Anxiety: keeping up with everything

Feeling ahead and feeling behind can begin at school. As adults, we can learn again to pace ourselves. Photo by CDC on Unsplash

We feel disturbed when we can’t keep up.  A child at school, who is always trying to keep up, never enjoys that sense of having completed a task.  There is always something to revise, something to work on.

In contrast, the child at school who is clever and organised enough to keep up, regularly has that sense of completion.  There is time to spare, time in between.

And then we grow up.  The child who couldn’t keep up becomes the adult plagued with a sense of anxiety.  One of the most significant causes of anxiety is having too much to do in too little time.

In contrast, the adult who has been able to get their work done, to get their chores done, and to fulfil their obligations, enjoys a sense of achievement.  They can plan a holiday, and perhaps enjoy a sense that they deserve it.

There is a hugely subjective element to all this.  Some people who can’t keep up, learn to enjoy being behind.  And some people who achieve a lot, are plagued with anxiety.

In managing our mental health, we need to realise this subjective element to life.  Some of us are always hard on ourselves, beating ourselves up mentally because we see an unending set of tasks to be done.  And some of us are kinder to ourselves, realising that it is only ourselves who put ourselves under such pressure, and therefore it is only ourselves who can free ourselves from that pressure.

We insist that we don’t want to let other people down, that we are surrounded by expectation.  That may be true, but how did we come to allow other people’s expectations to dominate our thoughts?  More importantly, how did we internalise that expectation until it became something we inflicted on ourselves?


Just for today, I will go easy on myself.  I will decide what needs to be done, and make the list short enough to cope with.  I won’t waste time in an imaginary court of law, prosecuting myself for perceived failure.  Instead, I will simply design a day with some activity and some rest; with some things I enjoy, and some things I need to endure.

At the end of that day, I will allow myself to relax and switch off.  If there are people around me who want to make a fuss, then I will definitely acknowledge and care for them; but inside myself I will be relaxed and wise.

There will always be tasks to perform.  The trick of being happy is to accept those tasks, but also to give oneself some kindness and understanding.  The ideal day is a well-paced day, just as an ideal relationship is a well-balanced one.

If we pressurise ourselves, then we have chosen to live in a world of pressure.  If we want to be happy, we can match our activities to our abilities, and match our expectations to reality.