How I Dealt With My Time Anxiety
Words by Andrea Banatao
Art by Julianna Montenegro
The feeling of time running out,
when the world has stopped running.
I woke up at 10 AM today even though I set my alarm for seven. When that happens, the morning immediately feels like an enemy. I had failed to maximize my day before I even started it. I walked over to the kitchen where a savory aroma permeated the air and greeted my grandmother as she cooked lunch. Our warehouse-scaled window illuminated her bright face where a smile crept underneath creased eyebrows and beads of sweat. She wore a plaid shirt and a towel hung at her back. She had just finished gardening.
Like clockwork, my grandmother had woken up at 7 AM to tend to her garden. She had always put her heart into the fruits and vegetables she cultivates on her own. This had been her passion after all—something that gave meaning to her aging years. She was productive, I’d tell myself. Productivity makes people happy. Why couldn’t I be?
This wasn’t the first time I had these kinds of thoughts.
During every break that rolled through, I spent less time basking in the lack of schoolwork and more time obsessing over an imaginary list of things I should accomplish. For instance, by the time Christmas break ended, I would have finished writing a short story. By the end of the weekend, I would have written two poems, and before summer ended, I would have been at least seventy percent finished writing a novel. However, more often than not, I would fail to meet my quota, and feel bad about how much time I had wasted. It was only when I was stuck isolated with my family at home that these thoughts turned even more aggressive. I have time, I’d tell myself. Why am I not doing something meaningful?
Even though today marked nearly three months since I last saw my friends or walked freely through my campus, I paid those factors little mind. I continued to believe that I had nothing else to blame but myself for feeling completely unmotivated and unhappy.
There is a name for this ticking time bomb in my head—time anxiety. While death anxiety is the fear of running out of time, time anxiety is the fear of wasting your time. It's an obsession with spending our time in the most meaningful way possible. This begins to shed a lot of light on what strife means during the pandemic.
For the youth, struggles during this time vary tremendously. Some have financial problems to ease out with family. Some find that daily activities are harder to do. Some struggle with the lack of physical contact. For when we are given countless things we are unable to control, doing things within our control may appear like a hefty task all on its own. And when we are unable to do them, guilt sinks deeper into the static lifestyle we are drowning in. Upon further inspection, I realized that time anxiety is less about the obsession of time and more about the obsession of meaning. I was anxious that the things I spent my time on were simply meaningless or not meaningful enough.
If you have ever felt this way, know that you’re not alone. Entrenched in an age of technology and more aware of the achievements of other young thinkers, it’s hard not to compare ourselves to others. The value of the things we invest our time on appears too dull in comparison to the productivity we see in social media. This makes us believe that we aren't putting our attention to the more *meaningful* things, thereby wasting our lives. However, we must learn to be more forgiving of ourselves, especially at a time when we need to be more compassionate.
Before writing this article, I watered the flowers in my grandmother’s garden. I was supposed to do it at around 3 PM, but I was already so bummed out that I spent nearly the whole day sleeping or trying to sleep. Even then, I was guilty. Eventually, I dragged myself out of bed a little past six.
Everything was covered in a dark shade of blue. I could no longer see the empty patches of grass I needed to pay attention to. The yellow light of the utility posts contrasted with the azure, blanketing all the houses, people, and flowers. As I looked up, holding the hose in my hand, I memorized the way the clouds graded along pink, purple, and neon orange hues. It looked like cotton candy floating in the sky—an ethereal beauty.
This is why I write.
I write to translate the most fleeting and beautiful moments into words, spewing them with just as much color and life. Writing adds meaning to my life because it allows me to look at life in a romantic lens. It’s helped me smile through all the world’s brokenness and admire the beauty in all our complex designs etched in the grand scheme of things.
Although time anxiety had made me forget about these things, I was reminded that simple moments like these play a large role in understanding who we are and what gives our life meaning. Why do I do all of these things in the first place? What do I love about it? What made me forget? When we start to seek answers to these questions about ourselves, we get to once again see the value of the things we were already doing. We begin to feel time slowing down at our own pace -- guiding us instead of rushing us.
It’s good to set goals for yourself and accomplish things that make you happy. But if you’re struggling to constantly be productive, remember that your experience doesn’t make your life any less valuable. Take a moment to remember what gives your life meaning. If you don’t know what is meaningful to you, you still have plenty of time to figure out what does. Experiment on new passions. Fail gloriously. Grow tremendously. Then when you’re done, do it all over again.
Life’s not a contest. Everyone is on a different journey, so treat yourself with kindness and
respect. That, in itself, is an accomplishment.
JULY 1, 2020