Problem Solving for Anxious People, 15 min at a time

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

In and out. Suck it up and just do it. And and out. Just 30 more min.

What am I thinking of, you’d ask? Going to a battle? Meeting with someone I want to avoid? Breaking in a house?

Nope, nothing like that. And yet, even after these few months, this one small thing still constitutes one of the hardest things I have to do. It’s just some writing, but after months fighting with the idea that either I’m worthless or stupid to get into anything like rape, and finally getting over it, I realize I have other issues.


“I can see no way, I can see no way…”

It takes me a while to realize this, probably the first 6 months after the summer. I guess it was foolish to think that just because the rape was my biggest issue that summer it was the only or the others will resolve themselves.

Everything is hard now, it all just hurts. Yes. A problem is just a problem. Or so they say. But after 4 months of every problem being related to whether the guy living in my house will hurt me that particular night, or even worse- whether I won’t have money to pay my rent in that foreign to me city, and be left on the street to who knows what and with nothing to eat- every problem feels just as big.

Every exam, every task I can’t finish on time, every task that I find difficult at all, produces the feeling of weight on my chest and the feeling of desperation we get when we are aware there is no way out of some situation.

Every tiny, easy problem makes me feel unable to breathe and sure I can never get out of it. And it takes me up until last night to realize, not only is that not a natural way to see problems(or else we would all have heart attack before we get to 30 years old), but that it doesn’t have to be permanent.

I realize in the middle in one rant- one of those in which I feel the problem is insurmountable- that I have been avoiding feeling. Admitting I was scared always turned into hyperventilating or panic attack for these 2 years. I’ve covered up problems for so long, for survival, that now that I don’t need them, I can’t get out of that habit.

I get tense, I panic, I hyperventilate, and I can deal with the problem only about after 2 hours of crying. That’s no way to live. I have to relax, but I see no way.

Things happen. In life, things happen, things you can’t take back, like that summer. Things happen and suddenly you are hyperventilating even at the thought of doing something(like writing) for 15 min, when you have spend years learning how to do it.

The minute I realize that, my body calms, for a first time, before having actually solve the problem. I take a deep breath. It won’t be forever!

Wisdom and therapy

One would think with that wisdom in mind, that the next morning, the next time I face that problem, things will come easier. Of course they don’t. And knowing that they can, doesn’t help. It’s like me thinking that the moment I was able to pronounce the sentence “I was raped” to someone else than me, that was the end of it, when it was just the beginning of my journey.

I’ve spend most of my life thinking that talking about your problems doesn’t solve them, and is therefore waste of time. I only spend the last few months finally talking about my rape because I didn’t see much other option that I hadn’t tried and failed at almost anything else I could think of already.

Results, much as in fitness, only start to come in few months. Months of talking and writing over my issues around the rape, months of reading about rape and PTSD, and months of trying at failing all kinds of other things. And only few months after the initial 3 months, I finally have resolved huge part of the rape- enough to be able to stop crying every morning, breathe normally and feel aaaalmost like a normal person. At least when it comes to that. I still have about 10 other issues around it.

And so now, finally getting back into normal schedule of work and social life, and time for recovery in the middle of it, I get to this issue. Took me these months to realize, it can be changed. Now I have lots of work to resolve it.

But until that moment comes, I still have to deal with my daily problems, preferably without panic attacks or denial.

Step by step

“It’s always darkest before the dawn…”

I know, that’s like the biggest cliche in problem-solving and learning. Take it a step of the time. But may be it’s so because it’s true.

Still, months of reading about doing something step by step, didn’t cover how to do something when the idea of it makes you panicked. I found this few articles, suggesting if you can’t do it for long, do it for an hour. If you can’t do that, do as little as you can. 15 min at a time, 10 min at a time. Yet, most times, I couldn’t find the motivation to get over my anxiety enough to do that for some things. It was okay when I was out of deadlines, and being at my own speed. Now that I’m trying to get my life back together, it’s much more uncomfortable.

