Time anxiety: what it is and how you can deal with it
Last updated on: December 23, 2021
It’s too late for me to start my own business. I’m too old to take driving lessons or start learning a new language. Do you ever feel like time is working against you? Or do you feel like blaming the famous animated clock-eater, Big Muzzy, for eating all your precious time? As a result, you believe that activities you do in your everyday life aren’t meaningful enough.
If so, you’re dealing with time anxiety, a quite common issue in today’s society. In this article, we’ll shed light on time anxiety and explain:
- time anxiety symptoms,
- how to prevent time anxiety attacks, and
- how to stop being anxious about time.
What is time anxiety?
According to the Healthline website, time anxiety means having “ongoing feelings of uneasiness and even dread around the passage of time.”
So, time anxiety is the feeling that you’re wasting your time. You’re anxious over time when you think that it’s too late to accomplish your goals. In addition, time anxiety is when you’re obsessed about how you spend your time and whether you’re doing meaningful activities.
Since there are various time-related problems, we can distinguish between three types of time anxiety:
- Daily time. The feeling of being rushed, overwhelmed, and stressed. Thus, you usually feel like there are not enough hours in a day.
- Tomorrow time. This type of anxiety is focused on tomorrow. Whenever you think about what might happen in the future, you experience time anxiety. In such cases, you usually ask yourself:
- What if I fail?
- What if something bad happens?
Tomorrow time anxiety relates to what you’ve done so far, in the past. We worry whether what we’ve done in the past is enough for the future. In addition, we might feel guilt over what we should have done but haven’t.
- Existential time. We experience this type of anxiety because we exist. Therefore, we sometimes feel like time is slipping away. Existential anxiety can sometimes create a sense of panic when we think about our (limited) time on Earth.
What is chronophobia?
Aside from time anxiety, there’s also chronophobia. This term originates from the Greek word “chrono,” which means “time”, and “phobia,” or “fear”. In a way, chronophobia is somehow similar to existential anxiety since it signifies fear of time and the passing of time.
The anxiety can increase in situations such as:
- high school or college graduation,
- wedding anniversary,
- milestone birthdays,
Here are some common situations of chronophobia, as well as examples of people who struggle with this type of fear:
- Senior citizens and people who suffer from terminal illnesses. They worry about how long they’re going to live.
- Prisoners who speculate about the length of their imprisonment, which is also known as “prison neurosis”.
- In particular situations, like natural disasters. In such cases, people are facing anxiety that can last quite a long time, without any way to track their time.
Apart from drugs and medications for treating chronophobia, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) suggests treatments that can be used as well. These can be relaxation and stress relief techniques, breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, and even aerobic exercises.
Time anxiety symptoms
Alex Lickerman is a physician and an author of several books. He’s also known for exploring the matter of time anxiety. In this article, he explains the most common time anxiety symptoms.
Worrying about tardiness
How often do you fear that you’ll be late for an important meeting? Now, it’s logical that we all want to be punctual, especially when it comes to our work. But, Lickerman points out that we can sometimes become preoccupied with potential tardiness. We worry in advance, even before we’re actually late.
Furthermore, time anxiety can negatively influence our mood. When we arrive late for an event, we might feel angry or nervous, even when there aren’t any consequences of our behavior.
Feeling uncomfortable when you don’t finish everything you planned to
This type of time anxiety is related to our goals. Or, better said, it’s anxiety you feel when you fail to complete all the tasks you wanted to.
Lickerman claims that such anxiety can happen to us even during carefree times, like vacations or weekends. For instance, you plan to tackle several household chores during the weekend. But, once you wake up on Saturday, you feel anxious knowing that you have a limited number of hours until the weekend is over. Thus, you’re not motivated to complete these chores.
Let’s say that you’ve finished some of your weekend errands. So, you’re supposed to be happy for having completed one part of the work, right? Not really. Time anxiety prevents you from being satisfied with what’s been done so far. Instead, you’ll beat yourself up for the things you could have done, but haven’t.
Worrying that you’ve missed out on life opportunities
Now, you can also be anxious about time passing when you think about your life and try to see a bigger picture. Sometimes we feel that society expects us to reach certain milestones, like a career promotion, marriage, or starting a family, by a particular age. If you haven’t accomplished some of these milestones, you might worry that you won’t have a successful life.
In such cases, time anxiety works like a pair of glasses that allow you to see only what’s in front of you, while your peripheral vision is blurry. Thus, you focus on the passage of time, and you fear that you’ll never be able to accomplish your desired milestones. As a result, you’ll feel desperate and overwhelmed. But, if you stop paying so much attention to the fact that time passes by, you’ll realize that you still have time to work on those milestones.
