How to tackle multiple goals or get shit done w/anxiety etc.
November 18, 2015 8:07 AM   Subscribe

Sort of recently (about 2 & a half months in) moved to a brand new town so my husband (I'm, 29, he's 32) could go to uni. I was so stoked on having a clean slate to start everything anew, but not so much any more. Reality has set in and i'm dealing with soaring bouts of anxiety and pretty severe mood swings, and can't seem to decide anything tangible to get shit actually done. Any ideas / practical advice regarding how to deal with this would be so welcome. I have so much time alone i think i'm actually going a little nuts. More inside

To give this situation a little bit of background, we were in a LDR for over a year, got engaged, married and both worked full time in another city for a bit over a year. Hub got into uni, and is loving it a lot - he is a lot more extroverted than me .. he has this easy manner and picks up friends like some peeps do bad habits. I realized i'm pretty lousy at making new friends, quite shy. I have some frikking amazing buddies, though, dont get me wrong, but they are all scattered to the four corners of the world.

Soo, he's gone all day + goes out quite a bit, which is normal and awesome, but more often than not, this means I'm spending all that time solo (i'll tag along once in awhile, but rarely - i feel like a class a clingball wife going out to these things with him). This time is spent trying to look for work, studying some online courses (updating my skills -trying to get back into work in my field) and general what have you - working out, cleaning up, reading, baking, exploring the town and wrestling with my new found friend, anxiety (he's like John Cenas evil twin). I cry a lot now, and easily .. which is, yeah. I'm sensitive, but the amount of crap feels is getting to be alarming.

Things that I've figured out that kind of brought this on (besides being unemployed and somewhat lonely):

- previous job almost resulted in a burnout. combined with crazy boss & a toxic environment it was altogether just insane. So happy its over, but left me feeling emotionally pretty exhausted

- for the past few years I've been taking care of my parents a lot, because they're old and falling apart. My siblings didn't really step up, they're heavily involved in their own lives with kids etc. which I get, to an extent, but at the same time don't. But you know. families are like that. Both parents retired now and moved to another country, so they don't need to lean on me like they did before

- since my husband immigrated here, it's been quite a bit of work to get everything sorted from banking to residence permits etc. Its all good, but now that things are pretty much on track I've found that for the first time in an age I have to deal with things pertaining to myself and its been pretty bleak.

- also, doesn't help that my ex from my previous longterm relationship cheated, and what I thought was an issue thats long gone has been also rearing its motherf*cking ugly head and i'm ready to punch holes into all the walls. My husband is a wonderful, wonderful human being and I'm really scared that this newfound insecurity is making me behave in destructive ways (its really hard for me to not ask when he's coming home and who he's going out with - things of this nature)

So I'm having trouble figuring out how deal with all the things wrong with my brain, this stress of not financially contributing to our little unit, being something of a party pooper and being essentially, pretty lonely. Husband keeps telling me to just relax, that things will work out but ..............fuck.
I don't want to be this person, my little family is something I want to take care of, don't want to be a black hole of a person ..its not fun to come home to that.

got a good book on mindfulness (Orsillo & Roemer), which since i started reading I've noticed almost a huge spike in anxiety, but my wise friend said its probably because i haven't really looked this beastie in the face before. ..rg

I'm wondering will this just go away when i get employment and a hobby and find a friend for coffee or is it time to just find a therapist or what..

Any ideas how to get things done when you get really overwhelmed by the sheer amount of things to decide and do?
posted by speakeasy to Human Relations (18 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
The thing that stands out to me the most is that you're having all this anxiety and your husband is like, 'yeah, just relax, I'm going out.' Maybe that's not what's happening, but does he know the full extent of what you're going through? Is he making an effort to learn what you'd like to to with him as a couple? Sounds like couples counseling might help. Just waiting for things to 'work out' isn't a solution.

As far as tons of crap to decide and do, the only thing that works for me is making lists and prioritizing. I only need to do it twice a year or so, when things get too crazy at work and I get overwhelmed, but it helps so much. I don't use any particular system or book or anything, maybe someone can suggest something. I just write down everything I need to do (like every single little thing) and then number the list according to importance/urgency and get to work.
posted by Huck500 at 8:31 AM on November 18, 2015 [7 favorites]

Any ideas how to get things done when you get really overwhelmed by the sheer amount of things to decide and do?

