Tag Archives: anxiety

Get Organized for Taxes!

This is the time of year we dread! Once again we need to pull together financial

Tax preparation is a boring and often overwhelming and anxiety provoking process.

Tax preparation is a boring and often overwhelming and anxiety provoking process.

information to submit our federal and state taxes. Even if you’ve kept good records or you get someone to do your taxes, it’s a task that produces inner angst. That emotional angst can lead to procrastination of doing your taxes or getting your tax information to your tax preparer. That procrastination then leads to more angst.

Avoid the angst this year! Following are ways I’ve learned to manage my anxiety and get taxes done.

  1. Stop thinking you have to do things perfectly. For years I was frozen in fear and inaction because I was so sure I was going to make a mistake in my tax reporting. Instead of focusing on the need to get everything just right in a process I barely understand, I now focus on doing the task to the best of my ability. If the IRS finds a mistake, I won’t be thrown in jail or judged harshly by anyone but myself. I might have to pay a penalty, but I can handle a penalty.
  2. Gather all papers associated with your taxes (personal property tax information, W-2s, 1099s, interest statements, mortgage interest records, real estate tax information, tax preparation document from your tax preparer if you use one, etc.) into one file or box. Don’t look at the papers carefully, just assemble them together. Looking at the information will only generate unnecessary anxiety and lead to procrastination.
  3. Schedule a time to organize your tax-related papers. Tell someone else of your plan and ask them to call or text you at the designated time. Instruct them that you want them to check to see if you followed through with your plan to work on your taxes. Let them know you need support and encouragement, not nagging or judgment.
  4. Set the stage for successfully organizing your papers. Make sure you are in a comfortable location with lots of room to spread out documents. The space should have lots of light, both natural and artificial light. It should be free of distractions, like noise, demanding pets, children and other family members. Put on some relaxing music. Get yourself a beverage of your choice, preferably not alcohol. Doing those activities will increase the odds that you get started on the work you intend to accomplish. Combining pleasure with a dreaded task makes the dreaded task easier to face.
  5. Remind yourself that your goal is to make progress, not to complete the task perfectly. It can take several sessions to assemble all the information you need to submit for taxes. A realistic goal, one that is less likely to generate anxiety and overwhelm, is to get as much done as is possible in that session given the information you have. At the end of the first session you will probably have identified additional information and/or documents that you need to obtain. If you stick to the task until all the papers are sorted and missing items identified, you will have reached a good completion point and be armed with a to do list of next actions to take.
  6. Use the previous year’s tax form or the tax prep document provided by your tax preparer to help you identify the types of information you need to assemble.
  7. Separate the papers in your tax folder or box into two categories: 1) those you know you need like personal property tax information, W2s, etc.; 2) those that you might need to refer to, but may not need. Set aside the papers in the second category.
  8. Make a list information that is missing. As you sort, identify information that you don’t have, but will need to complete your taxes.  
  9. Gather the missing items, and you are ready to do your taxes or submit information to your tax preparer.
  10. Get help from family, friends or a professional organizer if despite your best intentions you cannot make yourself take action. Tax preparation is a boring, sometimes overwhelming and almost always a process that stirs uncomfortable feelings. Involve a supportive other to reduce your anxiety and make completion possible.

Thinking about tax preparation will likely always produce some dread. Perhaps it is associated with paying the government your hard earned money. Or, you see it as an opportunity to demonstrate how disorganized you and your papers are. Or, you view it as an opportunity to fail. It definitely makes you touch in on your financial reality. All those conditions can provoke anxiety.

Facing tax preparation from a grounded place with your emotions in check, with both knowledge of the process of preparation and strategies for managing uncomfortable feelings, however, you can transform the task from a highly charged event into just another annoying task to be done. What can you do today to jumpstart yourself into tax preparation?

Photo Project: From Anxiety to Success, A Matter of Choice

I was awakened by anxiety. My mother and father-in-law had asked that I help them organize DSCN0852their photos, 60 years of photos. I just couldn’t wrap my brain around how to tackle that enormous task. Was I worried? A little. I was worried that I didn’t have a clear plan for accomplishing the task. But, another part of me knew that not knowing was not an insurmountable obstacle. There have been many times when I’ve been clueless up front about what to do to move forward with a client project. What I have learned is that the answers often come to me once I’ve begun a project. I don’t have to have the perfect plan. I just need to get started and use what I know to lead me forward.

My first step was to pull all the containers of photos and memorabilia into one location. I’ve learned over the years that it’s really hard to get started on a project if pieces of the project are scattered around. When I pull all the pieces together my brain kicks into gear. 

