Helping Your Clients Control Their Anxiety: Learning to Prioritize and Act

helping your clients control their anxietyIn my previous column, I talked about how being unorganized leads to a chaotic environment. This in turn leads to anxiety.  In order to get back on track I provided four easy steps for helping your clients organize their work space as a means to regaining order in their lives.  This column continues along the lines of helping your clients control their anxiety, but through a different means: prioritizing and acting.

Lining Things Up and Following Through

Your clients are constantly bombarded with daily tasks that range from minuscule to epic.  On any given day, they must juggle family, work, and any number of social activities.  And if they respond to these activities in a haphazardly way, you can be sure that their anxiety and stress levels will soar through the roof.

Therefore, helping your client develop a systematic plan for how they will approach their day reduces or prevents them from worrying about whether or not they are getting everything done that they need to.  It also protects them against the fear and panic associated with feeling unprepared.

Most everyone can attest to how stressful forgetting a presentation or exam is or how upsetting it can be to forget to pick up your medication from the pharmacy or your child from school.

  • Develop lists.  Instead of your client trying to remember everything in their head, to-do-lists can help keep their day, week, and month on track.  They allow them to stay organized and reduce the chances that they will forget something.

There are three types of lists that your client can use.  First, there’s the daily list.  The daily list helps a person keep track of-you guessed it-what you need to do today.  It is nothing more than a list of tasks you brainstorm at the beginning of the day.

The second type of list is the weekly list.  This list allows a person to keep the important deadlines of the week front and center on their dashboard.

And the third type of list is the monthly list.  In essence, this is your client’s monthly planner that helps them forecast important meetings, activities and deadlines in the near future.  There is no need to get fancy with these to-do-lists either.  A standard legal pad will suffice for their daily and weekly lists.  They can use the calendar on their computer or smart phone for the monthly one.

  • Bring some color into your life.  Color coding their to-do-lists is a great way for your client to keep the most important items of their day and week in plain sight.  In their book,  “Attack Your Day! Before It Attacks You,” time management experts Mark and Trapper Woods recommend four colors for organizing a schedule.

Red means STOP! DO NOW.  These are things that cannot  wait such as picking up the kids from school, attending an urgent meeting or calling the credit card company to find out why your card was declined at the grocery store.

Green stands for go.  Green tasks are the bread and butter of your client’s day.  Green activities include balancing the budget, preparing for a presentation later in the week and setting up a business meeting.  The goal is to get as many green tasks done during the day as your client can.  Basically, the world will not stop if they do not get to them all done, but, greens can easily turn into reds.

Yellow activities are those of low importance, but eventually have to get done.  Examples include cleaning out the closet, pulling weeds from the flower bed and making lunch plans with a friend.

And then there are the Grays.  Gray activities are wastes of time and should be avoided unless your client is completely caught up with everything else.  Examples include watching television and surfing the Internet.

  • Do one thing at a time. Yes, multitasking is a necessary evil in today’s culture.  Without question, your client needs to become good at it. But, it shouldn’t be their standard operating procedure.  Most of the time they can focus on one thing and one thing only.  Start with a Red and finish it.  Then move on to another Red and finish that one. Have them work their way down one by one until all their Reds and Greens are finished. Then they can start on their Yellows. Who knows, they may be able to get a little Gray in before they are done!
  • Don’t procrastinate.  American writer Mason Cooley once said, “procrastination makes easy things hard, hard things harder.” Procrastination is a fierce enemy of productivity.  If your client wants to conquer this foe, they must follow three simple steps.

First, don’t think, just do.  Once your client gets into their head and tells themselves how difficult or unpleasant it will be, they are more than likely not going to do it.

Second, the more unpleasant a task is, the earlier they should do it.  Difficult and tedious tasks are easier to do when your brain and body are rested.  Put them off until the end of the day, well, good luck.

Third, have your client reward themselves after a victory.  Take a five minute break.  Chat with a friend or colleague.  Encourage your client to reinforce their perseverance and sacrifice.

*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.”


Helping Your Clients Control Their Anxiety: Learning to Prioritize and Act

Bret Moore, Psy.D.

Dr. Moore is a board-certified clinical psychologist and prescribing psychologist in San Antonio, TX. His recent book Taking Control of Anxiety: Small Steps for Getting the Best of Worry, Stress, and Fear was developed as a self-help guide for people struggling with anxiety and for therapists to use with their patients. Dr. Moore is also coauthor of the Handbook of Clinical Psychopharmacology for Therapists-Ninth Edition and Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology Made Simple-Fourth Edition.


APA Reference
Moore, B. (2016). Helping Your Clients Control Their Anxiety: Learning to Prioritize and Act. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 13 Jun 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 13 Jun 2016
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