How do I just give up and go to sleep?
November 1, 2010 11:24 PM   Subscribe

Up late, overwhelmed, and panicking about life. What do I do to mitigate the damage, and what do I do to stop this from happening again?

It's about 1:15am, and I've managed to stay up, thinking about how much I haven't done this weekend, and driven myself to panic. This, in turn causes me to stay up, not sleeping, and panicking. A vicious, awful fucking cycle that I keep going through about once a week.

It usually goes like this - 9pm rolls around, I realize I still have some stuff left to do. No big deal. I can get it done before 11 or so if I start now. I don't. I screw around, avoiding doing the work, usually because it's stuff I don't want to do. Then it's 11. Oh man, it's late. I should already be in bed, and I haven't started. I'm useless. This is where the spiral begins.

Usually, at this point, my wife goes to sleep, asking me to go with her. I don't, saying I'll just stay up to work a little, and then come in. It doesn't happen. I stay up until some late hour, still screwing around, getting nothing done, feeling guilty. My stomach gets in knots, I feel awful, and start thinking about how worthless I am.

That's where I am now.

I have two questions:

1) How do I mitigate the damage for tomorrow? I'm a graduate student, and on Tuesday, I teach two courses in the morning, have a rehearsal around lunch, and then have a class of my own after that. I'm all but ready to e-mail the students and cancel the class (it would be my first time doing it), but I feel even more nauseous about that. I haven't prepped for the class, and if I don't cancel, my plan is to wake up at 4 or so and try to make some sort of lesson.

2) How do I stop doing this? If you go through this pattern or spiral, how do you break yourself out of it? I feel like I had about 3 chances tonight to stop this (get work done at 9, go to sleep with with at 11, give up and get some rest at 11:30ish), but I ignored all of them, lying to myself that I'd get something done.

This is coming from a panicky, tired place, so it may be a bit rambly. I don't want to wake my wife up in the midst of a panic attack, so talking to her is out for now, at least. If you go through my posting history, you'll know I have problems with depression, anxiety, and ADHD, all of which I'm working on getting treated.

Right now, though, I need some help dealing with this very familiar pattern.
posted by SNWidget to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
I do this all the time. I think I'm doing it right now.

I try to wake up early and drink as much coffee as I can stomach. The next night, I collapse onto my bed at around 10 which means I'll wake up early the next day. That usually keeps me pretty well for a week or so.

I don't, however, have early-morning responsibilities, so I can't really help with that. Still, I sympathize. Best of luck.
posted by wayland at 11:34 PM on November 1, 2010

If it makes you feel any better, everybody in grad school does it.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:36 PM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is there a way that you could focus your lessons on group discussions for tomorrow? Introduce the topic, expand on it some, and then have them discuss some questions amongst themselves for a period of time before asking them to share some of their results? You could use that to move on further into the topic, and it would reduce your burden to be lecturing for the entire class. It probably wouldn't take you too long to come up with three or four engaging questions. If this isn't an option, adding some element of interactivity might still make your teaching tomorrow a little bit easier.

As for the larger problem of procrastination, I think everyone deals with this to some degree. Is your wife aware of your "to do" list? Maybe if she was aware ahead of time of what you have to complete on the weekend, you might feel more motivated to work on it and get it out of the way. Or your wife might give you a few friendly reminders to get your work done!
posted by Nightman at 11:38 PM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I should also add, I have sat through some preeeeeeeetty lame university classes. I think you can deliver one lacklustre class without beating yourself up about it.
posted by Nightman at 11:41 PM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don't cancel class.

Right now, write down two or three main points that you can talk about in each class tomorrow. Write them down as a single sentence or two, no more detail than that.

Then go to sleep.

Set your alarm for a time that will give you a solid hour of prep time for each class, with time for a shower and a good meal with some protein, on top of your realistic transit times etc.