Now, at that point many people would be blown away because they could finally see the reality of their organizing challenge. There was an enormous of material to go through. Rather than step back and focus on the size of the project, I consciously chose to step into the project to explore the lay of the land with curiosity. I did that by removing items from the boxes so I could see what they contained. Were they photo albums or packages of photos? Were they travel photos or family photos? That movement helped release some of the anxiety I’d been feeling. Once I was moving I very quickly was able to group photos and albums into distinct categories: travel photos, family photos, family of origin photos on both sides. I was off and running.

Another important piece of this process was my mindset. Even though I was anxious about how to do the project, at no point did I allow myself to think that I was not up to the challenge. Yes, there were moments when I could have gone to that negative and self-defeating place. Instead, I held on tight to the belief that I could get this big project done. I might not be able to get it done in the five days I had, but I could make significant progress.

There is much more to the story of this photo project I could share, however, the point I’m making here is that you don’t have to know how you’re going to get something done ahead of time. In fact, it’s often impossible to do that with really big clutter clearing projects. The energy of the clutter is negative and distracting. What’s most important is that you show up, approach the challenge with curiosity, push back fearful, limiting beliefs, hold onto the belief that you will be successful, and start moving things intentionally.

With help from my mother and father-in-law, who made some of the choices about what to keep and what to get rid of, I cleared out about at least 12 big black bags of trash, separated photos into individual boxes for at least six online photos books, boxed all the photos we weren’t keeping for their daughter who wanted them, and I scanned almost 200 photos for the first  photo album that I will create for them. I’m all set up to create one book and continue the work the next time I visit. 

Don’t let a big clutter clearing project stop you dead in your tracks. Set your intention. Manage your feelings of overwhelm by expecting success. Engage your curiosity about the contents of your clutter. And, get moving. If after all that you find yourself stuck, you always have the option of seeking support with a family member, friend or professional organizer. Staying stuck is a choice. Getting unstuck by working with your beliefs, actions, and/or support are also choices. What will you choose?

ADHD: Creating Visibility to Calm Emotions and Complete Tasks

young attractive brunette with six arms multitasking her workMy ADHD clients, when asked about time management and task completion often describe their process of handling multiple competing obligations and tasks like this, “I had so much to do that I got overwhelmed and didn’t get anything done.”

One possible reason for their apparent paralysis is that they had too much incoming and no method for organizing, prioritizing and strategizing how they’d handle the influx of tasks that had landed on their mental to do lists.

So, this past week when a coaching client came in with the same type of challenge described above, I was excited to have the opportunity to learn more about that overwhelm/shutdown dilemma that is so common for people with ADHD. Together we could look at the reality of her current situation and develop awareness of what actually happens when too much lands on her plate. With that information we would be in a good position to generate ideas of what she can do moving forward to manage multiple tasks and task influx and keep moving.

As I listened to her describe the projects and associated tasks that had just heated up, what I noticed was that it seemed that all that incoming information was being carried in her head. She was attempting to keep track of all that had to be done and had been done with her memory alone.

Anyone would have difficulty carrying so much information in memory, given the complexity of the projects she described. However, one of the hallmarks of ADHD is having an unreliable memory and great difficulty with working memory. The way she was currently managing her project obligations was the equivalent of trying to capture all the details of her projects in a sieve. Some tasks were getting done, the lucky ones that got caught in the sieve, but even so, my client was aware that she didn’t have a complete grasp of all that needed to be done, thus she felt anxious.

I checked in with my client about how she was keeping track of all the tasks to be done. Was she in fact relying on her memory alone to manage her projects? Yes, all that data was floating in her head, stirring up anxiety. We discussed the option of making the projects and associated tasks visible, pulling them out of her head and onto paper or a computer screen. I call this “dumping your brain.” She liked that idea.

In our discussion my client admitted that by trying to keep everything in her head she really couldn’t see the total picture of her current obligations. Not being able to see her reality made her anxious. She also couldn’t see what she already had done, something that could have eased her anxiety and motivated her to keep going despite feeling the weight of responsibility associated with her projects. Writing out the tasks associated with each project would make it much easier to determine priorities, a timeline, a sequence for taking action and resources needed and available to complete the tasks. 

By combining memory with making project details and tasks visible, my client agreed that she would in a better position to create an accurate picture of her reality, to develop a doable, strategic action plan, and initiate and complete tasks from a position of feeling in control and empowered instead of running on anxiety and urgency or becoming paralyzed by overwhelm. In our session she moved from “freaked out” by all she needed to get done to excited at the prospect of creating a visible action plan. Not being able to see the full picture of her obligations kept her anxious and overwhelmed. Creating visibility would help her manage her anxiety and make successful completions more likely.