I get organized. I make lists, prioritize each item and then tackle things one at a time. I also accept that things take time to accomplish, which is not always an easy lesson to learn. (I'm still working on it!)

It's easy to feel overwhelmed when you have a lot to do. But incremental progress is progress. And if you think about it, that's how we get anything done: we always tackle multi-level tasks in stages. You learn to crawl before you learn to walk. You vacuum a house by moving from room to room, not trying to do all of them simultaneously. You eat a meal one bite at a time. Etc.

Make a list of everything you need to do. Then mark off which require immediate action. Which can be scheduled? Plan ahead, and organize what you want to do in manageable bursts. "I'll spend a couple of hours researching X today." "This evening, I'll do nothing except revise my resume." Creating, scheduling and finishing individual tasks is the best way to get a lot done.
posted by zarq at 8:38 AM on November 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

Go out with him more often. Don't think of it as clinging to him, but look at it as an easy way to start meeting your own new friends.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:40 AM on November 18, 2015 [8 favorites]

I understand that your husband is gone all day at school, but what is this "going out a lot" all about? Most couples I know tend to do a lot of social things together, so if he's going out...why aren't you going with him? If that's your choice, that's great, but if he's just popping out in this new town with new friends and you're not invited along, that isn't great for either you or your relationship.

I would also start sectioning off what you need to do (in terms of workload) into easier-to-accomplish chunks. What can you do today? Only focus on that today, and try to remember that the longer-term or later-term things can be done when they're scheduled. It may take some getting used to (it's so easy to worry about the things that don't work), but it can certainly help.
posted by xingcat at 8:53 AM on November 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

Moving to a new place = perhaps looking for a new therapist, or group, or pastor, or some professional ear(s) and understanding. Having a place to share your anxiety is extremely helpful. Shop around for a suitable therapy situation, if you can.

Also, mood stabilization with some kind of physical activity. Sweating a lot and rhythmic large limb movement really helps with perspective and finding calm.

Good for mindfulness reading. Now, see if exercise will get the bits to settle down.

The place is VERY new. Be very very gentle with yourself.
posted by xaryts at 9:12 AM on November 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

Oh my gosh I'm so sorry you're dealing with this.

I'm dealing with something similar. Just relocated to a new city alone and the transition/loneliness/newness of everything is really overwhelming and crazy making.

Since I'm swimming in it too, I can't offer the valued perspective you might want, but I can tell you what has helped me.

My therapist has me doing progressive muscle relaxation which is a great technique in the heat of feeling overwhelmed. Just feeling the distinct physical differences between tense and not can be enlightening and a relief all on its own.

I'd second what everyone else has said about taking things one at a time. I know in the moment, it seems like oh my god the sky is falling and I'm going to die and nobody is gonna love me and the world is horrifying and where did I leave the other sock and the neighbor's dog won't stop barking and why don't I have a job yet oh my god catastrophe! But that's just a brain going through stress responses designed for living in caves and jungles. It's funny how animalistic we really are underneath it all. So when it gets super overwhelming, go for the PMR. It never fails to take the edge off for me.

I'd also recommend When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron. It never fails to comfort me, almost to the point of being a security blanket for unpleasant moments. Don't let the fact that it's Buddhist in principle stop you from reading it. I'm not religious as a matter of course, and it still gave me some great relief. It'll help remind you that no matter what your head might be screaming, obnoxious shit-the-bed toddler that it is, has no bearing on the realities of your immediate present.

And, if you find yourself unable to sleep, check out Sleep With Me because it's a fantastic, hilarious, wonderful podcast. Gotta shout out to the blue for that one.

I wish you warm fuzzies and peaceful nights and relief.

It'll get better, promise.
posted by Ephelump Jockey at 9:37 AM on November 18, 2015 [7 favorites]

Sometimes when we work with couples, one or both of them are just overwhelmed by life, especially if they're planning a wedding. What we do with them is show them how to make a stress PICK chart.

PICK stands for:

Possible -- Low payoff, easy to do. You can do these, but these are low-ish priority
Implement -- High payoff, easy to do. Just do these, ASAP
Challenge -- High payoff but hard to do. Examine the highest payoff ones and see if there's a better way to think about them or break them down into manageable parts.
Kill -- Low payoff, hard to do. Don't even think about these any more.

