Living Deliberately Despite Anxiety

If Depression is a narcotic, Anxiety is a stimulant—Anxiety is a neural cocktail of cocaine and ecstasy, panic attacks an overdose.

By “living deliberately,” I mean purposely doing less than you think you should do but, as a result, getting more effectively done. I mean being picky about what you spend your time on, doing only that which will help you and your mental health.

Getting into this mindset is a wonderful thing. Life seems to slow down a bit, you seem to have more options and more time, and you excel at the things you carefully choose to spend your energy doing.

Stop Expecting So Much of Yourself

A couple years ago, I was always pre-occupied with reducing my anxiety. I felt like it negatively influenced my quality of life. I thought if I got rid of my anxiety, I would get better grades, people would like me better, and I’d be happier.

And so, naturally, I spent long amounts of time doing research and trying to get myself to do things I thought would help.

I wanted to be rid of anxiety quickly. I would give myself month-long “challenges,” where I would track my progress with clearing out the fear that bogged me down. Obviously, I never once actually stuck to one of these challenges, because after a few days of no change, I would grow frustrated and try something else.

So most days for a few years, I would have these huge to-do lists: they looked something like this:

  • Meditate
  • Journal
  • Yoga
  • Exercise for 20 minutes
  • Finish math homework
  • Work on English essay
  • Drink tea
  • Finish science lab–30 minutes
  • Do something to relax before bed

If your to-do lists, physical or mental, looks like this, I can tell you for certain that you’re ambitious. And that’s valuable. You are a really cool kind of person because of it.

That being said, this to-do list is too much too quickly. Whenever I would look at a to-do list like this, I would be struck with the certainty that I was unable to do it.

Some days, I could stay on top of everything and get a whole lot done by working steadily and maintaining the anxiety I felt. But I could only actually do that for a couple days at a time before getting absolutely overwhelmed.

The way to have a more consistent and steady kind of productivity is by slowing down. We all understand that biting off more than we can chew will lead to more anxiety: we were taught this in the tortoise and the hare.

Be the tortoise

I can say that, from my own experience, the slower you progress, the more sure it will be.

So you’ll have to be patient with yourself. If you want to live more deliberately, you need to slim down your expectations of yourself, at least for a while.

Getting Yourself to Slow Down

It’s hard to plan for tomorrow, recognize that you’re not doing all you could be doing, and letting yourself be. But it’s necessary, because growth doesn’t happen overnight.

This impatience is like if someone who lifted weights was frustrated that they couldn’t bench 300 pounds on their first try. It doesn’t make sense; if you want to get to where you want to be, you have to be patient and work up slowly.

But we want to stop being anxious now; we want to be socially confident now; we need men and women to swoon over us now. But that’s ridiculous, impossible, and you’d be setting yourself up for failure. And the truth is, you don’t need anything now, because you’ve been living without these things for long enough. If you actually want those things, you should be willing to wait for them.

When you start slow, you let yourself acclimate to increasing asks.

There was one thing I can remember I did that spurred growth leaps and bounds past the original effort. I tried meditating for 30 days straight.

That’s it. I asked nothing more of myself—no other goals, not even any other mental health improvement strategies.

But by making my simple, small goal so concrete, I was able to accomplish it by tracking each day in a calendar. And with that tiny bit of effort, 10 minutes a day, I noticed that I felt significantly better.

So I added on journaling, and did them together for 30 days. And that’s it. Sure I had other problems in my life that I impatiently wanted to address, but I just let them sit. Because I knew that with this slow and sure progress, I’d get there eventually.

So instead of trying to become a perfectly stable person in a week’s time like I had been doing, I let the process take months instead. Our lives are around 75 years long—so what if it takes 2 of them to become a better and more capable person? This extra time allowed me to reflect more closely on what I was doing. I was deliberate with what I did. It wasn’t a lot, but it wasn’t ambiguous, so it made me happier.

Things You Can Do to Make Slow Progress

Fast progress isn’t real, and when it comes to mental health, if it feels like it is, you’ll find that it’s very short lived.

You can handle slow progress—you may have to make the conscious choice to keep living with that anxiety, but at least this way, you know you’ll find your way to a better place, eventually. Here are some things you can do to live more deliberately.

  • Eat without watching or listening to anything
  • Self-care routine in the morning (nothing crazy, just consistent)
  • Add one new positive habit at a time (overloading is taking two steps back)
  • Read for an amount of time that challenges you
  • Avoid multi-tasking

Taking progress slow is hard because we all want to just be the person of our dreams. But when you force yourself to slow down, you’ll make a more steady and long-lasting progress, and you’ll probably realize that you’re much closer to the person of your dreams than you think you are.

Benefits of this Mindset

For me, focusing on less has let me stop feeling like a slave to time—it’s odd, and maybe even rare in the 21st century, but I often feel like I have too much time. And that’s much better than the opposite because it lets me evaluate what more I can get done and do it.

My days no longer blur together; I feel some sense of structure.

I can find some kind of enjoyment in many things I do, because the idea that everything is slowly shaping the person I am is exciting to me.

Best of all, I don’t feel rushed anymore. Of course there’s always deadlines that I need to worry about, but I make slow and steady progress toward them before they come near.

Pick something to do every day for a month. One thing. Don’t get more ambitious than that because then you’ll always wonder if you could be doing more. Track the activity for a month. After that’s over, add just a little something else. Do whatever you want, but when it comes to growth, it’s much more productive to think about months and years than mere days.

If you have any suggestions or comments, don’t hesitate to message me. If you need someone to help keep you accountable in the activity you chose, text me—my phone number is under the “contact” section of this website.

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