Making 11th hour nerves work for you
November 3, 2015 9:44 AM   Subscribe

You procrastinated. You think that despite your poor planning, you can actually manage this (important) task (which has big consequences etc.). All you have to do is stop feeling queasy and clammy. What are your tips for immediately reducing anxiety that expresses itself physically in this situation?

I have made less actually nauseating anxiety work for me wrt exams (i.e. in an energizing way); less good at that for things like this (research/writing).

Short-term anxiolytics are on hand if absolutely necessary, but they make it hard to stay sharp, and I need to stay sharp. I've got some short meditation/focusing exercises, not really doing it at the moment.

(Yes, I'm a terrible person, let's pretend that's not the case or waste too much time on working through feelings about that, there is no time for feelings etc. Yes, I shouldn't have procrastinated, but I did, there it is.)
posted by cotton dress sock to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Realize that you don't actually need to stop feeling queasy and clammy in order to complete the task.

You can notice that you feel queasy and clammy and still do the task.
posted by tel3path at 9:47 AM on November 3, 2015 [14 favorites]

Best answer: Take five minutes to breathe slowly, close your eyes, drink some water. Then dive in.
posted by three_red_balloons at 9:50 AM on November 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Take a deep breath. Stand up and stretch. Tell yourself that you will feel less queasy once you are working. Tell yourself you will take a break in an hour and if you are still feeling queasy you will run out and buy some ginger candies. Visualize yourself working hard. Then get to work.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 9:50 AM on November 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm a fellow procrastinator with the accompanying anxiety. When I do this to myself, I find some deep breaths followed by listing out my to-dos to get the project done helps. Focus on the individual actionable items rather than the finished product. Then I put them in the order they need to be done and start chipping away. Smaller chunks are better as it's energizing to check things off the list.
posted by cecic at 9:51 AM on November 3, 2015 [6 favorites]

Make a list. Prioritize the list. Set a timer for 10 minutes and start at the top of the list. Stop and take a 2 minute break. Take a drink of water and eat a piece of chocolate. Repeat until you've done 5 ten-minute work sessions and then take a slightly longer break. Eat a healthy lunch. Pace yourself like it's a marathon not a sprint so you don't crash and burn.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 9:58 AM on November 3, 2015 [7 favorites]

I am super like this (in college I would sit down days before the paper was due and just NOT be able to write anything no matter how much I tried and ultimately I would always wind up starting my papers at literally one am the day they were due). The thing that really helped me is my mother pointing out that this is not a moral failing. If this works for you, you don't need to feel badly about doing it! Yes, I was anxious in college because I felt like I might not have enough time but I was ALSO anxious because I felt like somehow I deserved to feel anxious even though actually my papers were pretty good and writing them like this is what worked for me.

Sit down, shut your eyes and take several very slow breaths (this is the only thing that works for me when my heart is racing -- I have to slow myself down consciously), tell yourself that you can and will get this done and you don't have to feel anxious because there's nothing wrong with you, and get to work.

And when you're finished make sure you do something to unwind -- my go-to recommendation is watching Clueless and drinking hot chocolate and either peppermint or butterscotch schnapps.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:58 AM on November 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

"My suffering was entirely the product of my thoughts. Whatever the need of the moment, I had a choice: I could do what was required calmly, patiently, and attentively, or do it in a state of panic. Every moment of the day—indeed, every moment throughout one's life—offers an opportunity to be relaxed and responsive or to suffer unnecessarily."
—Sam Harris, Waking Up
posted by anderjen at 10:02 AM on November 3, 2015 [10 favorites]

Make a list.
posted by amtho at 10:04 AM on November 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

For future reference, the short-term anxiolytic you want isn't a benzo, for this kind of thing, it's Inderal. Beta blockers shouldn't leave you feeling fuzzy. I think that un-freezing under these circumstances is usually a matter of baby steps. Start with small, achievable tasks as you get settled in. Break things down as far as you can. Opening Word is a success. That kind of thing.
posted by Sequence at 10:05 AM on November 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks so much for your great answers, everyone. I'll check in later - gotta go do this now. xo.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:05 AM on November 3, 2015

Best answer: My self talk goes into overdrive when I am in high anxiety situations. I tell myself (out loud if possible), "You are going to be okay. You can do it. Just take things one step at a time. First, you're going to __________. Then ____________. Then ___________. It will be okay. "

I guess I'm basically my own cheerleader at these points.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:06 AM on November 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, and good luck! You can do it!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:07 AM on November 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Everyone procrastinates. That Professor I knew who was known to tell everyone how he got up at seven and wrote 900 words before breakfast, well, he's an exception.
I myself wrote a book that (mirabile dictu) got published and all that, and boy, you don't want to know how I did that. WE. ALL. PROCRASTINATE.

