Time anxiety is characterized by feelings of overwhelm, nervousness, and fear about completing tasks or fulfilling life goals on time. They often feel as though they cannot keep up with the passing of time or with their peers. While time anxiety can be challenging to navigate, there are both effective treatment options and coping skills to help you cope. It can be beneficial to first identify your triggers in order to determine the best approach to treatment.
What Is Time Anxiety?
Time anxiety is often exhibited by one’s idea that there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done or accomplished on time. This usually coincides with feelings of frustration, stress, and fear. This type of anxiety can be caused by personal commitments or work obligations that seem impossible to overcome. In turn, this may result in procrastination as the person struggles to make decisions about what things are and are not necessary to complete.
Time anxiety can also occur alongside other anxiety disorders or specific phobias. For example, a person’s time anxiety may stem from chronophobia or the fear of time.1
Symptoms of Time Anxiety
It is common for those with time anxiety to experience typical symptoms of anxiety such as exhaustion, irritability, and difficulties concentrating. These symptoms commonly relate to a person’s sometimes irrational fears of not living up to their own expectations regarding life goals.
Common symptoms of time anxiety include:
Fear of Being Late
Those with time anxiety often experience extreme nervousness about being timely for events, obligations, and the like. Being late can leave anyone feeling embarrassed. However, for those with time anxiety, this fear of being perceived negatively by others for tardiness can be overwhelming. Anxiety may develop before an important event or due date as the person obsesses about not being tardy. This further increases their stress and exacerbates the overwhelm.
Fear of Missing Out on Opportunities
A person with time anxiety might fear missing out on opportunities if they are unable to reach milestones at certain periods in their life. For example, if someone fails to achieve a goal (like buying a house or finding a job) by their own set date, they may fear that this led to them missing out on promotions, relationships, and other important achievements. In turn, they may begin to compare their current situations to others and only worsen their fear about not being able to “catch up.”
Feelings of overwhelm related to time anxiety often develop when a person’s to-do list seems never-ending or continues to grow. They may feel entirely unable to fulfill all of their obligations and that time is just continuing to pass them by.
Frustrated When Tasks Go Unfinished
Navigating time anxiety can be frustrating, especially when tasks are not completed on schedule. This can lead to frustration, feelings of failure, and further overwhelm. A person with time anxiety might feel that these unfinished projects are their downfall and cause for extreme distress.
Being Stuck in Analysis Paralysis
It can be difficult to know which tasks are top priority and which ones can wait. Making these decisions can result in analysis paralysis, a common symptom for those experiencing time anxiety. They may put off their obligations entirely as they struggle to determine where to start. They may spend excessive time analyzing every component of a project to ensure that it is perfect. However, not staying on schedule can make a person with time anxiety feel even more stressed and upset as time continues to pass by.
What Causes Time Anxiety?
As with any anxiety disorder, recognizing what triggers and causes time anxiety is important. Additionally, those with diagnosable anxiety disorders may be at an increased risk for developing time anxiety if other factors of their condition have not been addressed. Along with genetic influences, there are a number of other elements that can contribute to time anxiety.1
Possible causes of time anxiety include:
- Genetic factors: Genetics may play a role in the onset of time anxiety. If someone is experiencing time anxiety, it is more than likely that they have a family member who struggles with anxiety as well.
- General anxiety disorder (GAD): GAD may lead to time anxiety if it is not treated appropriately. A person might become overwhelmed by other stressors in their life, resulting in overwhelm regarding timeliness or fulfilling obligations in a timely manner.
- Social anxiety disorder: A person who experiences social anxiety may struggle with time anxiety if they feel they may be judged by others based on their performance. For example, they might think that others are far ahead of them in life and they do not have enough time to “catch up.”
- Existential dread: Existential anxiety or dread results from distress about the uncertainty of one’s future. This is common for those with time anxiety because they constantly worry about what is to come.
- People pleasing behaviors: People pleasing behaviors may result in time anxiety as a person might feel as though they need to take on more responsibilities to appease others. Thus, the individual now becomes overwhelmed by completing these obligations on time.
- Comparison: Comparing oneself to others can often result in time anxiety because a person feels unable to catch up to their peers who may be doing “better” than they are in life.
