Do you freeze up at a long to-do list?

Do you freeze up at a long to-do list?

It’s morning and you’re planning for the day and week ahead, but there are so many things on your to-do list that you feel defeated and begin to freeze up. That’s ‘overwhelm freeze.’

This phenomenon occurs when you recognize that you have a lot to do but feel paralyzed and can’t get started. You may know what needs to get done and maybe even where to start, but you just can’t kick off the task.

“Freezing up is one way we as humans react when our body senses a threat,” explains Tess Richerson, a nurse practitioner of psychiatric mental health at Aurora Health Care. “You may experience overwhelm freeze – also called task paralysis – when you’re worried about the seemingly staggering number of tasks you need to complete.”

According to the Association for Psychological Science, task paralysis is a form of procrastination that can result from not effectively managing your time or being incapable of mastering emotional control.

“Overwhelm freeze doesn’t discriminate, and anyone can experience it,” Richerson says. “It’s a more common response for someone who’s experiencing depression or anxiety and feels flooded with tasks that they’re unable to pull themselves out of.”

4 tips to help you work through overwhelm freeze and get things done:
  1. Shrink the elephant-sized task. Break your tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks to make them less daunting.
  2. Get strategic with your to-do list. Get your tasks out of your head and onto paper. Set deadlines for yourself and have a timeline for each to help you stay on track.
  3. Don’t avoid it. Stop procrastinating. If needed, delegate some of your tasks to someone else or find an accountability partner.
  4. Build motivation. Work backward and think about the end result. When you visualize the end of the tunnel, your tasks may feel more achievable.

“You can do this,” Richerson says. “Overwhelm freeze can be frustrating, but there are ways to overcome it. Start by setting goals, adjusting timelines and creating space to become unstuck. Get inspired to get productive.”

Find a behavioral health provider in Illinois or Wisconsin.

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  1. As someone who definitely gets anxiety over a to-do list sometimes, shrinking goals to a smaller size can be helpful, but keep in mind that the smaller the goals, the bigger the overall to-do list is. Sometimes you can get anxiety from a list that’s too long, just as much as projects that are too big to be one bullet-point.

  2. I “suffer” from this often, particularly at work where I regularly have extensive task lists. For me, these tips are intuitive and I did them naturally. Here are 2 other tips that help me: I ALLOW myself some procrastination time. Example: First I’ll do the daily Wordle puzzle, then I’ll get started. Also, I find crossing things off the list very motivating, so I put a couple really easy (sometimes silly) tasks on the list so that I can cross them off quickly and now it looks like I’ve already made progress!

  3. This is what I’m going through right now. I have to move stuff because in my senior apartment they’re going to fix the floor because we have a HUD inspection coming a Friday and I don’t know if they’re going to pick my apartment to inspect. However I digress. My problem is in my mind is where to move the stuff I’ve been thinking about it all day today and I know what I have to do and where to move the stuff but I don’t feel like doing it. And that’s what my problem all my life I think I have a mild case of ADHD but you know I really don’t know I have to get looked into.

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About the Author

Amber Thompson
Amber Thompson

Amber Thompson is a marketing graduate of the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. In her free time, Amber enjoys passion-filled projects including blogging and photography. Amber loves spending her free time reading journalistic columns, listening to motivational podcasts and discovering creative recipes to get her young son to eat his vegetables.