1) Draw yourself a little 4-quadrant chart with "Recovered Peace of Mind" on the horizontal axis and "Effort to Accomplish" on the vertical axis.

2) Number the horizontal axis from 1-10 starting from the left (most benefit goes farthest right) and the vertical axis 1-10 starting from the top (lowest effort goes highest.)

3) List all the tasks, projects, and responsibilities on your mind that are worrying you and rate them from 1-10 on how easy/hard they will be for you to do and 1-10 on how much less worry you'll have when you've done them. Not asking you to estimate anything objective like dollars or schedule time, just a sense of how you feel about them. Do they loom large or do they seem doable? Is this a big worry, thus making it a high payoff in peace of mind once it's done?

4) Put each item on the chart using the two numbers you've given each item from "Recovered Peace of Mind" and "Effort to Accomplish"

5) Anything in the lower left quadrant, give yourself permission to ignore them.

6) Make concrete plans to do the ones in the upper right. I mean grab your coat and keys, pick up the phone, etc. If you have to decide on which one to do first, it's the one that's the farthest up and out on your chart.

A chart like this is just a little tool, not a cure-all. But it can be comforting to see your worries represented in visual form. This can also be a very useful tool for communicating with a friend, therapist, spouse, etc. who wants to help you.
posted by cross_impact at 9:45 AM on November 18, 2015 [36 favorites]

Life sucks. I spent three months in a foreign city with my brother trying to get frustrating contractor shit done and it was so alienating and we started annoying each other like crazy and it was an overall shitty time and I really don't know why I handled it so idiotically. Lesson learned though, so I'll say you need to get out a little more yourself, probably, even if just for daily walks to keep your sanity.

Mindfulness people are tedious and yak on and on about peace and shit which it might be useful for you but if you find them all a bunch of holier than thou perfectionist wankers, take it from me as a practicing Buddhist (hahaha you'll never notice) that it's okay for you to want to trap mine their yoga centers and kill them all. Just notice the negative emotions and return to your center!!! You are perfect and JUST THIS is all you need!!!

Whatever though. Tell your husband you're miserable. Don't worry, don't blame him, don't blame anyone.

It's okay to go nuts for a while. Don't go meta nuts about it.

You might need to use your creativity to shape some kind of reasonable life for yourself even if you feel like a lonely sad sack crazy person. Just going out for a cappuccino every morning is something. Instagram the fuck out of it.

The mindfulness people are inspired by meditation and that's something everyone likes to feel precious about and they'll tell you to sit in some ridiculous lotus posture for 40 minutes. Fuck that. Sit for three minutes any way you want. Just don't check Twitter and you're meditating. It's enough. If you can do 5 that's cool.

Have a cup of tea.

Put your headphones on and listen to The Mountain Goats or Nas or Bach or whatever makes you feel like a human sensitive actual human being.

Every day if you do a single thing that involves leaving your bed, CONGRATS, you are the boss. Maybe you can even do another thing, omg you're killing it.

Get out of the house though. There is a book called the Poetics of Space that's all about how houses are cozy and safe and can inspire you to write poems or something but houses also end up haunted and full of ghosts and horror and anxiety if you sit in them all day feeling like everything is bad. So go to the park. Listen to podcasts. Get a bike.

Human input is important. Or you end up in your own anxious echo chamber. Meditation or biking or karate or feeding ducks or whatever can also be a way to offload your pent up emotional stuff and reorient yourself towards a productive or reciprocal relation with the world that is aside from human emotional anxious echo chamber bullshit. So get out.

Did you know that most rap tunes work well with a simple ukulele blues backing consisting only of the easy chords C, F and G7? Eminem's "Run Rabbit Run" is a good start.
posted by mbrock at 10:07 AM on November 18, 2015 [9 favorites]

Could you actually take some time to *not* get things done? It sounds as if you have had a lot on your plate. Taking care of your parents, moving, looking for work. All super stressful. What if you took some recuperation time just for yourself? A week off? A spa weekend, a mini vacation to a hotel with a pool? A week of lounging with a self care event every day (massage, mani-pedi, salon)? You sound as if you are already coming into this drained, and if you don't fill your own cup, it will be harder to make all the good stuff happen.
posted by Vaike at 11:08 AM on November 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Well, to cut to the end of your question yes I expect finding friends and a job will definitely mitigate your loneliness and anxiety. And therapy is never a bad idea, if you think it'd help.

