In our society, the concept of “being in control” brings about thoughts of someone who is uncaring, rude, and overly demanding. Granted, these adjective are a good fit for some. Indeed, some people like to control others and get what they want no matter the cost. However, control does not have to be a bad thing. In fact, some degree of control is a good thing.
Control allows our patients to deal with the inevitable chaos they will encounter in their daily lives. This is important as chaos causes, maintains and worsens anxiety. And if you have ever worked with an anxious patient and I assume most every clinician reading this article has done so at some point, then you are well aware that a common complaint of anxious people is the feeling of being out of control.
Life is hectic and fast-paced. It does not care if our patients are nervous, worried or stressed out. And it surely has no interest in adjusting to make things easier for them. It does not care if they have to prepare a last minute presentation for work or get the children bathed and fed when they need to study for a final exam scheduled for the next day.
My point is that this is why it is critical for your patients to learn how to manage the chaotic environment that surrounds them. If not, their anxiety will become overwhelming. The good news is that controlling one’s environment is not as impossible as it may sound. It is actually quite simple. And one of the most effective strategies is to get organized.
Organize Your Space
If your clients are like most of us, they likely experience the dread of going to work Monday morning from time to time. Personally, when the reality set in on Sunday evening that I had to go to work the next day, the rest of my evening carried a dark cloud with it.
It was not that I hated my job. In fact, I very much enjoyed what I did. And Mondays were no worse than Tuesdays through Fridays. Once I paused and reflected on what was causing my work related angst it finally dawned on me- it was because my work space was a disaster.
It was completely unorganized and in disarray. Not unlike how your car can get cluttered from long trips or the house can get turned upside down after five or six kids come over for a play date, my desk was in a chaotic state.
Unfiled papers, scattered pens, pencils and folders, and sticky notes scattered haphazardly around the room were driving me mad and I did not even know it. Just looking at the chaos brought up thoughts like “I’m never going to get anything done today” and “”I just know I’m going to miss a deadline this week.”
In essence, I started my week off worried and stressed. Fortunately, with the help of a trusted advisor, I was able to get my work life back in balance with a few easy strategies. I believe they can help your clients as well. They may even help you!
- Toss, shred, or recycle. It is safe to assume that a sizeable portion of the papers, notes, and receipts on your client’s desk serve no real purpose other than to make their desk seem cluttered. Ask your client to decide on what they can toss, shred or recycle. But, they should not just stick a “to be shredded or recycled” box under their desk. Have them do it immediately. If not, they have done nothing more than moved the mess from one spot to another.
- Make a clean sweep. Sometimes you just have to start over. Find a large box, bin, or trashcan and have your client sweep everything off their desk into it. I am not asking them to throw anything away…yet. Just have them turn their desk into a blank slate. Once their desk is clean, have them take a step back and visualize how they would like it to be. Once they have got a plan in mind, ask them to take one thing out of their chosen receptacle and strategically place it back on their desk one piece at a time. As they pull out each object, whether it is a stapler or stack of papers, have them ask themselves “does this need to be on my desk?” If the answer is no, they should find a new place for it or do the next step.
- Develop a filing system. Sorry, but just putting stuff in a drawer is not filing. Your client needs to develop a sensible system. Create folders and label them clearly. Sort projects and documents by due date, completion status, or importance. Have them use bins on their desk to store documents related to current and future projects. And about those drawers, keep only essential items in them. Plastic spoons, broken paper clips, sugar packets, and discarded pennies have other places they can reside.
- Tidy up at the end of each day. When it is all said and done, if your client does not spend a few minutes tidying up at the end of day, they are likely to end right back up where they started. As them to put things away before they leave the office. If this is not practical, have them spend some time at the end of the week organizing their space. They will thank themselves on Monday.
*This article is based in part on Dr. Moore’s book Taking Control of Anxiety: Small Steps for Getting the Best of Worry, Stress, and Fear.