How I hacked my anxiety with my iPhone

This little bugger solved a big part of my daily anxiety.
This little bugger solved a big part of my daily anxiety.

If you've ever attended an event with me, or attempted to make a movie date with me, or been paying attention to me at all, you know that I have intense anxiety. A large portion of my anxiety revolves around timeliness.

I am the most on-time motherfucker you know. I'm the definition of "If you're early, you're on time, and if you're on time, you're late."

Know this about me…

If you invite me over to your house at 8 p.m., I'm out front of your place at 7:45, sitting in my car, checking emails and Instagram, listening to music, and watching the clock until EXACTLY 8 p.m., when I walk to your door.

You shouldn't know this — but Imma lay it on you anyway — I've also been obsessively looking at the clock since, well, I woke up that morning. Then around 6 p.m., I'm getting ready. When I'm fully dressed and ready at 6:30, I'm obsessively checking the Waze app to see how long it will take me to get your place. What about now? Aaaaaaand now? Okay, what if I left now? Oh, I'll get there at 7:30? Well, it'll take me a few minutes to grab my purse and walk down the stairs, so I should probably leave NOW.

Oh hai. This is me being ready for an American Horror Story: Coven-themed party a full hour and a half before I need to leave.
Oh hai. This is me being ready for an American Horror Story: Coven-themed party a full hour and a half before I need to leave.

The Gods forbid that I should have a flight to catch at 9 a.m. In that case, I'm going to bed at 9 p.m. the night before. I'll wake up every hour on the hour to check the time. Then I'm up at 5 a.m. No wait, I'll get up at 4:45, even though I set my alarm for 5. Then I'll head to the airport at 6, because I like to leave myself two hours of airport waiting time before a flight, in case some catastrophe happens between my apartment and the airport. That's the only way I can remain calm on travel days.

So much of my time is taken up by worrying about the time, that I can barely do anything else. I work, anxiety-ridden, with one eye on the clock. I don't dare make other plans on days I already have plans, lest I lose track of time. And my heart is beating hard and fast for hours on end.

In short, it's exhausting, and it makes me not want to be social.

Then my therapist gave me a suggestion to help with my timing anxiety. After giving it a lot of time to see if it worked, I can honestly say IT HAS BEEN THE BEST THING EVER!

My therapist suggested that I set up alarms for all of my appointments. Well, first she asked how long I spend obsessing about time. To which I replied, it depends on the activity. Is it a normal weekly thing? Is it a friend date? Is it a professional date? Is it a new plan? Is it a big event? All these things have different times.

For example: I see my therapist around noon on Wednesdays. I count down the hours, minutes, seconds from the moment I wake up, because this is a professional thing, and I'm also paying good money for my time. I also have weekly dinners with my best girl friend Jessica, but I'll only spend 15 minutes obsessing about that.

My therapist suggested that I set my alarms accordingly, so I did. Here they are for my weekly appointments:

anxiety alarms

It's called paradoxical intention.

In psychotherapy, paradoxical intention is the deliberate practice of a neurotic habit or thought, undertaken to identify and remove it. The concept was termed by Dr. Viktor Frankl, the founder of Logotherapy, who advocated for its use by patients experiencing severe forms of anxiety disorders.

So basically, in setting alarms for myself, I can relax for most of the time, since I know that I'm giving myself a set time where I'm allowed to freak out and obsess.

You know what? It totally fucking works. When I start to freak out about the time before an event, I remind myself that I don't need to right now. I know that I'll have an hour to 15 minutes worth of anxiety time, and I'll do all my anxiety-ing then.

The best part: I don't even NEED to get anxious about my weekly appointments anymore. Most of the time the alarms totally sneak up on me. Which, if I'm being honest, makes me pretty anxious. But at least I'm not swimming in an infinity pool of anxiety for hours on end!

I'm still going to get there early though.

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  1. I'm also an early bird who waits in the car until it's time and beats my alarm clock every morning!

    2 agree
    • Oh my gosh you have NO idea how much reading this has helped me! I thought there was something "wrong" with me because I also believe if you are early you are "on time" and if you are on time you are "late". Thank you for sharing this! I don't freak out quite as much as you described yourself doing, however, I do get anxious if I think I might even be a minute late. Which is actually like 14 mins early but you know how it is. It makes me feel SO amazing to know I am not alone. Again, thank you for sharing this!

