Anxiety hack 4 — ‘Have To’ Vs. ‘Want To’

August 23, 2020 § Leave a comment

So I made a veg pulao today for lunch. It’s an Indian rice dish with spices and vegetables. It came out quite well, although I didn’t have all the spices needed at home. Can be eaten as is, or with gravies either veg or non-veg. I didn’t know how to make pulao and therefore looked up the simplest recipe I could find on YouTube. If you want to give it a shot, here’s the one I used, by a lady called Shaziya:

Earlier in the morning, I had made egg bhurji, which is a spiced scrambled egg with fine chopped onions and tomatoes sautéed in a some oil and a dollop of butter. I learnt the butter part from here by a chef named Varun Inamdar, who’d posted a video of himself making the dish, on YouTube:

The thing is, in nearly three years, today was the first time I actually wanted to make these dishes and enjoyed making them — the bhurji because our son loves it with buttered toast, and the pulao because we had to make something for lunch and I wanted to make it. Both times, I was happy, and really wanted to make the dishes and I made them at my own pace, sans anxiety.

Later, in the afternoon, on my weekly phone session with my therapist, I discussed this. I wanted to know why, today, I felt happy with these everyday activities. I’d also woken up at 8:15 a.m. today instead of 8:45 a.m., which was a big deal for me, because getting out of bed earlier, today I’d felt a lot less dread of meeting the day, whereas normally it takes my son’s online class notification pinging on my phone to get me out of bed, finally.

My therapist’s theory, which she said she’d come across recently while researching the subject of people with depression finding mornings tough and wanting to stay in bed or to crawl back in for a bit longer, was this: We dread the day ahead because of a perceived challenge — either external or personal. It could be work related or on the personal front, not wanting to face someone or something.

And my experience today correlated with that. A lot of stress over the past 10 days had ended yesterday morning, with the submission of eight pages of text comprising two stories for the magazine. Three interviews I had to conduct over the week had also gone quite well. My internet connection had dropped off bang in the middle of the last interview, on Friday afternoon, but I’d managed to control my rising anxiety, and thankfully the connection had been restored within a minute.

So, yesterday evening, I was already in a relaxed state of mind with all the deadline-driven work behind me, and seeing our friends — I’ve probably previously mentioned what has become a Saturday practice of visiting them — and spending a nice evening that included dinner and music and talk had put me in a bit of a natural high. All of that probably helped me get out of bed earlier today, with no immediate challenge to dread.

My therapist also talked about how people often faced the choice of ‘have to’ versus ‘want to’. Previously, when I cooked, I always did it out of a sense of responsibility. For example, dinner is usually my responsibility on week days, and breakfast on weekends. Today, I didn’t cook because I ‘had to’ but because I ‘wanted to,’ my therapist pointed out. This kind of choice, if one is able to make — shifting something from ‘have to’ to ‘want to’ can create an upswing in one’s mood, she said. And I’d been able to do that today and much of the first half of the day and through lunch, my anxiety was way less than usual.

There may be no clear processes to follow to shift as much of one’s activities into the ‘want to’ bucket, but it is possible to build some of these processes and follow them. One of the things that helped me today was actually something that I did more than 10 days ago. To get my stories in within deadline, I built myself a grid, like a simple excel sheet, with the days of the week on the x axis and the things I had to do on the y axis. And at each intersection of a day and a task/chore I assigned a brutally realistic amount of time that I had to perforce spend on that task.

And I built the grid in such a way that each successive day would have a little less to do and would be a little easier to handle. So the toughest parts or the tasks that most felt like drudgery — like transcribing an interview for longer — came first, and the more enjoyable parts — like actually building the story structure and polishing it up — came later. In other words, I set up an in-built reward system for myself.

And work moved progressively from the ‘have to’ state to the ‘want to’ stage. At the time I built the grid, I didn’t even realise that this was what I had done, but it became clear today, while talking through it with the therapist.

So here’s another anxiety hack or a get-work-done hack if you will. Build yourself some processes that will help you move your work from the ‘have to’ state to the ‘want to’ bucket.

#anxiety #anxietyhack #depression #anxietyanddepression #upswing

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