Quit beating up yourself right here and now.

Feels better already, doesn't it?

Now, you partition your work. Cut your work into bits of X minutes (Green Eyed Monster does 10, I do 45), with standardized breaks in between.
Before beginning, shortly compare the time available with the required output, make an estimate of whether it's all possible within that framework, otherwise make changes so you end up with a realistic plan (this planning phase will take 15 minutes to do. Stop after 15 minutes).
Now work. Focus on each separate X-minute segment, that's your task. Content will come automatically, and fear is not necessary (because, everyone can work X minutes in a stretch, it's not hard).

Good luck!
posted by Namlit at 10:08 AM on November 3, 2015 [6 favorites]

Make up a short mantra to use before you dive into the task. Something that acknowledges your feelings of anxiety (and maybe regret) and re-orients you to being successful in the moment. It can be anything. It can be a brief pep talk. For me, it's simple: "1. 2. 3." I say it out loud and on 3 I start the work.

I also tend to write a lot of lists. But list writing happens before "1. 2. 3," for me -- it's planning, not execution. I write the list, I acknowledge my feelings, and then I count off and begin.
posted by telegraph at 10:10 AM on November 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ah yes, I forgot. Quit reading this RIGHT NOW! (obvsl)
posted by Namlit at 10:11 AM on November 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I find that earplugs calm me down almost immediately, even in a quiet space. The sound of my breathing is amplified and that improves my focus.
If I'm really needing to concentrate, I put earphones over the earplugs and play white noise (the SimplyNoise website).
Then I make a list of what I need to do.
posted by aabbbiee at 10:33 AM on November 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Bilateral stimulation is great for this kind of thing. I won't detail it all here, but it's easy to do on your own with limited time. It's an essential component of EMDR, which is a government endorsed therapy for soldiers going through PTSD. Fortunately, it has practical every-day benefits that don't require severe trauma to work well. It accesses underlying brain mechanisms that can facilitate healing and resolution for brain states that tend towards anxiety.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:54 AM on November 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Came here to push the idea of a timer. Any time I can't get started or am feeling overwhelmed by a big project, I tell myself that I will dig in for TEN MINUTES. And I set a timer. Of course, after ten minutes I've made a great start and don't need to stop. If I do need to stop, I set a timer for ten minutes and take a break. For me, timers are the very best tool for getting things done.
posted by raisingsand at 10:54 AM on November 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For physical anxiety, splash cold water on your face. It fas some physiological effects that really help your body calm down.
posted by theora55 at 10:56 AM on November 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I figure how much I need to do, how much time I have left, and how much I need to accomplish each day (or hour, if applicable). I may block out time on my calendar, as well.

Next, I turn on the StayFocusd app so that I'm not distracted by MetaFilter and my other guilty pleasure websites. I get myself a glass of cold water and a green tea and get to work.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 11:02 AM on November 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Eat something, and hydrate. Anxiety is made worse if it's combined with hunger and thirst. If you're nauseated, eat something small but unlikely to upset your stomach - some non-spicy/non-saucy type of protein. Avoid the temptation to snack on carby things - it can screw with your blood sugar levels and cause a crash at an inopportune time.

Also as many others have said - breathe deeply and evenly. Make a list of what you need to do. When you feel panic rising, breathe more, and look at the list. You don't have to proceed through the list in order - you can pick the easiest thing, and do that first. Accomplishing small things is a confidence-builder and will help chill you out for the harder stuff.
posted by kythuen at 11:15 AM on November 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

(Yes, I'm a terrible person, let's pretend that's not the case or waste too much time on working through feelings about that, there is no time for feelings etc. Yes, I shouldn't have procrastinated, but I did, there it is.)

