I’m always looking for productive things to do with my time and energy.
My mantra this year has been ‘pivot’. In other words, find a new way of approaching a situation when things stop working in your favor.
For instance, when a global pandemic breaks out and you have to homeschool all three of your kids while working full-time from home … pivot.
Find a new schedule, use time-blocking, and use the Pomodoro technique to make sure everyone is getting what they need.
The key to making all of this work when finding productive things to do is to set your own definitions.
Words like success and productivity can come laden with judgment if you don’t define them for yourself.
My anxiety stems from trying to control every aspect of everything to always appear like I have my shit together.
But, living with panic disorder and derealization for three decades has taught me that having my shit together looks and feels the way that I decide.
So, adjusting my definition of success has been crucial to my ability to pivot and approach the situations in life that bring stress with more fluidity.
For instance, being a successful mom means making sure that my babies go to bed each night feeling safe and happy.
How do I do that?
I ask them, “what was your best part of the day?” and, “what was your worst”? Then, we talk through each before they go to sleep.
If I make sure to do that for them, then in my eyes, I have been a successful mom that day. No matter how much yelling was done, screen time was watched, or peanut butter crackers were fed, I was successful as a mom that day.
Creating these definitions for yourself can be very freeing because then you only have to answer to your definition. And, not your interpretation of the definition that others hold.
What is the best definition of productivity?
If you Google the word productivity, you’ll find all kinds of definitions that have to do with “the efficiency of a person or system”.
And, to some end that is a true definition.
But, as I said before, creating a definition for yourself is essential to your mental health. Yes, it’s important that your definition of productivity lends itself to inspire you to find productive things to do with your time.
However, you are not a machine or a system.
I always tell people “You are A super human. But, you are not superhuman”
So, your definition of productivity should take into account that there will be bad days and good days. There will be times when you just don’t feel like it … but could be inspired to.
And other times when you really should take a break.
For me, finding productive things to do means that I have “been intentional with my time that day”. For instance, if I don’t want to workout, I just think “It’s not as important to me as what I’m doing right now”
If that is true, then I skip my workout. On that day, sitting on the couch reading might be more important to me than exercising. And, that is still a productive use of my time.
Self-care comes in all different forms. Reading is an excellent way to care for yourself by inspiring your imagination or furthering your personal development … depending on what you’re reading.
And, I would probably take a walk around the 3-mile loop of our neighborhood later that day if I skipped my workout.
But, if I think to myself “it’s not as important to me as what I’m doing right now” and that is NOT true. Then, I use Mel Robbins’ 5-second Rule and I get up and get my workout done.
Finding productive things to do means that I check-in with myself and stay mindful of how I’m feeling, what I need, and what is needed of me. Then, I make my choices with intention and honesty.
My goals are very important to me and I spend time creating an emotional connection to each one.
But, If I check-in with myself and I need some downtime, then I honor that and still feel productive because I am living in accordance with my definition of productivity.
When you create your own definition of productivity, you create an organic system for your success. And, build a positive relationship with goal-setting.
Having these beacons set out in front of you can give a tremendous amount of clarity and reassurance as you’re navigating your relationship with anxiety.
The experience you have had living with it has already taught you so much. Now, setting these safety nets will help you to feel stronger and more fortified as you learn to leverage what you have learned into a greater understanding of yourself and higher levels of living.
Why does it feel good to be productive?
In a nutshell, the more you accomplish, the better you feel about yourself. That’s a simple concept to accept, yes?
Typically, living with anxiety means living in solitude and fear. So, stretching outside of your comfort zone to accomplish more seems impossible. And, by not accomplishing more, you can’t feel better about yourself, so you stay in solitude and fear.
The cycle continues around and around.
And, I totally understand that feeling because I lived it for 30 years.
But, I also know how it feels to embrace the lessons from those 30 years of solitude and fear to step out, set goals, and find productive things to do.
To try new things and learn how strong you really are. And, to break the cycle in favor of a new one.
Redirect the nervous energy
Anxiety causes extra levels of adrenaline to run throughout your body. There are two ways you can choose to deal with that nervous energy; struggle to contain it or direct it into some kind of activity.
To break the cycle of anxiety, the better of those two choices is to leverage your nervous energy to find productive things to do. For instance, exercise or some kind of a project.
Think differently about your anxiety
When you think of your anxiety as being a feeling of fear or scarcity, it’s nearly impossible to be empowered or motivated to take action on anything. But, if you can reframe your thinking about your anxiety to a mindset that is more positive then all of that energy can be leveraged to productive things to do and create.