Time anxiety attack and how to prevent it
Now, what happens at the moment we feel anxious over time? How can we recognize a time anxiety attack? We reached out to Tanya J. Peterson, a mental health educator and author of numerous self-help books about anxiety and mindfulness.
Tanya describes a time anxiety attack as an intense, crushing sense of being overwhelmed by tasks that you’re facing. She further explains:
“It often involves thoughts, feelings, sensations, and behaviors such as:
- A sense of urgency that “everything” must be addressed immediately.
- Thinking about all of the work that lies ahead of you and worrying about not being able to complete it as well as the consequences that might follow.
- Increased irritability and impatience, often followed by regret and apologetic behavior for snapping at others.
- Beating yourself up for past mistakes or not having accomplished enough already.
- “Tunnel vision” – only focusing on the enormity of the tasks you’re facing and your stressful thoughts and feelings about them.”
Moreover, these sensations can be tension headaches, chest tightness or pain, and difficulty breathing.
According to Tanya, the most effective way to prevent such feelings is to recognize when you’re caught up in this time trap, and acknowledge your thoughts and feelings. Here’s what else she recommends:
“Breathe slowly, deeply, and mindfully. Slow, deep breathing deactivates your body’s stress reaction (the sympathetic nervous system and fight-flight-or-freeze) and activates the calm, rest-and-digest response of the sympathetic nervous system.
Mindful breathing means paying attention to the act of breathing. Either close your eyes or gaze at an object you find pleasing, and pay attention to the sound and feel of the air entering and leaving your body. This step is very important for stopping your system’s reaction to stress and anxiety.”
Tanya concludes that the few moments you spend breathing deeply will help you be more productive for the rest of your day.
How do you stop being anxious about time?
We explored the issue of a time anxiety attack and how to react when it happens. Here are some additional tips that can help you overcome time anxiety once and for all.
Accept what you can and cannot control about time
Before you experience another time anxiety attack, let’s review some hard facts about time:
- Time exists.
- You cannot stop time, make it go slower or faster.
- You can control your future but cannot change the past.
Although this sounds like common sense, you should definitely remind yourself of these facts whenever you’re anxious about time. Besides, whenever you’re struggling with what happened in the past, simply stop. Unfortunately, we still haven’t invented a time machine. So, the best you can do is focus on the future — the instance you can control.
In addition, it’s worth mentioning Oliver Burkeman’s latest book Four Thousand Weeks: Time and How to Use It. Burkeman highlights that time is finite, and we have to accept that. In fact, he claims that this acceptance happened around the same time we’ve started clocking in and clocking out. Why is this important? Once people realized that time is finite, they started appreciating time more. But, this also puts more pressure on how we perceive time.
Define what “time well spent” means for you
If you worry that you don’t devote enough time to meaningful activities, you should ask yourself what “time well spent” signifies to you. This applies to all segments of your life, like:
- Work: What kind of tasks make you feel good when you finish them?
- Family and friends: Who do you enjoy spending time with?
- Hobbies and free time: What are your most enjoyable hobbies or activities?
Feel free to add more categories.
Once you get your answers, you’ll have a clearer idea of the activities and tasks that you love doing, as well as the people you cherish the most.
Tanya J. Peterson also suggests broadening your focus to your big picture, your “why.”
“Recall what is most important to you.
- Why are you doing these tasks in the first place?
- How does working on them move you closer to your vision for your life?”
This way, you’ll be able to connect your goals with specific activities or tasks that can get you closer to your targets.
Find a way to fit your most significant activities into your life
Now that you’ve discovered what “time well spent” means for you, the next step is to make space for these activities in your daily life. Be sure to dedicate enough time to what matters to you in each segment of your life. If it helps, you can schedule such activities. Remember to be realistic and plan as many activities as it suits your lifestyle.
For instance, if you realized that you genuinely enjoy doing yoga, figure out when you have some extra time in your schedule for yoga. It can be in the morning before work or in the evening, it’s up to you. Then, make sure you follow this routine.
Focus on doing a few things that count
In his latest book, Oliver Burkeman points out that “the only route to psychological freedom is to let go of the limit-denying fantasy of getting it all done and instead to focus on doing a few things that count.” So, we asked him whether he thinks that this routine will help us be less anxious about time.