      6 agree
        • I enjoyed this post, and I'm so glad you've found something that helps your anxiety. I have the opposite problem! I've spent the last 30 years trying to figure out how to not be late. I'm finally figuring out some techniques that work (most of the time). Being late causes me so much distress, and I am NEVER trying to be disrespectful. I'm so embarrassed in front of early people – but I'm slowly getting better and figuring it out. I can assure you many of us late people are really, really, really trying to be on time

  2. I do something similar with my work diary. I like to know I'm not going to forget something (or my brain pesters me), but I also don't like to have twenty trivial things on my current to do list that…can't actually be done yet. To do list zero should be achievable, at least in theory!

    So, when I think on Monday "hmm, we haven't had Y-and-such in yet, but it's a bit too soon to chase yet, I should do it on Thursday," I add a reminder to my calendar that will pop up sometime on Thursday morning when I'm expecting to have a bit of downtime (10am is good, I've had half an hour to settle at my desk and deal with anything urgent that has come up overnight but probably haven't got fully stuck into something else yet). Then I can forgot about it for now.

    This works best for five/ten minute tasks. I tend to leave things that will take half a day or more on the actual to do list (they deserve the space) as I have to plan other items on the to do list around them.

    2 agree
    • I use a tickler file for the same reason. Whenever I know there's something I need to follow up about but that can't be done yet, I toss in into the tickler file for the correct day. If I hear back before then, I just remove it.

      So, for example, if I send on a document to a colleague for comments and I know I want it back on Monday, I might put a note in my tickler file for Thursday, "Follow up with X about document comments." That way I'll be reminded on Thursday and don't need to worry about it until then.

      (And, yes, I AM one of those annoying people who will send out follow-up emails on a regular basis until I get a response, damnit!)

      1 agrees
      • Amen to following things through!

        However this is partly a source of low level annoyance to me. I work in an analytical team which is 80% male (I'm in the 20%), and I'm one of a team of managers. Because I like things to be done and sometimes they fall between the cracks (eg I think it's important that we give regular training sessions to new joiners) I've picked up a lot of admin tasks that are 'below my pay grade' (eg booking said sessions into people's calendars). My male contempories do not have a similar list of things they are responsible for (or where they do, they don't get done). Although I don't mind the tasks I hate being responsible for contributing to the statistic that women do the office housework.

        At the moment it seems my options are:
        a) do it myself
        b) ask someone else to do it and have it be forgotten
        c) ask someone else to do it and stand over them whilst they do it (saves no time for me)

        So do it myself it is! I try and tell myself I'm doing it because I'm competent not because I'm female but I fear that's what we all tell ourselves…

        4 agree
        • If you're managing them, is there any chance you can make it part of their performance requirements? i.e. "John, I need you to make sure the room gets booked for our weekly meeting and everyone's calendars are updated." Then, if they don't do it, you deal with it the way you would for any other work-related problem, whether that be a note in their file, a PIP, or what-have-you. I think if you let them know you're serious about these admin tasks, they'll take them seriously.

          5 agree
          • The guys I'm talking about that don't have similar tasks to me are at my level rather than being people who report to me. I really don't mind doing the odd jobs, it's just that I seem to be the one who picks up most of them.
            I might raise it at my next review. Hopefully I'll find that everyone else is quietly doing things I'm unaware of!

            1 agrees
  3. Holy crap this might be a game changer. Timeliness stresses me out to no end. I get so stressed out about timeliness that I give myself stomach aches. I am that person who is so compulsively early to things that I now have friends who lie about the start times of events they are hosting, by telling me they start a half hour later then they actually do, so I won't show up early.

    4 agree
    • THIS. I give myself terrible stomach aches when I'm worrying about the time. I've started to factor in EXTRA time so that when I get where I'm going, I can find a bathroom and try to settle myself down.

      1 agrees
  4. "If you invite me over to your house at 8 p.m., I'm out front of your place at 7:45, sitting in my car, checking emails and Instagram, listening to music, and watching the clock until EXACTLY 8 p.m., when I walk to your door."

    Yessssss me too. Or, I overcompensate to try and avoid that, and end up running late, which is awful (even though even when I'm late, my friends are usually later.) I've been known to park around a corner, wait in the car, and THEN pull up just so they don't see me fiddling on my phone for 20 minutes.