Where are you shut down, paralyzed by the weight of the obligations you carry in your head? Make them visible and watch the tyranny of your emotions ease so you can spend your energy on effective thinking, planning and strategizing when and how to get them done instead of needing to spend valuable energy to manage anxiety and other uncomfortable feelings that emerge when you’re operating in the dark. 

Clutter Clearing Shutdown, Facing An Anxiety Challenge

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Anxiety provoking clutter challenges can be faced with caring support.

According to Eric Maisel, PhD, author of The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person’s Path through Depression,  a normal internal reaction to a perceived threat is anxiety. The purpose of anxiety is to keep us out of harm’s way. It triggers the impulse to flee, to retreat.

For years I’ve watched anxiety rise up and shut down clients in the process of facing their clutter challenges and the decision-making it involves. But, I wasn’t clear about the source of the anxiety. Sometimes it seemed to be a by-product of overwhelm. At other times it seemed like avoidance of doing a challenging task. And, for some it seemed like a fear of making a mistake. I had never considered that the source of their retreat was an instinctual response to a threat to their self-esteem.

With this new perspective I can see that a person facing a nightmare of their own making would certainly feel anxious and want to retreat. They might be thinking:

  • I’m such a mess. How could I let it get this way? (I’m flawed)
  • I don’t have a clue where to start. (I don’t know)
  • I’m overwhelmed. (I’m weak)
  • It’s too much to face. (I’m incapable)
  • I caused this. What does that say about me? (I’m responsible and incompetent)

It’s much easier to flee from threats to your self-esteem than turn and face them. People are neurologically programmed to run from threats. If it’s natural to retreat in the face of anxiety-provoking clutter, then how can progress be made?

First, it’s important to be aware that anxiety is the culprit in your avoidance of clutter clearing. Naming the challenge is one way to reduce its power over you. That frees you to consider options for neutralizing the anxiety so progress can be made.

Over the years of learning to manage my own anxiety and working with clients for whom anxiety is an issue, I’ve learned that the best way to handle anxiety is to get support. Anxiety is much more likely to expand and run the show when you are alone in the ring with it. Add caring support and any threat can be addressed and eliminated. That’s why people who have been stuck in self-defeating behaviors and a state of inertia begin moving when they get help from professional organizers, coaches, therapists and supportive family and friends. Anxiety is debilitating. Support is empowering.

Could anxiety be at the heart of your stuckness? What support would make forward movement possible?

Why People Can’t Clear Clutter on Their Own

Scanned Image 102540058I don’t get mad very often, but one thing that really frosts me is when husbands deter wives from getting help for clutter clearing because they think their wives SHOULD be able to do it on their own. I can easily say in the 15 years I’ve worked as a professional organizer, I’ve never heard of a wife doing that with her husband. When husbands want to get help, most wives usually cheer them on, grateful that some task will be completed with that help.

It’s easy for a husband, who has an assistant, support staff and a wife at home to take care of his clutter, to decree that his wife should be able to dismantle many years worth of accumulation of stuff. But, I view that type of response by a husband as a sad statement of how little he understands the complexity of clutter clearing, how little he knows about his wife, and how little he is willing to extend himself to understand his wife’s needs and support her in her efforts at self-improvement.

As a result of my last experience of being angered by the actions of a thoughtless husband, I came up with this list of some of the reasons why some people can’t clear clutter on their own. 

  • They have difficulty making decisions, and there are so many decisions to be made when clearing clutter.
  •  They don’t know where to start or how to start because the energy of the stuff is so overwhelming it shuts down their thinking.
  • The quantity of clutter overwhelms them.
  •  The type of clutter overwhelms them (especially paper and little stuff).
  • They don’t know how to sort items by category to be able to create a new order.
  • They don’t know what to do with the stuff they keep and/or the stuff they are getting rid of.
  • The condition of their environment embarrasses them, and touching the stuff stirs uncomfortable feelings of regret that they let their space get into such a state, and shame about themselves for not having done things differently.
  • They shut down because there are items mixed into the clutter that stir painful feelings of grief, loss or failure.
  •  The quantity of clutter is too much for one person to deal with all alone.
  •  They don’t knowing effective strategies for avoiding overwhelm and maximizing the probability that they’ll experience success.
  • They have a brain-based condition like ADD, anxiety or depression that makes taking action and completing tasks difficult.

I could go on and on. Clearing clutter, especially clutter that has accumulated over years is no small feat. It is a complex process that has physical, mental and emotional components. When a person asks for help to clear clutter, they really need it!