Every relationship is different and has different balances so I can't generalize, but in my opinion your spouse should be more supportive than just telling you to relax (which is useless and kind of counter-productive). Does he plan things outside the house to do with you? You say you're less extroverted, but that's not an excuse for him to not be attentive to your social needs and acknowledge you might enjoy a different blend of activities. Is he helping you to network/find a job? (Maybe that's just, say, making you dinner while you job hunt or whatever, you two surely have your own balance and boundaries.) I can't help but see some of this in the context of the ongoing conversation about emotional labor here. Just based on your question (work burnout, family care burnout, immigration work) it sounds like your reserves of emotional energy or whatever you want to call it are depleted, and that is probably part of the moodiness and trouble getting things done. Vicious cycle, but one your spouse should be able to help with, especially if he is really doing well.

Also, without making it a bigger thing than it should be and while again disclaiming that every couple is different, for me while I don't know every detail of everything if my spouse is going out I would find it weird not to know at least vaguely where/with whom, if only so I know what to tell the cops if they ever, god forbid, failed to come home. I don't want a minute to minute account, but at least "I'll be barhopping in midtown with John Doe's crowd, be back late" or whatever. Pick a good time (read: not 5 minutes before he leaves or right when he gets home) to talk about this with your spouse. Part of being married/in a LTR is both partners being attentive to how the patterns of your relationship become habits, and whether those habits are good or bad, considerate or thoughtless.
posted by Wretch729 at 11:11 AM on November 18, 2015 [6 favorites]

Husband keeps telling me to just relax, that things will work out but ..............fuck.

That's easy for him to say, isn't it. Fuck is right.

You're probably somewhat burned out from caregiving (both re parents and this relationship, just as Wretch729 said), and that job, and stressed from unemployment, uncertainty, isolation, lack of money… your husband's being pretty dismissive about all of that, honestly. What's your score on this (context)? Off the charts, I bet.

He needs to support you better by doing more at home, inviting you out more often, and listening to you talk about your frustration and anxiety, because it sounds like you're on your own right now, really.

An explicit discussion about the money side of things should happen, too. Not earning does not mean you should be doing 100% of the housework and cooking etc. The things you need to do (below) are just as important as your hub's education, and they take time.

Re prioritizing, I suggest:
- Self-care. Daily. Should include physical fitness, talking to friends, getting good sleep.
- Volunteering. Somewhere you can meet adults/peers (vs. kids), doing something vaguely fun for you. Weekly
- Job hunt. Daily, but not for eight hours. 2-4. Split it up into 1) research, 2) looking for jobs, 3) making contacts (agencies; networks [LinkedIn]), 4) writing resumes and cover letters. (If you're looking for a few different kinds of jobs, get 2-3 resumes down and just tweak them for individual applications.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:46 AM on November 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

This may be me projecting, but I'd work on the social isolation problem before stressing about the other stuff. Because everything is harder if you feel so alone.

Are you avoiding going out with your husband because YOU feel clingy, or because HE thinks you're being clingy? If the former, get over it and go. Maybe you can ask your husband to help you -- he probably has friends who have non-uni significant others who have also moved there recently and would love somebody to hang out with.
posted by chickenmagazine at 12:03 PM on November 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

I wanted to tag on one other thought, in part to acknowledge that supporting you might be difficult for your spouse but that doesn't mean he doesn't have to do it! There's a common stereotype that men always try to solve a problem when women sometimes just want to talk/vent about it, and while that's probably not always true for all couples and may not be true for you it certainly is for me; it has taken conscious, consistent effort on my part to stop trying to always suggest solutions to problems and instead just actively listen to my wife vent.

I think saying things like "relax, it'll be fine" isn't inherently bad but can be symptomatic of a problematic learned coping behavior in response to this conversational stereotype: wife talks about something bothering her, I suggest a solution, she gets mad, so now I just say "relax etc." instead of suggesting a solution. This avoids a fight from the guy's perspective, but it's not constructive; it just shuts off conversation!

