Time Anxiety: How to Stop Saying "What If?"

Time anxiety, or the idea that there's never enough time, can be suffocating. There are a number of skills and opportunities we do not take because of this worry. Discover new strategies to alleviate time anxiety.

Time Anxiety: How to Stop Saying "What If?"

"It's too late." Too late to start a company, too late to learn a new language, too late to publish a book. Have you ever had that thought?

I struggle with it too, and this is called time anxiety. Unlike death anxiety, which is the fear of running out of time, time anxiety is the fear of wasting your time. There are a number of skills I have not acquired because of this anxiety.

What is Time Anxiety?

Having time anxiety is being obsessed about spending your time in the most meaningful way possible. This concept can take three forms.

  • Current time anxiety. This is the feeling of being rushed daily that makes us feel overwhelmed and full of panic. This can cause anxiety attacks.
  • Future time anxiety. This is having thoughts about the "what ifs" that may happen in the future.
  • Existential time anxiety. This is the sense of lost time slipping away.

According to Dr. Alex Lickerman, the author of The Undefeated Mind, time anxiety stems from questions such as "Am I spending too much of my time frivolously? Am I creating the most amount of value with my life?"

"And if we continue asking why, like the child we once were, trying to excavate down to our most rudimentary ambition — a time-worn exercise — we’ll eventually find all reasons lead to the same place, to the one core reason for living we’d sought all along, the core reason against which we measure the value of everything we do: to be happy." — Dr. Alex Lickerman

Beating Time Anxiety

Even though purpose in life is an important factor in being happy, spending too much mental energy on finding it, rather than doing things that make us happy, can induce anxiety.

Here are the three steps you can take to reduce time anxiety.

  1. What does "time well spent" mean to you? Take some time to think about what really makes you happy without overthinking about how practical the final outcome would be. For example, do not think about how proud you would be to run a marathon. First, ask yourself whether you like running. Create a list of activities that you enjoy and that bring value to yourself or the world.
  2. Dedicate space for your "time well spent" moments. Instead of making time for these moments, incorporate them into your life, such as on your way to work or at home after the kids are asleep. Design a space dedicated to your "time well spent" activities.
  3. Cut out time-consuming distractions. Scrolling mindlessly on social media during every single break contributes to time anxiety.

Beating time anxiety is a journey, and it is still something I am working on. If this is something you are also struggling with, I hope you find these strategies useful.

Which of these strategies do you think will help you alleviate time anxiety?