Talking doesn’t settle it. The comforting comments of my partner don’t help. The articles I read don’t help. Meditation and relaxing don’t help- well, those I still haven’t managed to do regularly, so who knows.  But, as it usually happens with those things, they don’t work, but you try and try and try, and one day something clicks.

That, for me, for this issue, happens today.

“Even if I finish this task,” I complain to my partner, “I won’t be out of this. Not for very long time.”

“Yes, ” he answers, “but at least it will be one more weight off you, and then going forward will be a little easier.”

I’m sure he has said that before, but it only clicked today. Even as I was struggling with the idea that I can hardly explain to friends why I haven’t worked for 6 months, I still think of this one sentence.

So what if I can’t work 10 hours more today, or may be not even 5 or 3? If I could do just 30 min more, it would still be 30 min less weight of the problem hanging over me. After I have done them, I can bargain with myself for the next 30 min. But either way, whatever happens, I have to wake up tomorrow with a little less problem than I had today.

Or so I pray.

In an out. 30 min. After them I can get back to sulking if I wish. But most likely, I will be so happy of having less problem, that trying the next 30 min will be a little easier.

In and out. I set up a timer, 30 min, so I don’t have to think about it meanwhile. 30 min more work, may be in 2 x 15 min if needed. Just a little less weight to carry forward in that journey. Looked from the outside, this could look pathetic. What are 15 min after all? But after months of moving tiny bit forward, I know something is better than staying in one place.

Just one more corner of a problem, to remove and not have to carry with me as I move forward.

I’m not ready to give up on my journey yet.

Therefore, 15 min is still better then nothing.

Problem-solving tips for anxious people:

1. Let it out – thinking how bad it is doing that, yet reminding yourself that you have to do it, not helping much. If you can, stop for a minute, have a shower, have a walk around the block, meditate, make tea, cry, rant, journal- whatever it is to let out how you feel. Just remember that this doesn’t mean you should procrastinate.

2. Make a list – if you know how the problem can be solved, whether that involves months of tasks(like if you are trying to get fit or get out of debt) or hours(trying to clean up a room or write or something else), write down the tasks needed to be done. If you have no solution yet, take time to brainstorm what can be done and write it down, and choose 1 option. Remember that just because a problem doesn’t have solution that feels good at the moment, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a solution.

3. Do things a bit at a time. Not a task. Not 30 min. Not 15 min. However long you can handle. Let’s imagine that you have to write something that would take you 30 min, but it makes you so anxious that those 30 min seem endless? 10 min won’t change your day that much, but they are a start. I even saw suggestion somewhere about following the work-rest pattern, usually being work 45 min-rest 15. That article suggested that another way would rather be even to do something like 8 min work and then rest 2 min. So if you have to write, even if you stare at the blank screen for 8 min and write nothing, it’s something. Listen to a song you love for 2 min. Try again. Next time, you may write few sentences. I mean, it’s just 8 min, what do you have to loose? You may not write the rest 22 min at that moment, but at least the next time you get to it, you have 8 min less work.

4. Do your worst. Yes, not kidding. Do your worst. For long time I struggled with writing because I was trying to write WELL. Every sentence took a while. Before university, no one thought me to edit. So in university, not only did I take the time to try to write well, but then had to edit myself anyway, because I was still learning(I still am). If you have a huge project that could work this way, do it someway, any way, not necessarily well. If you are writing, it may at first be a rough draft. It may completely suck. You still have few edits to do over it, and get it to not sucking. But once you have the amount of words needed put black on white, it’s much easier to continue, because you can see half of the work is already done. If you are afraid to cook because you are bad at it, do it anyway. You will burn something 10 times, or 30, or 50, and eventually you will learn not to. Or if you are lucky you will have a decent meal the first time around.

Point is, something is better than nothing, and it can help you move forward and remember that INSURMOUNTABLE, IMPOSSIBLE task is just a task, and will eventually be just a memory. And it can be defeated. And think of how good that will feel!


One thought on “Problem Solving for Anxious People, 15 min at a time

  1. Jessie says:

    I loooove the ‘do it worst’ advice. It really works. Takes the pressure off. : ) I call it ‘not trying.’

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