“I think it’s always anxiety-reducing to perceive that you’d been attempting to do something impossible, and then drop that struggle. The point about the fantasy of “getting it all done” is that it is unachievable by definition – because we’re limited humans in a world of unlimited inputs, and also because the more you get done, the more new to-dos you generate. So it’s liberating to drop that whole thing,” Oliver clarifies.
He adds that, once you have done so, you can focus on doing a few things that matter to you without being so tormented by thoughts of all the “other” valuable things you could be doing with your time.
Keep a journal of your time anxiety
To be able to control your anxiety, be sure to write down your anxious moments. Describe what you were doing at the moment and what emotions you felt during the time anxiety attack. Thus, you’ll have a much clearer understanding of what causes this stress. Plus, you’ll be able to prevent having similar situations in the future. Furthermore, this routine will help you avoid overworking and even worse, career burnout.
Try to calm down your anxiety by picturing the worst scenario
At first, this may sound counterproductive — but, let us explain the gist. To overcome your time anxiety when you’re running late, stop for a moment and think about the worst-case scenario.
For example, you’re late for meeting your best friends for drinks. It took you too long to get ready, and now you have to call a cab to get there as soon as possible. Think about the worst thing that could happen, such as the possibility that your friends will get upset. If that’s the worst scenario, then figure out how to fix this issue.
So, instead of stressing about being late, be sure to kindly apologize to your friends. Thus, you’ll be able to calm down and let go of your anxiety about time. And who knows, maybe they won’t be mad at you. Maybe your friends have already ordered their drinks, and they’re in a good mood.
To sum up, trying to prevent time anxiety is crucial. Apart from calming your nerves, you’ll ensure you’ll be in good spirits, too. Just imagine arriving late to an important event and feeling stressed. Doesn’t sound so exciting, right?
Try talking with a professional
If you believe you won’t be able to overcome time anxiety on your own, don’t be afraid to look for professional help. A therapist can be quite beneficial for many reasons. For instance, therapists can analyze the reasons you’re feeling anxious about time. Later, they can show you the best ways to get rid of time anxiety. Going to therapy is especially vital if you’re dealing with existential anxiety.
Improve your time management skills
When you’re anxious, you probably consider time your worst enemy. So, to make peace with it, learn how to better manage your time. Thus, you’ll enhance your time management skills. Here are ways you can do that:
- effective planning,
- making sure that your goals are SMART — Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound,
- avoiding distractions whenever you can,
- practicing single-tasking instead of dealing with several tasks at the same time,
- managing your stress levels by trying stress-relieving strategies while working.
These are just a few of the time management techniques that you can use to overcome time anxiety. It may not be easy at the beginning but getting rid of your anxiety about time will surely be worth it.
💡 If you’re interested in learning more about time management, here are some of our in-depth articles you’ll find useful.
When you think about it, time anxiety can often be a consequence of living in a hectic, technology-riddled world. Or, as Tanya Peterson describes: “We’re constantly connected to something, a phone or tablet or television.” She adds that even when we try to enjoy some time off, we usually pop on Social Media or check our email.
So, what’s the solution? Peterson recommends mindfulness, which can be described as a relationship you have with yourself and your life:
“It’s a decision to pay attention to what is going on right now in the space around you rather than being distracted by devices or even our own anxious, racing thoughts. It takes practice because the world demands our constant attention. Over and over again, choose what you want to pay attention to. Be engaged in one thing at a time, one moment at a time. Doing what you need to do at this moment, whether that’s pausing to breathe, enjoying time in the park with a loved one, or completing a work task will go a long way in easing time anxiety, so you can live your life on your terms — and in your time.”
Practicing mindfulness plays a key role in your overall mental health. Once you make a habit of it, it’ll be much easier to organize your life — all the important aspects of it.
When you’re anxious about time, you feel uncomfortable with time: either with the fact that time is passing, or because you have too much on your plate, which makes you overwhelmed. In some cases, you may reflect on your time on Earth and whether you’ve accomplished significant life milestones.
To overcome time anxiety, you need to accept what you can and cannot control about time. You’re the main designer of your future, so think about what matters the most to you, and make space for crucial activities in your life. Remember that you don’t have to deal with time anxiety on your own. If it feels overwhelming, consider seeking out some professional help. Moreover, work on your time management skills, as they can be very helpful when fighting time anxiety. In addition, you can also work on your ability to focus on one thing at a time — this will help you calm down and gradually let go of your time anxiety.
✉️ Have you ever felt anxious about time? How did you manage to deal with it? Send your answers, suggestions, and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and we may include them in this or future posts.