Anxiety Paralysis — and Taking One Step at a Time

The Appalachian Trail in Vermont — Take it one step at a time.

Yesterday our family had a day with nothing on the schedule. My daughter had her online school to do, but my husband was home on his day off, and I had nowhere to be. Oh, the possibilities! I could write. We could catch up on my daughter’s schoolwork. We could enjoy the day together. We could —

But the anxiety first hit me when I came downstairs and my husband was watching a new TV show. Now, we had all decided together to implement a new family schedule, where I would have time to write and work from home mixed in with my part-time job, homeschooling, his job, our volunteering, church life… oh, I’m getting carried away.

“You do too much,” many people have told me. I know they’re right.

And especially as I am healing from two successive miscarriages and navigating grief along with bipolar disorder and anxiety, on top of all those things… sometimes I just get downright overwhelmed by little things and little changes, and then it’s just a big. fat. NOPE.

Something about my husband relaxing by watching TV that morning, before any of us even got up, just threw me off. I love spending quiet mornings with him before the kids get up on his days off. But he was doing something else. It really was fine, but I had trouble dealing with this change of the plan first thing in the morning. So, I picked up my laptop and then just stared at it. Taking a deep breath, I decided to send a couple important emails I’d been putting off. Check. I did that.

The kids got up. The day took off. But it didn’t take off how I’d envisioned. I’m not a particularly schedule-oriented person, but I’d had a plan for the day and well, things were NOT going according to that plan.

And then it happened. I just froze. I panicked. I had so many things that I could have been doing — that I should have been doing — but everyone was off doing their own thing off-schedule, I hadn’t had any time to write, and I just had a complete and total meltdown. I couldn’t think straight, I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t even think of taking another step on this day that should have been so perfect.

Anxiety Paralysis

I wish this was an isolated event. I wish this didn’t happen as often as it does. But I can tend to get thrown off by the slightest things, especially lately. It’s hard to crawl out of this panic-stricken mode when I’m so deep inside it, and not only am I not able to do anything, most of those times I don’t want to do anything anymore. It’s hard to move on when you’re so paralyzed by anxiety you don’t know what to do at all anymore.

Of course not doing anything is not often an option. We need to be gentle with ourselves, yes, but we want to be able to keep going with our day and be productive and effective. This is when I think of a scene in the novel that I’m writing right now. The main character is very much like me — she’s navigating grief and depression, and in this particular scene, she’s been holed up by herself in a hotel room for days, and cannot see any way out.

So, this is what she does:

“I dressed and went to the door, and then just stood there, staring at the door knob. Was I brave enough to turn it?

Baby steps.

I reached out, and took a breath. Step one.

Step two: turn the knob.

Step three: Pull.

A rush of cool air met me and I could smell its freshness. I shivered but inhaled deeply. Invigorated, I glanced over to the chair and picked up my purse and phone, then locked the door, and took one, then two, then three steps outdoors. I headed to my car, realizing it was now relatively warm outside. I sat down and felt the sun beating down on my windshield.

Step however many: Put keys into ignition and turn. Back up. Pull out of the lot.

I turned out onto the road.

I’d done it. I’d left the room.”

Baby Steps

I have a tendency to get ahead of myself and become too easily overwhelmed. I want to do all the things! I need to do all the things! I must do all the things! If all the things don’t get done then I —and then I’m done. I haven’t done all the things, and now I can’t possibly do all the things. So, guess what? I do none of the things.

When I back myself into a corner and feel like I have to get every single thing done — all at once — I have to remember that I can only take on so much at a time. I have to think to myself, I am only one person and can only do one thing at a time. So, pick one. A friend of mine who also deals with anxiety and the tendency to want to do everything at once told me yesterday to just pick one. Pick ONE. And then start.

Just start.

Just like my character in my book, take one step.

Don’t think about the steps down the road, you’ll get to them eventually — don’t think about that, you’re not there yet!

Your first step is the very next step. Just do that.

Now the next one.

Take a breath. Okay, you’ve done two steps.

Now the next. And then the next.

And then you’ll be on your way and you won’t have to think about the number of steps you’ve taken. By then you will have worked your way out of the paralysis and you’ll be moving. Whatever it is you needed to do — you’re doing it.

You got this, friend. Just take that next step.

Katie Andrews Potter is a mother, author, educator, family historian… a storyteller, and a woman on a pilgrimage.

You can find her at her blog, Storybook Ancestor, writing about family history for kids. Katie can also be found at Indie Mama Reads, a blog about the bookish life she runs with her friend and sister indie author, Stephanie Pitcher Fishman.