Classes where you are a bit underprepared often go *better* as long as you're able to give the students some good jumping-off points and let them talk and work together to figure things out. (I teach philosophy, maybe your subject is different)
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:59 PM on November 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Welcome to my life. Also, my gf's life, and the life of probably 1/2 the people in the Western world ;-)

I'm a procrastinator, so much so I've learned (or, more likely, put off telling myself otherwise ;-) that I do my best work at the last minute. For me, the only way I've found that works to avoid the 'OMFG! 11pm!" night-before panic is to convince myself that deadlines are earlier than they actually are. A load of stuff that needs to be prepped for Monday morning? I convince myself that it's actually due Saturday lunchtime, plan to do it before Friday, and actually end up doing it Friday night or Saturday morning.

Of course, deep down somewhere I know I'm actively fooling myself, and it doesn't completely stop the "OMFG! 11pm Friday night! It's due tomorrow lunchtime! Even though it's actually due Monday morning!" panic, but it works for me. Mostly. And then you also get to enjoy a nice "hey, I don't actually have to do anything!" feeling the night before…

(Hell, just today I've taken the morning off from Uni so I could prep some materials. Didn't start doing that until 4pm, and it only took me an hour, but at least now it'll be ready for when I need it on Thursday ;-)

And, yeah, your classes tomorrow? Do the basic prep now, and wing it from there. Remember the pain & anxiety this has caused you, don't just fob it off with "oh, that was crap, but I'll prep better next time", and actively remember the gut-turning fear and self-hatred you're currently feeling next time you even think about putting stuff off until later…
posted by Pinback at 12:14 AM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don't beat yourself up. Do not. Beat yourself up. It makes things worse, and more importantly, as others have pointed out - everyone does this.

I would go to sleep right now. You're not going to get anything done in your condition and you'll just make yourself more anxious, more tired, and more useless. Seconding Nightman that you shouldn't worry about your classes tomorrow. In the shape you're in, it might not be a terrible idea to cancel this time so you can recover a bit tomorrow. If you decide to teach, your students will survive if you're not prepped - every class can't be a gem. Dividing them up into groups is a good teaching tactic regardless, so if you can get the students to work towards some kind of symbolic goal like a debate between groups or something like that, it will probably be just as good for them as for you.

Are you sure you can't wake up your wife about this? Mr. Walla has helped me through some difficult, stress-filled nights, and it's important your wife know what you're going through if she's going to help you through it in the long term. I would want to know if he were going through something like this while.

For breaking the pattern long-term, you need to deal with your insomnia if you're not already because that makes everything so much worse. People say exercise is great, but if that doesn't work, get pills, and get the right ones (sometimes it takes time to find them). It is amazing what sleeping well will do for anxiety and general quality of life.

As for procrastination - well, I'm sure you know this is the bane of every grad student's existence. There are a couple tools like Write or Die and Don't Break the Chain that can help you get started and tackle jobs in small chunks, but there might be tools better suited to your discipline. In general, lowering your expectations about what you can get done in a given period of time is the best way to get started. Even doing 15 minutes of work will be so much better than doing nothing, and it might jumpstart you to do more.

The point is to know your limitations and work with them instead of trying to pretend you're someone you're not who can do things you can't. Fool yourself into working the right way - structure your time in a way that takes account of your tendencies instead of trying to change them.

I'm so sorry you're going through this. I've been there (and I'm sure I will be again) and it SUCKS. It will pass even though it seems like it won't. For now, be kind to yourself, f*&k your students for one day, and go get some sleep.
posted by walla at 12:15 AM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

The trick for me is to do something the very moment I have the thought about putting it off. It serves as a big FU to the thoughts, and the sheer relief I feel once I start doing whatever it is, seems to push me through. All the rumination seems to inflate the task into something much bigger than it really is.

Also, on preview, seconding what LobsterMitten said. Some prep, is better than no prep at all, seriously. Jot those notes now!
posted by ultrabuff at 12:21 AM on November 2, 2010 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Hey all, thanks for the advice. I tried to crawl into bed and sleep, but that wasn't going to happen, so I came back out.

