I am a stressful person. Not because I work a fancy corporate job or have children, but simply in my nature. It stems from my personality disorder for sure, but it is also a large aspect of how I simply to react to things. I quickly become overwhelmed, even by nice things like holidays or seeing friends. Alongside being a stressful person, I am a highly ambitious one. A dangerous combination to say the least.
Anxiety arrives quickly to my mind. I want to write more, but I already feel so busy. I’m not seeing my friends often enough. I’m not living my life to the full extent. I want to read more books to become a better writer. I want to cook healthier meals. I want to exercise more. I won’t keep going, but just know that the full list could be an article of its own. The point is that I have so much that I want to do, yet the smallest amount of to do’s can throw me into a spiral of anxiety and pressure.
Until one day, I discovered the solution. I don’t know where it came from. I listen to a lot of podcasts and read articles about productivity and how to write more. I like to make schedules, and I was looking down at this daily schedule, and I realised something important. There is enough time in my day to do all these things, to balance all the aspects I want to grow or continue in. The time is present, and I just need to make sure that I am using it.
Since that day, when I feel overwhelmed, which happens far too easily, I pause. I pause for a moment and tell myself the following.
That sentence has been the key to controlling my stress and achieving more than I ever thought was possible. There is enough time in your day to complete all the tasks that you need to. There is enough time before your deadline to finish that essay. Consider how many hours a day you are awake for, minus a few for eating, washing etc. There is time leftover. The key is finding that time and conquering it.
1. Control. This puts you back in the driver’s seat. It is empowering to know that you have the resources; you just need to source and secure them. When things pile up, it is easy to feel a lack of control, which is one of the key roots of anxiety. But this phrase is self-centred, it is about what you can do, and the fact that you can do this.
2. Possibility. By recognising that the time is present in your day, you acknowledge that your task is no longer impossible. That managing to write your novel alongside your job will be difficult, but not impossible. You are no longer reducing yourself to imagined limits.
3. Not if, but how. You stop focusing on what your tasks are or how many of them you have, and instead, you look at solutions. This sentence is solution-based, it is considering where the time will come from. When will you write or exercise? Choose that time slot, and you have several to pick from.
4. Planning. This phrase focuses on time, as time is the key root of many of our struggles. Often imagined, as we pretend that we don’t have time when in reality we have time but don’t want to make sacrifices. And that’s okay, that a choice of priority. But if you want to do something, it is about planning it in. This phrase is the first step to making a plan. To sit down, look at your schedule and find the time that you need.
5. A mantra. People often use words of affirmation, a mantra or another technique to calm themselves. This has inadvertently become my version. I have used it so often and felt the relief that ensues that now I connect it to that relief. This phrase is my turning moment to stop freaking out and start doing. We all need a bit of freaking out, so give yourself that time. But also know when to stop, say these words and then make them happen.
It works differently for everyone. My partner doesn’t like the accountability that this phrase places on them, I wouldn’t call that not working, but it means that he won’t use it. But for me, this phrase has been a turning point. It is when I stop stressing out, take a breath and then take responsibility for my future. I have so many things that I want to do. I want to write books, actually get published. I want to run another half-marathon, and one day a full one. I want to read thirty five books this year. I want to see friends and make sure they remember that I still exist. I want to have it all. And this phrase reminds me that I can. Sacrifices need to be made, and your body needs rest, so always give it. But don’t claim that you don’t have time to make your ambitions happen. You have the time, you just need to find it.
1. To find your spare time, you first need to discover your time used. Track your days for a week. Work out your general habits, your routine. Write this all down on a weekly schedule and then look at it.
2. Now consider how you want your schedule to look. How often would you like to see friends? How many hours do you want to dedicate to exercise a week? Plan your ideal schedule in a world without limitations. But also consider your health with it, such as how much sleep you really require.
3. Find your windows of time. Maybe it is after work, and before dinner, there is a nice slot that is so often overused. Perhaps it is waking up an hour earlier and writing for an hour. It could be your lunch break at the office when you could find a quiet corner to read more. Or you could dedicate one of the weekend days to your ambitions, and let yourself have evenings off during the week. But windows isn’t just those large ones, it is also the small moments. I read for twenty minutes before bed every single night. It’s easy to do, and time I would never use productively anyways. This lets me read far more books than before. Consider your commute if you have one, do you spend bus rides on your phone? Could you walk or bike to achieve your exercise goal in that time?
4. Make it a chore until it is a habit. Force yourself to dedicate specific times to things and then follow through. Make yourself follow-through, and one day it will come naturally. It can be helpful to track each day in a row that you do the desired behaviour at the time, as then you’ll resist breaking your streak. Or you could add an app on your phone to track how long you’re on it, and block you off when you reach a certain time on apps. Make it easy for yourself to do it. If you want to wake up earlier to fit in a workout, then have your clothes ready, have your phone out of reach. The hardest part is starting; once you’re a few minutes in, you have no trouble finishing.
5. Look after yourself. This phrase is not intended for you to bully yourself with. It is holding yourself accountable, but more than that, it is a reminder that you can be calm. That you don’t have to choose between friends and work, because you can do both. That you don’t have to beat yourself up for a weekend off, because the time is present in your weekdays.
We often have such a mixed relationship with time. It can be a freeing concept, like when you wake up at 4am and realise you have a few hours left to sleep more. It can be a suffocating concept, like when you realise you can't finish everything you planned to do today. But whatever our relationship with time, it's one we opt for, it's how we choose to see it.
That extends to how we literally view time as well. It can be a hurried glance on your phone, or it can be taking the time to check the watch on your wrist. Even that watch is a choice of time. You may opt for a Rolex GMT Master II as a sign of your success, not even to others, but to yourself. You worked for this. You deserve to enjoy the fruits of your labour rather than saving for a future that not all of us are entitled to. Or you could be like my sister, who treasures the simple watch my father bought her a year before he passed. Styles change, and the luxuries of watches as well, but for her it's like carrying him with her, it's a reminder that she's using the time he didn't have.
Time doesn't have to scare us, it can free us.
This simple phrase gave me back the reigns to my day. It allowed me to stop being so scared of my growing schedule and ticking clock, because I have the time that I need. I was able to cut useless moments but also plan in the special ones that make me feel good. For example, I finish work at 5.30 pm and try to write until 6.30 pm. Then I stop and cook dinner, watching a show or listening to music while I do. I get to take my time, enjoying myself while I chop vegetables. And I know I used the time when I could be productive, and now I don’t have to. I try to wake up at 6.30 am every morning, because it lets me relax after dinner and watch shows or chat with friends, I’ve done my productive time.
When stress creeps in, you just need to remind yourself of the truth. And the truth is:
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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