    12 agree
    • I purposely overcompensate to avoid being the first one there too! I hate showing up to a social event and having to make small talk with a friend of a friend of a friend until our mutual friends arrive. Being there and having to wait causes my anxiety to spike. However, I don't want to do the same thing to someone else, so I aim to be 5-15 minutes late max. (Most of my friends run late anyway.)

      My one friend prefers arriving extra early to everything. So when this person hosts a party or plans an outing, he invites 2-3 people early to hang out or get a drink at the bar before dinner. I will absolutely arrive on time for this person since I know he will be there early. Having a pre-determined small group to socialize with while you wait for the larger group is great for both our types of anxiety!

      4 agree
  5. I have similar issues. To tell you the truth, I'm never going to be calm going to some place new or unfamiliar – I'll be thinking about where I'll park? Will the bathroom in the building be easy to find? Etc., etc. But I do find reminders help – so I can not worry about things until the day before, for example. It also helps in my office – I have reminders set up 15 minutes before class starts, so I can concentrate on my work rather than continually checking the clock. Then I know I'll be jostled out of my focus to move on when it's time. But I still check the clock a lot…

    4 agree
    • So I have this habit: if I know I'm going to be going someplace unfamiliar in my city, I just go ahead and drive there to scope out parking, etc. I figure the 30 minutes it takes me to drive there and back will save me at least a couple hours of worry. I'm really bad for missing the turn into the place I'm looking for, then getting lost for ten minutes trying to get back there.

      7 agree
      • Look up the address via Google maps or something of that nature. A satellite view, or, where possible, street view, can give you a lot of info on parking and recognizable landmarks. Cuts down on some of the anxiety for me, anyway. For example, the turn to X's house is the first street after we pass the Target shopping center, or something like that. Of course, an out of date satellite map can still be misleading, but at least I have an idea of what to expect.

        5 agree
        • Oh my gosh, so much THIS. I get really anxious about going to new places on transit, so I'll use Google Maps to figure out which stop I need to get off at ahead of time. If I'm really worried still – "I know what street to get off at, but maybe I somehow already missed it?!" – I'll pull up the map on my phone while I'm on the bus and watch as we go along the route.

          5 agree
  6. Well damn I never knew they had a fancy name for it! My therapist recommended I schedule "freak-out" time when I am dealing with triggers and it totally works! Setting an alarm to start it is a good thought though…

    1 agrees
  7. Yup, this is entirely how I am. We have a big vacation coming up in July (first time we can afford to fly to see my husband's parents in 6 years) and I'm ALREADY worrying about the airport timing. Part of the reason I'm worrying is because my husband's attitude is the exact opposite of mine. In ways he's helped me not stress out as much over little events like going to our friends' houses or meeting for dinner, but on things like picking up our son or on getting to the airport on time, my stress levels go through the roof when he's involved. Maybe I should try the alarms as reminders for him and anxiety cures for me!

    4 agree
    • I'm in a similar boat, Sharon! I definitely get anxiety about being late, but I almost ALWAYS end up late because my boyfriend of 13 years is ALWAYS late…..he seems to think it'll take him much less time to get ready than it actually does, I stress out and get frustrated with him, we end up being late, he learns nothing about getting ready earlier to be on time, and we repeat…..

      I often tell him we have to be somewhere 15-30 minutes before we actually do in hopes of being on time….that doesn't always work, but I stress a little less… Some of his friends have actually placed bets as to what time he would arrive to a gathering! I definitely love the guy, but he does drive me nuts sometimes! 🙂

      1 agrees
  8. ARE YOU ME? I do this with my Google Calendar–I schedule the most mundane shit just so I won't forget about it, then worry because I know there's something I've forgotten. I love the way your brain works, because it works much the same as mine does. Anxious badasses, unite!

    7 agree
  9. yup, we are so related! I have an early appointment this morning, I woke up at least 4 times last night checking the time, even though I know I'll be up well before I need to leave. And when it comes to flying, psh, what's sleep? And I def do the, get there early thing and just sit in my car till it's exactly the right time.

    1 agrees
  10. I do something similar for tasks and reminders. I'm always afraid I'll forget something, so I schedule "appointments" in my Google calendar (for personal) or my Outlook calendar (for work) just so that I can get pop up reminders at very specific times. I scheduled a 5:00 "appointment" yesterday in Google so that I would get a pop up on my phone at 4:50 — right as I was about to leave work — to go buy ingredients for a pot luck tonight. I have a 7:30 "appointment" on my work calendar tomorrow to remind me when I boot up my computer at 8:00 that a committee appointment series is ending and I need to schedule some more (I probably put that on the calendar six months ago…). I even have an "appointment" every Sunday morning to check PostSecret because I hate missing a week!