Some follow up.

The class I teach is kind of nuts and bolts - there's some room for discussion, but not much. I know every class doesn't have to be a gem, but I feel like this might be really awful. I'm leaning towards cancel, even if I feel shitty for doing it. The problem is that I have a rehearsal I have to show up for, and some of my students will probably see me there. So, unless I have a good explanation, I'm afraid I'm going to look like a complete flake.

walla - I could absolutely wake my wife up right now, and she'd sit and talk to me. We've done this before, though, and I'd rather not deprive her of sleep to rehash the same thing I always manage to dig myself into.

If anyone needs any other clarification, I'll be up for a bit to provide it.
posted by SNWidget at 12:21 AM on November 2, 2010

Well, given I'm posting this on a Tuesday morning at 3 a.m., I have one suggestion for you in the future. When you first get the inkling of a feeling that you're going to be very tired, and thus very useless, go to sleep. Immediately. Otherwise, you're going to still be useless (come on… realistically you know you're not going to get much accomplished in that state of mind) but you'll also be useless later on because you will really be exhausted. Even if it's 9 PM and you just finished dinner and haven't even turned on the TV. Listen to your body.

At least if you go to sleep immediately, you will be far more able to tackle whatever problems you might have when you awake. It took me years of being stupid and staying up before I figured this out, and I still occasionally have to force myself to fight against "just a few more minutes…"
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:22 AM on November 2, 2010


Have books around. Books you like. Not new books, but books you've read before. Then read them. Read them to distract yourself. Read until your eyelids get heavy, then drop the book, hit the light, and hit the pillow as fast as you can. It is the only thing I've ever found that works for me in the same recurring scenario -- because it's old, familiar books, I never wonder about the ending, so I won't end up reading for hours because I want to know the ending, and I never have to worry that it's a book I won't like, and since I know what's coming, it's BORING, so I get sleepy faster.
posted by davejay at 12:29 AM on November 2, 2010

Oh, and for the record, I went to sleep early and am now awake early. If I had something that needed doing for the morning I'd still have plenty of wakeful hours to prepare. That's the benefit of going to sleep immediately. Had I just forced myself to stay awake, I'd have tacked on several additional hours of snacking, procrastinating, and worrying—but not actually getting much accomplished—and I'd still be here at 3:30 in the morning. But instead of being dead-tired, I'm well-rested.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:29 AM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, as for the planning: it is time for you to accept that you will accomplish your best work when you wake up in the morning. Set aside a specific amount of work to get done the night before, to be started at a specific hour, and do it. Then go to bed without guilt, knowing that the remainder of the work will be done in the morning when you wake up -- and if you manage to squeeze a bit of extra work in the night before, so much the better for the morning.
posted by davejay at 12:30 AM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't know how you work, but in your situation, I would feel much worse for cancelling class than I would for being sleep-deprived. Plus, in my procrastinatory days, I would only just now be getting the perfect clarity of mind that I. Must. Do. This. Work. No more ways to avoid it.

So, just do it. It's not going to take forever. Turn off Metafilter, and write that damn lesson plan. Do it as a sprint; give yourself 45 minutes to an hour. You'll be miserable; it'll suck; you'll feel all the anxiety that you procrastinated this long just to avoid. But whatever, you'll survive. At the end of the hour, look at your draft, and spend just enough time polishing it up to feel good about it. Go to sleep, maybe setting your alarm so you have some time in the morning to give it one last proofread. This lesson plan is not that big of a deal. If you can actually cancel the class, then doing a half-baked job is not that horrible.