For instance, instead of thinking “I’m terrified right now”, you can reframe that to think, “I’m so excited right now I can hardly contain myself”. By saying the words “I’m excited” out loud, you can actually trick your brain into believing that the anxiety you’re feeling is a positive and not a negative
Embrace your anxiety
The simple fact is … our lives are stressful. There is no avoiding it. You will have days that are overwhelming and hard. And, you will have anxiety. But, if you can work towards embracing your anxiety as a natural part of the process, instead of trying to avoid it completely, you can actually minimize the feeling.
Use your powers for good
Take a few minutes to sit and think about some of the actions that you take when you have anxiety about something. You might get out of bed and go downstairs to double-check the deadbolt on the front door. Or, maybe you wash your hands several times per day because you have anxiety about germs.
Neither of those actions is necessarily a bad thing. But, imagine if you used that motivation to find productive things to do or set yourself closer to achieving a big goal. Using your anxiety as an asset instead of always trying to control or avoid it can help you feel more confident.
Know the difference between types of worry
There are two different types of worry; productive and unproductive. When you have unproductive worry, you are thinking about things that you can’t control or change. This is just worrying for the sake of worry and the end result will most likely be a panic attack.
But, when you have productive worry you are actually thinking about things that you can take action on. You are planning your approach and thinking about which steps you can take and which productive things to do to get further towards your goal
Take the power back
Flip the script on your anxiety. Instead of always living in fear and scarcity, ask yourself, “What is the absolute worst that could happen?” and, then really think about the answer to that question. You need to start trusting yourself.
That you could handle any situation that might come up. So, think about the worst that could happen and then plan what your response would be to that.
Get centered and set your intention
Anxiety often takes over when your mind is allowed to wander from one terrible hypothetical scenario to the next. Instead, take a minute to get centered. Find a focal point in the room, take a few deep breaths, scan your body from head to toe, and release the tension.
Then, set an intention for what your goal is. Think about how much better your life will be when you achieve that goal. Make a plan for the next three productive things to do today to get closer to that goal.
You may have been living with your anxiety for years but, this doesn’t have to be the only way that you live your life. Especially, if you are not fulfilled and happy with the life you have been living.
Keep your mind open to the possibility that there could be another way. Stay curious about how others live their lives with anxiety and what you could learn from them.
Be curious about your anxiety itself and what it’s trying to teach you. Think about each scenario that causes anxiety and stay curious about why. Use that curiosity to really dig deep into the root of your anxiety and reveal where your story might have holes in it.
Evaluate your self-identity
Think about the story you tell yourself about yourself. What has influenced that story and how could you rewrite it to go a different way?
Consider implementing The Work by Byron Katie to examine your self-identity and whether it is a true representation of who you are and how you want to be seen.
Adjust your expectations
If the voice inside of your head were a real person, and she was sitting on the couch across from you saying all of the things she says to you in your head, would you let her stay? Would you invite her for coffee? Treat her like your new best friend?
I’m guessing the answer is no.
So, then why do you let her take up so much of your energy and mental focus?
She’s rude. Not supportive. And, causes constant anxiety. She’s toxic and it’s time to evict her from your mind.
Reevaluate the expectations you have of yourself and what you’re going to put up with. You don’t have to take shit from anyone. And, you don’t have to smile and pretend like things don’t bother you.
You are allowed to speak up and say when something offends you. Or, when you don’t agree with what someone has said. You don’t have to “suck it up” and deal.
If you have a vice; food, booze, drugs, cigarettes, caffeine, etc … now is the time to focus on quitting.
You’re using that vice as a way to try and avoid your anxiety. The longer you do that, the longer it is going to take for you to finally embrace your anxiety and realize it can work for you.
Start a food journal to explore your thoughts and feelings about food. Start AA or NA, if necessary to get a handle on your drinking or drugging.
Talk with your doctor about options for quitting smoking.
Take back control of your mind and start by removing any habits you use to keep things cloudy.
20 Productive Things to do With Your Anxious Energy
Now that you have worked on shifting your mindset about your anxiety, it’s time to focus on all of the good you can do with your anxious energy:
Scientists have been able to identify a specific part of your brain that is activated when it hears words. In fact, if this part of the brain hears words repeated enough times, it moves those words into the subconscious part of the brain where they become set in stone truths.
You may have experienced this if you grew up with alcoholic or abusive parents. They might have said certain things to you over and over again until you started to believe them as set in stone truths.
