Do you often feel like you are in a hurry even when hurrying isn’t necessary?
Or do you feel like you are always busy jumping from one task to the next throughout the day?
Or multi-tasking and trying to deal with too many things all at once because they all feel equally urgent?
If so, you’re dealing with a false sense of urgency. Your brain is telling you that if you don’t act fast you’re in danger, even though there is no actual threat to your safety.
This stems from the fact that we are designed to respond to danger with a sense of urgency so that when there is an immediate threat, you take immediate action to protect yourself from harm. This is a good thing.
For example, if your house is on fire, your impulse is to get out of there immediately, any way that you can. You’re not taking the time to pause and reflect on how you are feeling about the fire. You’re not going to start to weigh the pros and cons of your different exit options. There is a sense of urgency, so you act fast.
That’s a more extreme example but this same sense of urgency can show up in the face of everyday issues – work projects, relationship challenges, obstacles and setbacks, etc. - but instead of protecting you from danger or physical harm, your sense of urgency is an attempt to protect you from feeling stress, anxiety, or fear -
You spring into action or quickly make a decision to try to relieve your anxiety.
And sometimes it helps to act fast and “just get it over with”. But how often do you really need to do something or figure something out immediately? And what are the real impacts of feeling that sense of urgency? It keeps you going and can help with your drive and motivation, but it can also lead to some harmful patterns and missed opportunities that actually end up adding to your stress and anxiety and leave you feeling burnt out and dissatisfied.
It can lead to a pattern of overcommitting yourself and difficulty in focusing on one thing because you have too much on your plate. This can lead to more mistakes and poor quality in your work, which of course adds to your stress.
You can start to lose your ability to prioritize effectively because when everything seems urgent it’s hard to decide where to begin. You can also get into the habit of taking on things that aren’t necessarily your responsibility because you don’t trust that it’ll get done quick enough or effectively enough.
Meanwhile, you can neglect important activities including basic self-care (skipping or rushing through meals, never taking breaks) which then leads to a greater build-up of stress and lowers your capacity to be able to manage your stress.
Not to mention that when you are always acting out of a sense of urgency, you are putting unnecessary stress on your nervous system, which can take a toll on your physical health.
And all of this can start to take a toll on your relationships as well because when you are always on the go and looking ahead at what’s next, you aren’t as available or present with others. Plus when you’re under prolonged stress, you're tense, irritable, exhausted, and overwhelmed and this makes it hard to connect with others.
Feeling a false sense of urgency can be a tough habit to break because it may be a part of the culture that you are a part of - whether that’s at work or within your family or social environment. You might feel the pressure to keep up with the pace of those around you, but you can begin to break the habit by simply making a commitment to slow down and catch yourself when it happens.
When you notice that you are rushing or multi-tasking or about to make a hasty decision, stop for a moment, take a deep breath, and ask yourself:
Is this really that urgent? How much time do I really have?
What are the potential impacts of waiting? Or what happens if I don’t know the answer right now?
What are the realistic consequences of taking action vs. not taking action right now?
Am I making this decision with all the info I need or am I making the decision to relieve my anxiety?
And if you tend to take on too much responsibility, ask yourself:
Is it really my responsibility to take this on right now?
Of course, simply asking yourself these questions is only the beginning. Because even if you decide to wait on something for now, there’s always that next thing that is going to come up. You have to keep reminding yourself to slow down, assess the urgency, and do what you can to help relieve your anxiety and maintain focus on one thing at a time.
This can include:
Learning to stop or minimize multi-tasking, learning to delegate more
Prioritizing and sticking to your priorities
Questioning any negative or fear-based thinking - what’s really true or realistic?
Practicing setting aside your worries for a later time
Keeping things in perspective and trying to maintain a more positive outlook
Keeping perspective is worth emphasizing because so often when you are under stress, you can develop a sort of “tunnel vision” where all you can see is the problem right in front of you. And when that’s all that you can see, it seems like a really BIG DEAL. But if you can step back and look at the bigger picture, you can see that most of the time that “really big deal” is relatively insignificant in the long-run.
You can even think back to other times in the past when you were anxious and unsure and had to wait for a solution and remind yourself that you made it through.
It’s a good reminder that things have a way of working out and you end up figuring things out over time, so you might as well take the time to take care of yourself and appreciate the little things along the way. It doesn’t mean that you sit back and take a passive approach in life, it means learning to move forward with patience and determination, rather than with urgency and fear.