It's so nice and quiet in the house now. Your tiredness gives you focus. What is the bare minimum you have to do? Just get it done.
posted by salvia at 12:41 AM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, and definitely don't cancel class. There be dragons down that path. Don't cave in to your inner 4 year-old or you'll do it again in the future. Once the class is over you will be grateful you sucked it up. And in the future you'll have just a smidgen more confidence that yes, you can do it.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:05 AM on November 2, 2010 [4 favorites]

Every single one of us does this from time to time. Some of us are just better at fooling ourselves, but damn is it just human nature.
posted by disillusioned at 2:13 AM on November 2, 2010

thinking about how much I haven't done this weekend, and driven myself to panic. This, in turn causes me to stay up, not sleeping, and panicking.

Can you maybe work on why you're not getting as much done as you'd like over the weekend? Is it because you simply have too much stuff to do in 2 days? Or are you procrastinating and then being consumed by the post-procrastination guilt/shame spiral? (because oh man, that sucks so bad.) If it's bad enough to keep you up and night and negatively affect all aspects of your life, it's a really good idea to think about getting medicated for your ADHD.

I feel like a crazy drug pusher recommending meds all the time here, but they can really and truly and seriously change your life so dramatically that you might kind of want to cry the first day you realize that you too can behave like a "normal" human being. It is satisfying and emotionally empowering and awesome.
posted by elizardbits at 4:00 AM on November 2, 2010

Response by poster: Against the best advice of almost everyone in this thread, I pulled the trigger and canceled class. I just. Couldn't. Do. It. This is less of a factor of "OMG I DON'T HAVE ANYTHING READY AND COULDN'T TALK FOR AN HOUR AND A HALF" and more of a factor of I feel completely awful. I'm going to try to lick my wounds this morning. I'm trying to rationalize taking the coward's way out - I know. I'm not proud of it.

Talked to my wife when she woke up, and she helped me get my head on a little more straight. I still think I'm going to throw up from stress. I'm truly a mess right now, and hopefully, I can turn myself into less of a mess before my obligation at 1pm.

Thanks for the advice. Hopefully, I'll be able to use some of this next time before this doom spiral sets in again. While it makes me feel better than I'm not alone, I still feel helpless and a bit useless.

To those suggestion medication - not sure if I mentioned it, but I'm just starting treatment for depression, and have been on treatment for anxiety for a while. The ADHD will be taken care of once these two drugs decide if they play nicely or not.

Thanks again for the advice. The night's over, at least.
posted by SNWidget at 4:37 AM on November 2, 2010

Don't make work a priority in your life. Make sleep a priority in your life. If you don't get work done because you had to go to sleep, you'll learn to adjust your schedule accordingly.... and then you'll be able to get some work done.
posted by yeolcoatl at 4:39 AM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I still think I'm going to throw up from stress. I'm truly a mess right now,

You are a grad student, right? Go to the counseling center, or whatever they call it at your school. Ideally you would ask around a bit first and find out from word of mouth who is the go-to person there for grad students (there's usually someone who is a bit better at speaking grad student stress language), but don't delay because of that. Your anxiety is severely impacting your life and is getting worse -- you need to avail yourself of the help available before this gets to the point of creating serious harm for you.

You did say "[I] have been on treatment for anxiety for a while" so perhaps instead of what I just suggested you could follow up with whomever has been treating you for the anxiety, because your current treatment is obviously not working. Either way, get your ass in there ASAP, before this gets worse.
posted by Forktine at 5:33 AM on November 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, by the way -- if you're concerned about your ability to teach a class when you're ill-prepared, you might want to take the long view (that this might happen to you from time to time) and take some improv classes. I've managed to teach for more than an hour, successfully, with no lead time and no advance prep thanks to my improv training.
posted by davejay at 7:40 AM on November 2, 2010

I had a really stressy bad day yesterday, for pretty much the exact same reasons you're describing, and I completely forgot about the HALT acronym. Are you:


Now, of course, the answer is, "Well, DUH, Mads!" But sometimes when you're in this state you need to force yourself to remember those things point-by-point.

