Prioritizing your anxiety may seem like counterintuitive, or even neurotic. After all, we tend to want our anxieties to disappear, rather than fall further down on our priority list. And is a list
really going to calm you down?
The fact is, doing away with anxiety is a process, so prioritizing your anxieties (both big and small), can go a long way toward helping you regain control.
Worries, fears, and panic attacks can be downright paralyzing, but there are ways to minimize them and move past them, and being organized can help. If you’ve been finding it hard to come up for air, here are 3 steps for prioritizing your anxiety and regaining some control:
1. Make an actual list of your anxieties
It doesn’t take long. Take 5-10 minutes to dump all your anxieties onto paper. Relationship problems, work stresses, money trouble; anxieties that seem baseless as well as those that feel very well-founded. This act of unloading will eliminate the pressure caused by keeping everything tidily bopping around in your head, and your mind will be freed up to focus on other things—like the present moment, for example.
For some, the use of numbers, bullet points, or well-organized columns may add to the calming effect of this exercise. Others may find a diagram or colourful web better suits their style. The important part is to jot down anxieties as you experience them. Maybe you’ll find it useful to continually update a whiteboard, or maybe you’ll turn your list into a journal.
Patterns may start emerging: are you more anxious at certain times of day or under particular circumstances? You may choose to record the circumstances off each entry to generate even more fruitful self-data.
2. Prioritize actionable anxieties — and then address them
Once you have your list, go ahead and prioritize your anxieties. Which ones can be acted on? Which ones feel urgent? Which ones feel irrational? Which ones can probably wait? Can anything be eliminated?
Create concrete tasks for any actionable anxieties, and if it feels right, set deadlines for those tasks (without stressing about them). Doing this will allow you to free up the mental effort you were spending (possibly unawares) on trying to grasp multiple threads at once.
By reframing your anxieties on an actual to-do list, you make it possible to knock items off your list altogether, while simultaneously learning a thing or two about what it is that actually matters most to you.
3. Use your new self-knowledge to regain control
The effectiveness of the anxiety list lies in its simplicity. You can return to it anytime to reevaluate which of your fears are most debilitating and which are merely frustrating. Consult it regularly and downsize or cross things off as you complete tasks or as your priorities evolve. Eventually, you may find your list has been downsized to include only those things that contribute most to your anxiety.
Keep your list handy for when you need a priority check or a reminder of sorts. If you find yourself agonizing over something you crossed out, remind yourself of the reasons it was struck from your list to begin with.
The anxious among us tend to get down on ourselves for, well, feeling anxious. But when you’re already stressed, the last thing you need is your own harsh voice judging you. Instead, why not accept how you feel, and simply observe it? You may even come to objectively discover the source(s) of your anxiety.
Developing this habit of self-observation over time, you may begin to discover your own personal patterns— the ones that lead to your anxiety. Since self-knowledge is power, this can be extremely helpful in transcending and even preventing harmful, spiralling anxieties while facilitating action on those anxieties that are legitimately warning you of danger.
Once your self-knowledge has empowered you, control will be within your grasp again.