    Instead of having all kinds of "don't forget to do X!" notes and lists everywhere, it's AWESOME to be able to remind myself of something at exactly the right time. It's not a foolproof system, but writing stuff on my hand wasn't foolproof either when I washed my hands after lunch. 🙂

    1 agrees
  11. In college I was always 1 hour early to class. I used the time to study (and give in to the anxiety of not walking in to class, late, in front of everyone).

    I knew I had a problem when I started going an hour early to my hour early, thus making myself 2 hours early for every class, and having anxiety about being late to my 2 hours early (like being late to myself?).

    I usually park down the street so that I'm not the party guest they can see out their window sitting in the car doing sudoku.

  12. guys, i just want to apologize in the name of me and my kind – "the always late".
    i am aware that this causes more anxiety in some of my friends and i am truly sorry. it´s just so hard for me to be on time, and to be somwhere early is just a happy fantasy like that date i had with one tom hiddles.
    beautiful, aspiring, never gonna happen though.
    let´s just try and love each other as we are….

    3 agree
    • Ditto. I'm shocked at the number of people who are anxious/struggle with anxiety disorder/etc who are always early. I am CONSTANTLY late no matter how hard I try, and it makes me incredibly even MORE anxious, but I can't seem to stop the cycle. I even plan to leave at certain times, give myself a buffer, make all my clocks (car, house, watch) fast at different rates so I don't *quite* know what time it is but it theoretically tricks me into being on time… nope. I can't seem to get the hang of it, and it makes my anxiety disorder 1000000X worse. I wish I had the early problem.

      5 agree
      • I don't know about you guys, but I ALWAYS underestimate time for everything. Everything being how long it will take me to get my shit together and get out the door, how traffic actually works and how lost I will get.

        I'm trying what I've dubbed The Megan Method to force myself to be on time. It's working like this: I'm trying out setting alarms for stuff like "find keys", "stop twiddling with makeup", "finish getting dressed", "leave NOW".

        1 agrees
        • I'm still learning to readjust my timing, since I have a kid. Where I used to almost ALWAYS be early, now I'm usually on time, still sometimes early, but occasionally late.

          For me, knowing that I can usually call/text someone that I'm running a little behind schedule eases my anxiety. Since it typically isn't more than 5-10 minutes, most people don't seem to mind, anyway.

          If it were an issue of catching a bus/train/plane/something else that won't wait for me, I probably would still obsess over making sure to be way early, though.

          2 agree
  13. I totally do this! I'm constantly looking for and trying new time management systems to keep my time anxiety managed, I also use the alarm function on my fitbit to nudge me along. When I started grad school, and my reading load got monstrous I found that I needed to plan everything I do into 15 minute blocks so that I touched all of my readings and assignments. I found that I needed a paper thing in conjunction with my phone's alarms and found the very best solution for me in the Chronodex (I read about that here, http://offbeathome.com/2015/01/time-management-hack), the two together allowed me to understand my time needs so I could get on top of my time anxiety. I made a film with a semesters worth of chronodex days =) totally NSFW!

    I've been thinking about getting a smart watch so that I can be separated from my phone, and I wonder if a bunch of alarms would kill battery life.

  14. This is definitely my life. I get anxious if I'm driving to work and I hit the light at the corner of University and New Hampshire at 6:43 in the morning instead of 6:40. I feel like this miiiight help me, but I worry that I'd be checking to see how many minutes I have until the alarm goes off and I have to start worrying. Is that something you've experienced, and how do you deal with it?

  15. I don't set alarms, but I totally do the "show up early" part. I also wake up multiple times in the night to make sure I'm not late when I have a big to-do coming up. I've managed to give myself a little leeway by reminding myself that everyone's clocks are different, so if you're five minutes early or late, you can just say your clock was fast/slow. I've also found that definitely being late is kind of relaxing because then I don't have to worry about being late anymore. Once it's done and out of my hands, I can let go. But if there's even a chance of being on time, then oh my god drive faster get out the door run run run!