--I had had a giant chai for "breakfast," which I thought would make me feel better, but it probably didn't have enough protein (and the sugar isn't great either). So I ate a sub for lunch and it eventually calmed me down.
--I was really angry at myself for being such a fuckup and not finishing my work. It took me a while to realize that even if I can't get out of this responsibility, it IS hard. It requires a much more difficult recruiting process than anyone else in my office has to do.
--I had driven myself to work early in the morning, and it was Monday (after my similarly tortured weekend wondering when I would get things done), and I hadn't gotten my usual morning snuggles and affirmations that I get when my sweetie drives me to work. So I met him at lunch and we had an extended holding session.
--Sweet Jesus, yes.

You're probably "in it" by now, and I hope that you'll never be in this situation again... but hey, you probably will. We both will. So what's the worst thing that could happen if you sleep in? You won't be any less prepared than you are now, and you'll have a good period of at least lying in bed and letting your body rest on something soft instead of trying to hold itself up against all odds :P

Give yourself a break. We're all human. Your students, and even your colleagues and mentors and bosses, probably don't have as high of an expectation for you (note: FOR you, not OF you) as you think they do. I guarantee it.
posted by Madamina at 7:52 AM on November 2, 2010 [4 favorites]

"extended holding session" geez, that sounds stupid. IT FELT GOOD, OKAY
posted by Madamina at 7:56 AM on November 2, 2010 [4 favorites]

Definitely go to the counseling center, and try to get a referral or set of appointments with someone who can walk you though CBT or something of the sort to build better habits. The book "The Now Habit" addresses good anti-procrastination strategies.

In general:
Avoid thinking of your procrastination in moralistic terms. ("I suck, what's wrong with me" etc), since that will just lead you down a self-defeating road of "I must punish myself for doing this wrong thing, so will sit awake worrying. I don't deserve to have a good night's sleep, I don't deserve a nice relaxing dinner away from the computer, etc." which of course leads to you being tired the next day, less able to do things that need doing etc.

Avoid thinking of class as something that's within your discretion to cancel. I've always found that when I'm in your position, I am tempted to cancel -- and when I don't cancel, the class usually goes okay and I feel real relief or mild embarrassment; but when I do cancel I feel temporary relief but it makes things worse down the road.

Figure out which of your commitments are non-negotiable - you have to show up. Eg classes you're teaching. Then lay out an achievable plan about how you will meet those:
1. Make a plan of how you're going to get done the minimum for your classes. It's easy to get into a mindset of trying to plan a really great class, but set that aside. How much time does it take you to plan a minimal class -- one or two hours per class hour? Longer? Be honest with yourself about this, don't inflate or deflate it. Set aside that time, your base prep time, more than 24 hours ahead of class.

2. Go to a good work space -- a work space with no internet. Go to the library and don't bring a laptop with wireless. Prep using just pen and paper if you have to. Be honest with yourself about what spaces are good for you to work in. For me, home is comfortable but I don't actually get much done there; I need to force myself to go to the library, and set a limit of how long I will work - a solid hour just on this one project, then I can think about other things on my to-do list, or go get a coffee or whatever.

3. Set a firm bedtime - stop thinking of the night as infinite "reserve" time you can draw on if you need to. Maybe your firm bedtime is midnight. Might be later; I would aim to always get at least 6 hours of sleep, non-negotiable, no matter what. Then do what you need to do to always be in bed by that time: warm milk, hot shower, whatever. This is perfectly possible - you CAN organize your life this way, by working more efficiently with the time you have during the day. Work expands to fill the time you give it, so mark out some time that work can't have (meals, sleep, at a minimum) and you will figure out how to work around it.

4. If you follow this plan, you'll have your minimum prep done ahead of time, and you'll have a set number of hours the day before where you can work on making your lesson plans better-than-minimum. Just remember the firm bedtime. There's no reason to violate the bedtime rule, because you've got your minimum done. You will be basically ok, even if the class won't be as good as it could be. You will get sleep and be better ready to teach because of it -- and more to the point, this schedule is sustainable over a whole semester, rather than going from one weekly crisis to another.

