What To Do When Planning Gives You Anxiety
There’s no secret that I love planning and that all things time management keep my world turning. However, I recognize that the peace and joy planning brings to my life doesn’t represent everyone’s relationship with making plans.
For some people, planning can even be a source of anxiety.
I will start this off with the disclaimer that I am not a trained counselor or healthcare professional, so any advice I share related to coping with anxiety is simply coming from my own experiences and observations.
But because I’ve heard from women inside my community over and over again that planning anxiety is very real for them, I'm going to share things we have worked through together.
And I’m going to give you a few strategies to think about in how you approach planning and what to do if the act of planning or seeing plans triggers anxiety for you.
Why Planning May Be Causing You Anxiety
A common theme that I hear from people is that they are hesitant to plan and put things down in writing because it instantly makes them feel confined.
Also, for some people, planning can instantly invite worry to set in because they might feel like a failure if their plans don’t work out exactly the way they are supposed to. And when this happens, it’s easy to go down a dangerous rabbit hole.
For example, my child has to stay home sick from school. My anxiety could instantly start projecting what that's going to mean not only for the rest of my day but for the week, the month, the year, etc. And before you know it, you’ve gotten yourself into a headspace of feeling like life will be ruined 15 years from now because your child stayed home from school sick one day.
Anxiety over what will happen if your plans go wrong can quickly escalate.
A Way to Combat the “What Ifs”
One strategy I love using when my brain begins to go down the road of what it will mean for the future if my plans don’t work out is to think through what it actually means.
Borrowing a strategy from Beth and Randall on This Is Us, I try to imagine all of the possible worst-case scenarios of what could happen.
Usually, going through this process of laying out all of the horrible things that could go wrong almost lightens your mood and helps you say, “Okay, but that's not going to happen.”
Just because my child stayed home from school sick today does not mean 15 years from now she is going to be living in a van down by the river or whatever the worst scenario may be.
Anytime I go through this exercise, I either get to a point of complete ridiculousness where I'm laughing at myself, or I reach a point of recognizing if that really does happen, it won’t be the end of the world.
The Science Behind Our Anxiety
Another important thing to consider when feeling anxious about planning is that when we’re in a place of high anxiety, our body automatically goes into fight or flight mode.
When we go into this fight or flight response, our ability to make rational decisions and see things logically goes out the window. And this isn't your fault. It's just neuroscience.
When you go into your planning time already anxious or in fight or flight mode, you are going to bring irrational decision-making into the process, and you’re going to hate the act of planning itself.
All of this can lead to things like making plans with completely unrealistic time estimates and increased resistance to planning altogether.
The Steps You Need to Help
Knowing the science behind why planning or seeing a calendar full of plans makes you anxious is all well and good, but I know what you really need are some strategies and tips to lessen your planning anxiety.
Step #1: Understand the purpose of your planning.
The purpose of your plan isn't to dictate how to spend every minute of your life. The purpose of the plan is to help you stay focused on the things that you have decided are important for you and that you desire to work on this week.
When you shift your mind into understanding that you’re in control of the plan and that the whole point of creating weekly plans is to make sure you have time and space for the things you really want and need to do, everything feels very different.
Instead of approaching planning with the mindset of creating a strict schedule that feels very confining, you come to it knowing that the plans are there to help you and what you want to prioritize.
Planning is freedom, not restrictive.
Step #2: Write your plans in a way that supports you.
If seeing a lot of plans triggers your anxiety, it’s time to get creative in how you label and reserve time on your calendar.
If you've ever watched me conduct a weekly planning session, a large portion of my plan every single week is what I call “unavailable time.” These are blocks of time when I'm in action. I'm busy, but I'm not getting the stuff on my list done right during this time. I could be cooking dinner, picking my child up from school, running errands, etc.
I have this unavailable time visually on my calendar, but it's done in a very subtle way so that when I look at my weekly plan, it doesn't cause me to feel anxious because I see so much on there.
Rather than blocking off the whole section for my unavailable, busy time, I just take one of my favorite erasable pens and draw a very thin line down that space to block it off. It's not so large or visible that it's alarming, and it doesn't trigger feelings of anxiety for me.
It’s so crucial to lean into understanding what triggers anxiety and that fight or flight mode for you as it relates to how you plan and manage your time. Then, you have to get creative with the solutions on how to create meaningful plans for the week that bring you joy.
Because the ultimate goal of planning is to ensure that you have the time to do the things that are important to you or that need to get done — not to have plans that restrict your life.
The point of the planning is to give you a clear path to see that it's possible to help you get into action and out of that fight or flight response mode.