7 Tips for Coping With Time Anxiety
Adopting healthy coping mechanisms can be beneficial when it comes to managing time anxiety. There are many ways to cope with overwhelm, but it’s important to find the practices that work best for you. These will help you address symptoms in the moment and prepare for future stressors. Try incorporating these tools into your day-to-day life in order to stay grounded and mentally well-balanced.2
Here are seven tips for coping with time anxiety:
1. Practice Mindfulness
The use of mindfulness for anxiety is helpful when dealing with symptoms of time anxiety. Setting time aside to practice this every day will help a person remain grounded in the present, rather than focused on other obligations. If you also experience existential dread, this allows you to focus on how your life is in the moment and stray away from overwhelming thoughts about your future.
2. Seek Professional Help
Sometimes, navigating time anxiety may seem entirely overwhelming or even impossible. When you’re feeling alone in your struggles, reaching out for support can be beneficial. Therapy provides a safe and judgment-free space to speak freely about your feelings. A therapist will also provide you with helpful coping mechanisms to use during periods of distress. This way, you can manage your symptoms outside of a session. Additionally, if there is another underlying cause to a person’s time anxiety, such as a mental health condition, a therapist can provide insight into this and offer a diagnosis.
3. Maintain Self-Care
There are several benefits of self-care or emotional self-care when it comes to dealing with time anxiety. Find out what self-care looks like and means to you. What do you enjoy doing? What activities make you feel rejuvenated? Identifying ways to feel relaxed and at ease can help you feel more grounded in the moment and in control of your own life.
4. Get Outside
There are several mental health benefits of exercising outdoors, as it provides a boost of both vitamin D and dopamine. Being in nature exposes you to natural sunlight which has been proven to increase health and happiness. Try starting with a 10-15 minute walk every day. Changing your environment and scenery can help you destress and navigate away from negative thoughts that are clouding your mind.
5. Find Meaning in Life
What are the things you are passionate about? What do you value most in life? Write a list of what brings you joy in your life or explore new hobbies. Detaching from what is expected of you to focus on your own development can help you stop comparing yourself to others. You have the ability to take your life into your own hands–who knows, you might find an activity or practice you truly love!
6. Celebrate The Small Stuff
Crossing things off your to-do list or completing small tasks are worth celebrating. Take time to acknowledge your accomplishments each day and allow yourself to feel pride and gratitude for them. If you do not appreciate yourself, you will keep feeling as though what you do is not good enough. Reflect and take pride in your daily achievements, no matter how “small.”
7. Schedule a No Schedule Day
Consider this a “CEO” day–you are the president of your own life, so take a day to do things that you want to do! Allow yourself to go with the flow. If you struggle with time anxiety, it can be difficult to separate yourself from the constant pressure of your routine or rigid thinking. However, it is beneficial to set a date to simply live life in the present and focus on fulfilling your own wants and needs. Mark it on your calendar–even if the day is a month or two from now, don’t miss it!
Treatment Options for Time Anxiety
There are many benefits of therapy and it’s important to recognize when treatment for time anxiety may be necessary. If symptoms are affecting a person’s daily life in negative ways, this may be a sign that professional support would be helpful.
Finding the right therapist ensures that someone feels validated and supported throughout treatment. There are few commonalities to expect from an initial therapy session such as intake forms and questions about one’s symptoms. These allow the therapist to develop a treatment plan and provide the client with helpful tools for managing their anxiety. There are many therapy options for anxiety, so being open to different approaches will help a person find the one that works for them.3
Therapy options for time anxiety include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT for anxiety offers a person the opportunity to recognize the thoughts that are influencing their time anxiety symptoms. In turn, they can make necessary changes in order to address their unhealthy behaviors.
- Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT): MBCT is a therapy method that combines CBT with mindfulness skills. This way, a person is able to identify their emotions in the moment and cope with them as they occur.
- Group therapy: When a person engages in group therapy, they are able to learn from and share with peers who are experiencing similar symptoms.
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT): DBT provides insightful grounding skills a person can use to help them cope during moments of overwhelm.
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT): ACT works to help a person better understand themselves and what is causing their time anxiety, and also learn how to be kinder to themselves.
Navigating time anxiety can be difficult, but you do not need to feel isolated or alone. It’s important that you receive the help and support you need in order to overcome your fears. Time anxiety often goes hand-in-hand with other mental health conditions, so finding treatment can be beneficial for identifying triggers and causes of your symptoms.
For Further Reading
- Best Books for Anxiety
- 14 Best Books for Social Anxiety
- 14 Best Anxiety Podcasts
- Amazon.com: The Perfectionism Journal: Guided Prompts and Mindfulness Practices to Reduce Anxiety and Find Calm: 9781638785866: Kocol LPC, Tina: Books
- The Anxiety Network
- Anxiety Disorders and Depression Research & (adaa.org)