This system is hard to get into, it takes building good habits. There's no shortcut or magic bullet - the study strategies that work as a bright undergrad (doing things at the last minute) won't work sustainably as you continue in grad school and teaching. So you just have to change those habits. It's not a moral thing - you're not bad. You have strategies that worked in another environment, and they're not working in your new environment (plus as you get older it will be harder to work productively in the middle of the night, so if you're up you'll just be fretting and not getting anything done) so it is rational to change your strategy. So that's what you're going to do. It will take some time, you might have set-backs, but that's ok - you'll stick with it and change those habits to ones that work better for you.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:00 AM on November 2, 2010 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Now that I'm a better, more reasonable mine, I'd like to thank everyone for what's been said.

LobsterMitten: You're absolutely right about the class. I canceled, and I felt awful about it. Even though I got some other work done during class time, knowing that I canceled made me feel pretty bad afterward. It's not something I'll be doing again soon. That's what I get for going against the advice of the majority. I also need a better work space. I have an office at school, but for some reason, I just can't get work done in there. Same for at home. I haven't found a space where I feel truly productive yet, but that may be because I'm always connected.

Madaima: I definitely forgot to check my HALT last night . My wife and I have been using that, especially as I start getting pissy when I don't eat or don't sleep well. By myself, it was tough to see that those were some very valid points as to why I was feeling so awful. I could have fixed several things.

To everyone who suggested that I teach today off the cuff: I probably could have. I've done things like that before - had only the vaguest outline and turned it into a pretty good lesson on my feet. I just didn't have that reserve this morning. I didn't have that place to reach into and pull it out. Usually, I do. I just reached for it, hoping something was there, and nada.

To those suggesting medication: I have an appointment with my doc in a week or so to check in. I may ask for an uppage in the dose of my anxiety meds, or just some more fiddling. We'll see.

The problem is that right now, in the light of day, reading back on my panicky, rambling post, it seems silly. That was worlds away, and it's hard to do things for myself now, while I'm of sound(er) mind, that will help me the next time something like this comes my way. For example, right now, instead of clicking away on something for tomorrow, I came home, ate a snack, and decompressed.

I'll try to stick to at least 7 hours of sleep, and because I have to be early, that limits what I can do tonight. Guess that's the trade off.
posted by SNWidget at 3:05 PM on November 2, 2010

You are really not alone. I don't have anything to do with the PhinisheD forum, but I do remember it as a place people hashed this stuff out and helped each other cope.
posted by gingerest at 9:40 PM on November 2, 2010

The only way to get stuff done is to do it. It sounds trite or dismissive, but it isn't. I know exactly what you mean and it happens to be me too both at home and at work. It seems so overwhelming and you don't know where to begin and you hate the task so much. But it has to be done eventually, so soonest begun is soonest done. Just. Start.
posted by DU at 4:45 AM on November 3, 2010

The ADHD will be taken care of once these two drugs decide if they play nicely or not.

I've recently started taking ADHD meds (Strattera) so it is too early to start definitively attributing things to them. But one of the first things I have noticed is a big reduction in the pattern of lying awake at night unable to sleep because my mind is racing (this after years of sleep problems that make most people's jaw drop when I describe them). I also seem better able to just sit down and just do something without all the messing aroud first.
posted by tallus at 2:36 PM on November 3, 2010

Response by poster: tallus: I tried Adderall XR (allergic) and Strattera (didn't work). I haven't had time to try something else quite yet. The problem with my schedule is that I really, truly don't have time during the day to go to a doctor appointment or therapy.
posted by SNWidget at 7:27 PM on November 3, 2010

This may be useful. Try taking one cod liver oil pill a day or 1000 IU of vitamin D a day. If this helps please let me know. I've found it helps concentration, focus and helps eliminate depression. :) Just saying.
posted by LightnKnowledgeQuest at 3:09 PM on January 9, 2011

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