Mental Chaos and Low Productivity: Living With Time Anxiety in a Non-Stop World

My mind goes through periods in which it is vulnerable to feeling a little cluttered; it fills up with erratic thoughts competing to be the centre of attention, somehow fighting with each other but also working together to form a barrier between reality and clarity.

This means that when I’m going through one of these times, I find it hard to carry through thought processes or focus on one thing. I get irritable or emotional ten times faster and my patience cowers in a corner with rationality, overshadowed by an overflowing, overwhelming monster, trampling any sign of productivity or routine in a temper tantrum.

I lose sight of what I need to get done that week, or even that day. I catastrophise easily. Suddenly everything is Something with a capital S: a big deal, a hurtling train of thoughts, a problem that needs solving now.

Taking a step back led me to the realisation that most of these things weren’t problems to solve individually, but symptoms of an anxiety surrounding time management, prioritisation and organisation. It is terribly easy to get caught up in living in fast forward, especially when everyone else’s lives are so visible, and accessible, at all times. Social media is a huge catalyst for what the internet is telling me is known as chronophobia: a persistent, abnormal and unwarranted fear of time, or the passing of time.

It seems there are lots of different aspects to this label, so for the purposes of this post, I’ll refer to my experiences as time anxiety. You’ll relate to this if you’ve ever had thoughts such as ‘it’s 5pm, I haven’t done enough today to justify how late it is‘, or if a feeling of guilt elbows its way in after an afternoon of down time, reading a book or having a movie marathon. A feeling of ‘I should maximise the amount of time I have‘, and a difficulty in getting yourself to relax.

Ironically, when I’m going through a week with this mindset, I get a lot less done. I have less concentration and too much of my energy goes into worrying about not making the most of my time, instead of making the most of my time. I can’t get myself to chill out, so my hyperaware mind goes into denial. In these moments, I desperately want to do something productive but I’m too stressed out and tired to do this effectively. Therefore, I’ll end up in the pit of procrastination, or stubbornly staying up too late because I’m still waiting to make the most of the day and can’t face it having to end.

Of course this is problematic, and very unhelpful. Which is why an awareness of these feelings and behaviours is a great place to begin fixing the problem. I don’t see this aspect of anxiety discussed much, or maybe it’s not as prevalent, but my visceral feeling is that a lot of other people have these sensations too. In a society where we’re expected to be in two places at once, successfully doing ten things before the hour’s up, I can’t believe I’m alone in feeling like this.

Our multitasking world, in which everyone always has to be switched on and available, seems like the perfect breeding ground for sensitive people to become anxious in relation to time management, and overstimulated to do something about it: to the point where they’re incapacitated with panic over the thought of having to decide how to carve up their time.

Although I still have days in which behaviours born out of time anxiety persist, I have become a lot better at noticing when these feelings are encroaching on my vision, like black spots before fainting, and generally manage to implement techniques to stop the metaphorical blacking out.

If people are interested, I’ll cover some of these ways of dealing with time anxiety in a future post. Let me know in the comments if this is something you’d like to read!


If you enjoyed this, you might like:

You Don’t Have To Eat Oysters: An Open Letter to Myself About Making Decisions

Misunderstanding My Anxiety

From Distance Learning to Physical Uni: How My Mental Health Directs Change


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17 thoughts on “Mental Chaos and Low Productivity: Living With Time Anxiety in a Non-Stop World

  1. questionsfromateenager says:

    This is singing to me! Such a great post. More often than not I will find myself lying awake in the middle of the night, worrying. About things I have to do, things I didn’t do… Basically about every aspect of my life. It can become so overwhelming sometimes that I am unable to fall asleep – it’s almost like my body is paralysed by the weight of it all and each minute that goes by is another force pulling me down. Ugh I just hate it. And the worst part about it is that the next day I am too exhausted to be productive. So it’s this cycle that is extremely hard to break and because of that it’s hard to enjoy the present.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alys says:

      YES, that’s exactly the feeling I was trying to capture in this post. It can really be debilitating but I don’t feel like I’ve seen it talked about much. It can be an extremely vicious cycle. It’s nice to know someone else feels this too, although I wish you didn’t because it’s not at all pleasant. Thanks for your comment lovely x

      Liked by 1 person

      • questionsfromateenager says:

        I think that it can be very hard to relate to it understand if you have never experienced something like that before. A lot of my friends will just tell me to “stop overthinking everything so much” and I know they are saying it out of a place of love but it’s not a switch you can simply turn off when you please. So sadly, I think it isn’t talked about so much because it can be a very isolating feeling – like you’re stuck in it all alone. And you’re so kind for saying that, here’s to hoping it won’t occur too often! (for both of us) xx

        Liked by 2 people

      • Alys says:

        Yes that’s exactly it. It can be a hard place to be in, and I think can easily lead to negative feelings about yourself which might be harder to share with others. Yeah, hopefully! xx

        Liked by 1 person

  2. whatismaria says:

    Such an interesting post! It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that doing as much as possible all at once is the best way to get things done, when all it seems to create is anxiety and a lack of the productivity it was supposed to bring about. That’s why we need to take each task one step at a time and focus on doing our best instead of the hypothetical possibility of not succeeding. And of course, the principle of working SMARTER is super important, much like the point you brought up about the worrying in itself taking up a lot of time, when an attitude of acceptance is the best way to move forward. I’m glad to hear that you are getting better at noticing the onset of this anxiety – something that many people can undoubtedly relate to – because that really is the first stage in tackling the underlying cause!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alys says:

      Thank you! Yes I completely agree with everything you’ve said. Definitely taking one task at a time is the best thing to do! It’s nice to see other people who understand these issues. Thanks for leaving such a thoughtful comment!

      Like

  3. theapplesinmyorchard says:

    Another great post. I am a goal directed person, as well as overly sensitive, anxious, and sometimes distractible. If I do not feel like I am being productive, I get very irritable. Although I have my own techniques of handling time anxiety, as you call it, I would be interested in learning what you have to say. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

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