The cool thing about knowing all of this is that you can use it for your benefit. You can repeat statements called affirmations over and over again until your brain moves them to your subconscious and you start to believe them as truth.
Affirmations are statements that are positive about yourself. For instance, “I am safe and strong”. This is a tremendously powerful affirmation. Imagine what your life could be if you truly believed that statement. Practice affirmations as an extremely productive activity to help with your anxiety.
Use a mantra
Mantras are a bit different from affirmations. Where affirmations are meant to help you change your mind about yourself, mantras are meant to help you focus and concentrate.
Sometimes mantras are only a single sound like “Om”. Other times they are short phrases like “Om Namah Shivaya”.
When you are meditating or practicing visualization, using a mantra can help you to stay in the rhythm of the practice and clear any distractions.
It’s time to stop thinking about self-care as an indulgence that you only allow yourself once in a while. Self-care doesn’t have to mean spending $900 at the day spa. It can be as simple as taking a walk by yourself while listening to your favorite music or, finding a quiet corner to read for 30-minutes.
Self-care is necessary for good mental health and strength. Just like you eat well to keep your body health, you need to give your mind some support each day so that it is strong enough to handle stress.
When you have that heightened level of anxious energy, spend time writing in a journal, meditating, or exercising. These are all amazing ways to leverage that energy into something really good for you.
It’s time to admit how much of an impact clutter has on your level of stress. Think of it this way, do you feel better when you walk into your kitchen when it is clean and tidy or when it is covered in dirty dishes and garbage?
A cluttered space ads to your stress. You may not notice it as much as other people do but, if you are feeling anxious energy, channel that energy into decluttering and see how much better you feel.
Start with something simple like a closet or pantry and then work your way up to paperwork.
Exercise is an amazing way to channel anxious energy into something productive. It could be something as simple as doing yoga or going swimming. You don’t have to run a marathon. Even though you might feel like you could if your anxiety is really high.
The great thing about exercise is that it takes your mind off of your worries and clears out all of the busyness. You drop down into a rhythm and are able to stop worrying and just be. Your mind is cleared and your body has taken over the focus. You don’t have to do something strenuous that you hate in order to achieve the emotional and mental health benefits of exercise.
There are so many ways that meditation helps your overall health and well being. When you’re feeling that heightened sense of nervous energy, it might feel impossible to meditate. But, the good news is, there are so many ways to meditate.
Not all of it is sitting still and not having a single thought in your head. In fact, one of my favorite meditations is called “box breathing” and has nothing to do with your mind.
You simply just sit comfortably and breathe in for four counts, hold for four, breathe out for four, and hold for four. Then, you start again with breathing in for four and repeat the entire sequence.
You can do this while you’re sitting at a traffic light and you never have to worry about clearing your mind. That just kind of happens naturally while you’re focused on your four counts.
I have had a few nervous breakdowns over the last three decades of living with anxiety, derealization, and panic disorder. During those times when my anxiety is completely off the charts and I struggle to get through each day, art therapy has been such a gift.
Things like scrapbooking, painting, and adult coloring books can be both calming and therapeutic. Similar to exercise, art therapy is a form of expression that doesn’t require that you think so much. You can just let your arms and hands do the work while you focus on the end result and rid your mind of the worrying thoughts.
Having a journal that you write in when you feel the need to unburden yourself is like having a therapist in your pocket. Your journal doesn’t talk back, but it can definitely help you to find a new perspective on your thoughts just by giving you a place to work through them.
Your journal is a safe place for you to write out all of the thoughts that are on your mind. So often, anxiety stems from or is exacerbated by being too caught up in thoughts. Things like “what if” or “worst-case scenario” and, when you always exist in that headspace, you can create heightened levels of stress and fear in your body.
Having a journal to share those thoughts with can give your min a reprieve so that you have some mental clarity and your endocrine system gets a break.
Be in nature
Spending time in nature can be extremely therapeutic. Not only does it provide fresh air and vitamin D, but the view can be very calming and even inspiring.
If your anxiety is influenced by feelings of claustrophobia or like a room is closing in on you, then getting outside and into the fresh air can help to calm those feelings and reduce your anxiety.
Make sure to take a walk every day, sit by the water, or find a quiet park bench to sit for 30-minutes. Spending time outside in nature should be a priority and something that you do several times per week, if not a little every day.
Read a good book
Sometimes, nervous energy from stress just needs to be ignored. But, how can you ignore it when it’s coursing through each one of your limbs?!
Switch your focus.
