feeling anxiety and decide to work on the task anyway. You allow yourself to feel the anxiety and let that be okay but then focus your mind on moving forward with the task. You don't let the anxiety stop you.

More Anxiety Overwhelm Tips

Just Do It

If you're a person who likes to make To Do lists then you may be causing yourself overwhelm anxiety by all the things you have on your list. You see how many things you have to get done and you'll set off procrastination because you're overwhelmed by your list.

To avoid this type of overwhelm anxiety, it may work better for you to decide that certain tasks, especially ones that occur on a regular basis like laundry, you'll do that task when you see it. Don't think about it or put it on your list, just do it. Don't let yourself think about doing it or plan to do it.  You see that the laundry basket is full so you throw it in the washing machine. You see the carpet needs a quick vacuum, so you just do it.  

It's a sort of work-around for anxiety.  You don't even give anxiety a chance to grab hold because you just do it.

Keep Processing

Know that one session of facing your anxiety and processing it may not solve the whole problem. You may have to keep facing it every day for a while, maybe several times a day until you've managed to completely process it and clear it out. Sometimes it just takes time and patience to get down to the real root of the anxiety.

Overcoming Anxiety

In the next part of this series, we're going to look at how invalidation can cause anxiety and also a loss of self-confidence.

Back to Anxiety Series

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