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The Effect of Urgency on Anxiety

Anxiety will tell you that everything is urgent.

Key points

  • Though essential, self-care may lack urgency, which makes it tempting to push it aside.
  • Immediately responding to requests teaches people to be impatient and expect your immediate response.
  • Planning for the day ahead can help you be more intentional with your life.
Source: Pexels/Lukas

We’re all familiar with the following scenario: You're wrapping up the work day when you get a last-minute email with an urgent request. There is a surge in anxiety and resentment as you feel the pressure to drop everything to attend to the request. The reward for going the extra mile is staying late at work and missing precious time with loved ones.

This example highlights the relationship between urgency and anxiety. There is a positive feedback loop between the two variables. A sense of urgency increases anxiety. At the same time, anxiety will you that everything is urgent. It treats your worries as imminent and inevitable if they have a low probability of occurrence.

This relationship serves its purpose. If your house is on fire, a sense of urgency is of utter importance. The surge of anxiety will help you gather loved ones and precious belongings in a timely manner.

One problem is that many matters are deemed urgent when they are not. Technological advancements, such as email and smartphones, have accelerated life and obliterated boundaries. As a result, people have grown impatient and are unwilling to wait for even the most trivial matters.

Another problem is the apparent friction between matters of urgency and importance. Even though some tasks are not urgent, they are important. Healthy habits such as preparing nutritious meals, exercising, and spending time with loved ones are not necessarily urgent. It is not the end of the world if, for one day, you skip a workout, grab a burger from a drive-thru or skip a family gathering. However, over a period of time, not tending to your health or loved ones will come at a great cost.

Finally, we often confuse the completion of menial tasks with being productive. Constantly checking your email and cleaning up the inbox provides the illusion that you accomplished something. The truth is menial tasks are a mere distraction from completing more important and time-consuming tasks.

Anxiety will remain high if you reflexively react to everything that life throws at you. At the same time, your productivity will suffer from the constant distractions.

There are certainly times when you have to drop everything to attend to an urgent and important matter. A sick child, a loved one in an accident, a natural disaster or financial challenges are anxiety-provoking situations that warrant your undivided attention.

Otherwise, distinguishing between matters of urgency and importance is an essential skill for managing anxiety and being productive. Here are some tips to help.

1. Plan Ahead

Spend a few minutes to plan for the day ahead. This will help you be more intentional. Your To-Do List may contain a dozen tasks, but you can realistically complete only a few. Prioritize tasks based on their level of importance.

Reflect on the following statement to help with deciding between tasks: “I will feel good if I complete the following two to three tasks.”

2. Press Pause

You are constantly blitzed with countless asks as you do your best to balance competing work, family, and social demands.

There is an urge to immediately respond to every request in a desperate attempt to get things done and have some sense of control in your hectic life. This behavior only teaches people to be impatient and expect your immediate response.

Give yourself permission to press pause before responding. People can learn to wait. You will be amazed at how often tasks are magically completed when people have to come up with solutions of their own.

3. Designate Time

Being intentional with your time can help you have a greater sense of control over your day. In your calendar, reserve time for different responsibilities and communicate your availability.

As a personal example, weekends are a time to catch up with family. I rarely have my phone on me to reduce the likelihood of being distracted when I am with loved ones.

At the same time, I designate uninterrupted time during the weekends for writing because I find it fulfilling. Writing takes a back seat to family time which is the priority. However, I do find some time for writing after family time has been accounted for, even if it means waking up before the kids on a Saturday morning.

4. Prioritize Yourself

Self-care sounds simple but is hard to implement. One reason is that despite its importance, self-care lacks a sense of urgency which makes it easier to push aside.

Prioritize yourself by allocating uninterrupted time for activities that promote your physical and mental health. Striving to become a better version of yourself will benefit not only you but those around you.

5. Have Realistic Expectations

The truth is that your To-Do List will never be complete. There are not enough hours in the day. Something will unexpectedly make its way on your list.

Remember to be fair to yourself by having realistic expectations of yourself. There is no shame if you can’t complete everything. Giving yourself some grace can be an antidote to anxiety.

More from Dimitrios Tsatiris M.D.
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