In my (admittedly limited) experience it can be really hard for some guys to wrap their head around this, myself included, but the rewards of doing so are more fulfilling conversations and a happier life.
posted by Wretch729 at 12:03 PM on November 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Well of course your husband is telling you to relax, HE'S got everything HE needs. I mean, he's studying something he loves, with a built in social life and he's out having a great time with new friends. Meanwhile, you've given up, what, your job, your friends, your town, your life, so he can follow his dream. In fact, according to you, the focus seems to have always been on your husband, getting him a visa, moving him to the country, getting him into study - making sure HE'S ok. And now that he is, when it's your turn, he's hanging out with his friends while you're miserable and home alone, telling you to chill out?

The good thing is, now it's your turn to be supported. Now he gets to step up, be your rock, take you out to meet these friends he's so good at making, help you find a job and settle in. The bad news is he should be doing this already. Yes, you should be making steps yourself but you're in a somewhat trickier situation - unlike him, you don't have university to automatically put you in with likeminded people, so he needs to recognise that and the very significant contribution you've made to getting him up on his feet and get his head out of his butt and be there for you.

It sounds like most of your relationship was long distance. Well, now you get to actually find out who you're married to and what they're made of. It sounds like your husband won big time on that front. The jury is still out as to whether or not you did, though. Relax indeed.
posted by Jubey at 6:39 PM on November 18, 2015 [5 favorites]

Oh, and I write this from the perspective of someone who moved countries to support her boyfriend's career, only to find myself in the same situation - no job, (my industry didn't exist in this city) no friends and a partner so in love with his new life all he did was work and party and leave me alone in an apartment in a strange city. Multiple conversations had no effect. I stuck it out for years, regardless, completely miserable with a totally selfish guy. We ended up breaking up. I'm hoping your situation and guy are different.
posted by Jubey at 6:48 PM on November 18, 2015

Here's an easy thing you can do to get a little more human contact in this first hard stage of being in a brand new city: find a coffee shop you like and start going there regularly. Bring a book or a computer or the newspaper and buy a cup of coffee and hang out for a while. If your budget allows it, do that once or twice a week (or more). It helps get you out of the house, and it is such a relief in a new city to have someone (even a waitress) notice you and recognize you--even if all you do is make small talk occasionally at the cash register. And I find that going out like that and taking part in the common life of a city helps take the edge off a bit until you can find some new friends.

Good luck to you and be kind to yourself: moving to a new city is so hard sometimes!
posted by colfax at 4:39 AM on November 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

That level of isolation would quickly make me lose my ability to cope. Can you ... take a regular yoga class or...?
posted by salvia at 6:33 AM on November 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Guyys, thank you so so so much for all of this - you gave me much needed advice and perspective .. and above all, kindness. Serious, i bookmarked the shit out of everything here. i have notes! i'm so blown away. was crying through most of these answers (in a good way), a lot of them hit home. Also gave me something a bit more tangible to work with, like, tool-wise. And really gave me some sorely needed lift to get out of my head and take a look around. ha. i even slept like a baby for the first time in awhile now.

So yeah, this morning at the mirror I was trying to get my hair do something other than Einstein, and I realized that I haven't actually just stopped to look at myself in the eye. since..i dont know since when. I dont know if that sounds like anything, but it was like i was reminded that its a real human being there ( and, though flawed, for a little while there it was easier to attribute value in myself other than just being a sad sac loner crazy (i loved that) lady that doesn't have a job or is just a spaz or whatever. kind of feel like someone pulled my head above the water, so for that i want to say thank you again.

And yeah i been thinking a lot today ..about everything. About meditation, coffee shops, dividing and conquering to do lists and killing off the items that aren't worth the time. And about my husband in this mix, our communication etc., and i've not been frank enough about all the things, think i've just been trying to be a good sport for him at the cost of not being fully honest about what is going on. and yeah, as someone pointed out i think the clingy thing is more my..weird notion. But i do want to do more stuff with him. Really have to just level with the guy and start with what we can. He is my best friend, and i know he has my back, i think i just haven't known how to ask for help or talk with him in the right way. ..Have a lot to figure out, and do, but funnily enough i feel more like it might be okay now. And i think its your doing..its pretty rad. Guys, i hope you all have an awesome awesome, really beautiful weekend. biggest hugs

p.s. i signed up with the red cross, fingers crossed i'll get some work and human contact soon :)
posted by speakeasy at 6:54 AM on November 19, 2015 [8 favorites]

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