  16. I'm late to everything, so this doesn't really apply, but I do something sort of similar to curb my anxiety. I make epic to do lists. And I know everyone has 'a to do list.' This is different. I have one at work that I update 2-3 times / day. On the day of, it is more like a schedule down to the hour to pace myself. I also have tasks for each day of the week. And a long term list and "would be nice" list. I have a second version for my home life that I BACKUP via email. Because I've lost it before and had a mental breakdown. My personal one not only has the things I'm doing that day and week, but also acts as a calendar for basically until the time I don't have anything scheduled. Right now I have things scheduled through October. My husband actually asked if I would share it with him as a shared calendar, and I had to let him down gently because I couldn't deal with the fact that he might mess it up.

    Basically the point of this is we're all weird in our own beautiful ways, and it's so nice to get a reminder. <3

    1 agrees
  17. Like many of you here this is also me. Today I nearly had a panic attack because I got a phone call from my boss right as I was leaving my office to go to a meeting. I had purposefully scheduled myself 30 minutes to get there knowing it really takes 15-20. I ended up being about 2 minutes late (after driving crazy because I was going to be late) and apologizing profusely to the person I was meeting. Funny part is she didn't even care.

    My therapist and I talked about it once because she realized I was always super early to our appointments. She always runs a bit late but I told her that it keeps my anxiety to a minimum if I just accept that I need that extra 10 minutes of time. Plus it gives me a few minutes to get any thoughts in order.

  18. This is genius. I have the opposite problem, actually – the idea of getting someplace early makes me anxious, and in an effort to be exactly on time often makes me late. It's annoying. Maybe I should set alarms to give me a kick in the pants to get going, because that still is freakout time for me.

    2 agree
    • This. Me. Yes. Being early is soooooo anxiety-inducing. Almost as much as being late. I'm always late, attempting to be on time… but it's so much less awkward than being ridiculously early and looking like an idiot waiting in my car or whatever (not saying that that's what people look like, saying that's what I feel like).

      2 agree
  19. OH MY GOODNESS. This is me. I am the person who would show up to my classes in college super early and sit and knit outside the classroom. Just this past Tuesday I arrived at work 45 minutes before my boss and sat reading outside because I don't have a key. I either spend my time worrying or waiting. Normally I choose to wait, but it adds up to a lot of hours I could have been doing something else.

    I must try this alarms thing. Thanks!

    2 agree
  20. I really have nothing to add to this conversation – just wanted to let out a big ol' internet SQUEEEEE at knowing I'm not alone. My anxiety issues mainly centre around social interaction and being thought badly of, and any time I have a social gathering that I MUST attend, I'll arrive an hour early (in case I get lost on the way, my car breaks down, I collide with a herd of cows etc) and then hide somewhere until I'm late enough not to be the first there (because everyone will think I'm a control freak) or one of the first few making awkward small talk (because everyone will stare at me and think I'm weird and socially awkward), but early enough to not be 'late-late' (because then, obviously, rather than enjoying the party everyone will be talking solely about how disorganised/unreliable/inconsiderate I am). Thank you all for being here and making me feel like slightly less of an oddity!

    1 agrees
  21. Ok, I know I have anxiety (I usually only notice that behavior is anxiety based when its really obvious, and it leads to panic attacks), but I never would have thought of the habits you described above as anxiety and yet its basically a mirror to how I behave. Usually over new stuff though – regular things I relax into.

    Having said that I TOTALLY do the alarm thing too and have been for awhile now and it really works ^_^ I even sometimes have an alarm the day before an event and one 2 hours before it so I am like reminded and prepped.

    Yay for functioning ways to deal with anxiety <3

  22. This is me too, but I still manage to be late about 30% of the time because I also have IBS… so the stress and anxiety often causes me to feel physically sick, sitting in the bathroom up to half an hour and then rushing to the event… sometimes making me late, which was my fear in the first place. It's ridiculous. I'm going to try this and truly hope it helps because I've gotten so tired of this cycle that I now pretty much turn down most invites and just stay home :p

  23. I can really, really relate to your experience with anxiety. I've tried alarms, and countless other coping strategies, and they work for a while, but nothing sticks permanently. Damn anxious brain of mine! I'm going to try alarms again, though. Maybe I can at least get another week or two of peace out of this method before burning out, trying something new, and cycling through again. 🙂 Thank you for sharing your lifehack!

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