No time for feelings now, of course, since you are busy taking deep breaths and getting one small thing done at a time, but I would just like to note for the record and for your future consideration that you are most certainly NOT a terrible person and procrastinating does not make you a terrible person.
posted by aka burlap at 11:19 AM on November 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

A tiny dose of alprazolam works very fast. In my case it doesn't make me "less sharp," it just lets me start working and stop self-criticism.
posted by JimN2TAW at 11:44 AM on November 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: we all procrastinate.

what helps me is to actually tell myself (audibly if at all possible): it is only 11th hour. and X is not due until 12th hour. Still x hours until due date, and so no one yet has found out or suspects I left it so late (this is my biggest hang up - the shame of being found out) and if I start now I can still make it. Because most often the biggest danger for me is that I just get so paralised by the fear of discovery that I am in danger of actually wasting what little time I have. Telling myself I can start RIGHT NOW and no-one will find out or even suspects it yet works very well for me.
posted by 15L06 at 12:10 PM on November 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

What helps me a lot in these situations is to break what I need to do down into manageable chunks- identify what are the lowest hanging fruit of the task first, get through those, and identify the NEXT lowest hanging fruit all the way until the task is done. Helps calm down my anxiety of OMG HUGE TASK THING AND I HAVE NO TIME AAAHH WHY DID I PROCRASTINATE.
posted by raw sugar at 12:28 PM on November 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Engage your vagus nerve by splashing cold water on your face, or deep breathing. Can you breathe deep while visualizing the next step you need to take, and keep breathing deep while you're executing that next step? (I always wondered why stressed-out characters in movies splashed cold water on their faces, but only this year i discovered there's actual science behind it.)
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 1:03 PM on November 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

One thing I've been thinking about is that when I notice myself procrastinating and telling myself I should be doing X, I can just start doing that thing. When I type it out like that it kind of looks like telling a depressed person to cheer up, but it isn't: literally nothing bad has ever happened from someone dropping whatever procrastination activities they're doing and starting in on what they think they should be doing.

Procrastination for me is like a high-functioning trance, and the blather I concern myself with while not working is not any set of alternative tasks, but a baseline level of activity absent other tasks. In this way, doing what I should do is just starting to do stuff, and procrastination activities are what I do when I'm not doing anything else.
posted by rhizome at 1:28 PM on November 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Ignore the feeling. It doesn't get to count as a reason not to work.

Pick a few very small, simple parts of the task. Super word document, find section to work on, write one sentence. Write down three topics to search for papers on. Read the abstract and conclusion of a paper.

Then just do them while you feel queasy and clammy. In my experience, feeling queasy and clammy doesn't actually stop you from doing the task, it just makes you feel like you have a good reason not to do it. If you start with really, really simple tasks that are almost impossible to to be able to do, the feeling will go away a tiny bit, and you can do it again, until you're actually working on it. The terrible stomach-sucking anxiety feeling only gets worse if you do anything else because it's there since you aren't working on whatever it is. Even doing tiny, stupid little things is better than nothing and eventually they add up.
posted by raeka at 4:15 PM on November 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: It's like 11 h 45 and I'm motoring along, no problem. Now that it's T-3. Thanks x 1 million to everyone! I think it'll be ok.

I have no idea why I'm so incredibly reluctant to begin - why it causes such a visceral dread. Forcing myself out of one or another more or less elaborate distraction is like pulling myself out of quicksand. I'm doing the Now Habit and everything. I think maybe I'm not sitting with the distress for long enough, as many have suggested, and probably letting my rewards run riot.

Tag-on question, or maybe for another day: why, when you're doing work along these lines, does creative stuff feel so much more compelling? And important?
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:10 PM on November 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Tag-on answer, then,
as someone who has been (still is) doing creative work for a living: before a big project, all of a sudden, scholarship or office work seems more compelling. Or at least, when you are facing one kind of creative task, the other creative thing you could also do seems more important. It's just how one's brain finds ways to delay.
posted by Namlit at 10:30 PM on November 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

« Older the lazy bike commuter   |   Keeping a Young Toddler Busy in the Car Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.