When you get into a really good book, it’s like losing yourself. You can almost forget where you are and what you’re scared of. Keep a few good books with you so that you can drop down into the story when your nervous energy starts to get overwhelming.
The break from it will be a welcomed relief and the entertainment from the story is a great bonus!
Part of chronic anxiety is the feeling of worthlessness. Always living in fear but, longing to be bigger and live bolder.
Learning a new skill can really help to break that cycle because it can give you the bit of confidence you need to say, “My anxiety strengthens me” ~ rather than feeling weakened by it.
Learn a new language, an instrument, practice martial arts, or something creative like calligraphy. Find a skill that you would feel proud to have and work on mastering it during the times that you feel overwhelmed by your anxiety.
Listen to inspirational things
Having anxiety and then watching an hour of Criminal Minds does not work. Instead, pick something that inspires you or makes you feel joyful.
Go on YouTube and look up montage videos of all of the golden buzzers from America’s Got Talent. Listen to podcasts that are inspiring and make you feel motivated and not alone.
Being self-centered enough to believe that you are the only one suffering this way in the world is another reason your anxiety has been able to take over. Find others like you and listen to their stories.
Make a plan of action
Not reaching your goals is keeping you in the fear cycle. But, trying to work towards your goals without a plan is like trying to drive somewhere you’ve never been without a map.
You need to create a plan of action so that you know exactly what you’re going to do each day to work towards achieving what you want.
If you need some help staying accountable, then you definitely need to download my free Ritual Tracker to help you stay on task.
Working towards your goals and achieving them will help you to feel more confident so you start to believe in yourself and what you can accomplish as a woman who lives with anxiety
Spend time volunteering
Giving to others is a tremendous way to feel calm and fulfilled. It is so easy for us to get wrapped up in our day-to-day. And only think of what is hard for us. Then, we forget there are others suffering far worse.
Volunteering is a beautiful way to not only help others who need your help but, also to help yourself. By completely changing your perspective. Check with your local Red Cross to see if there are any volunteer opportunities in your are
Whether you’re an extrovert with social anxiety or an introvert with generalized anxiety we all need connection with others. Having a support system of people is crucial to helping you stay grounded during times of heightened anxiety.
Even if your natural tendency is to retreat, it is much healthier and more productive for you to stay connected to the people in your life.
Create a vision board
This is a fun activity that actually combines two we’ve already talked about; art therapy and goal setting. Creating a vision board can give you a tangible resource for when things feel like they’re spinning out of control.
When you need to feel grounded and settled, having a vision board can be that guiding light for you. It will help you to stay focused on the big picture. Even when the day-to-day feels overwhelming because of your anxiety.
No matter how you do it, practicing gratitude every day can be the magical cure that you’ve been searching for.
The only catch is that you actually have to FEEL grateful in order for this to work.
That is a big challenge for most people.
You can’t just say, “I have a great job and I’m so thankful”. You have to actually have that feeling inside of your body of gratitude for your job. Even if there are parts of it that you hate. Or if there are people who make it difficult to enjoy the day.
You have to put all of that aside and truly feel grateful for the job that you have. That is why this is a practice and something that should be done on a daily basis. But, once you start doing it honestly, your life will change in so many ways.
That anxious energy that you’re feeling could be easily soothed by just allowing yourself a guilty pleasure. If you’re always holding yourself to a higher standard, let it go. And let go of the stress it causes.
Allow yourself to eat that junk food. Watch the garbage TV in the middle of the day, skip the important meeting in favor of a hooky day.
Whatever it is that you’re beating yourself up over, just let it go. And, do something really fun instead.
Spend time in the garden
Any activity that takes you outside is definitely good for your anxiety. Getting that extra dose of vitamin D and fresh air can do wonders for stress levels.
Gardening is especially therapeutic because it is a naturally productive activity. Plant food or flowers and then tend to them until they grow and bear fruit. This can help you to feel very accomplished and give you that boost of confidence.
Even if you don’t have a backyard, you can start an aeroponic tower garden on your back patio. Or, invest in a small greenhouse. Consider a window sill herb garden to start off with!
Work on your self-improvement
We all have room for improvement. And, when you’re looking for productive things to do with anxious energy, working on yourself is the perfect outlet.
Using things like self-improvement worksheets and journaling prompts are great places to start.
But, also reading self-improvement books or watching self-improvement channels on YouTube are also good things to feed your mind.
Rather than trying to control or hide from your nervous energy, consider these productive things to do. And stay empowered by your anxiety.