“Projects:” My Useful Preoccupations

In my last blog post, I talked about my Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), specifically how I feel like my mind drifts over a period of weeks or months from one major worry to another, while my feelings of anxiety remain constant, no matter what the specific source. I do find that sometimes there is a way to somewhat hijack that process, to temporarily divert my mind to something less distressing. Although I sometimes wonder how beneficial it is in the long run. 

I call these temporary diversions my “projects.” A project is some sort of task that I get really caught up in, one that fully engages my mind and attention over a few days or weeks. I don’t really plan them, they just come my way in the course of everyday life, and my brain will seize on them. I feel like when I’m in that “project zone,” my brain is too busy to be able to engage with one of my usual major worries, and I can push those upsetting thoughts out, if only for a little while. Thus I don’t feel the distressing anxiety that usually comes with a major worry (it doesn’t make much difference with the plentiful minor day-to-day worries, but I guess you take what you can get). These projects only “work” for me if I get completely engrossed in them, almost to the point of obsession.

My favourite kind of project is anything involving research that I can do on the internet. If there was a way I could list “excessively researching random stuff on the internet” on my resume as a hobby (without sounding a bit weird), I would. A few months ago, my project was enthusiastically researching new cell phones: should I make the leap from Android to iPhone? And which model to get? So much to read about! The internet is truly my best friend when I’m pursuing a project – I can get lost reading as many different articles and reviews as I want, on anything that strikes my fancy. And I do love to research products that I’m thinking of buying. Particularly tech-related stuff, but anything will do, from panini presses to blu-ray players. (By the way, I got an iPhone in the end. Please don’t tell me I made the wrong decision! Thanks to my GAD, I’m filled with enough self-doubt and second guessing about it already! But that’s for another post.)

Then once I acquired my new phone, I was able to occupy myself for days with learning what it could do, setting it up so it was just right, finding out how to resolve any issues that vexed me – I had a whole other project on my hands, hooray!

I dare not get into too much detail about the all-consuming project of researching a new car that I undertook a couple of years ago – suffice it to say it extended over several months, and there were multiple spreadsheets involved (I do love a good spreadsheet!). Even choosing the colour was a whole other sub-project with that one. (Below is my eventual choice, a 2015 Subaru XV Crosstrek in “desert khaki” colour. I could talk at length about why I chose that particular car and that particular colour, but that’s not what this post is supposed to be about.)

2015 Subaru Crosstrek XV

The final choice!

My projects don’t always involve research – for example, every year from about mid-November to late-December, I become consumed by Christmas: buying Christmas music, decorating, baking, what to do for Christmas dinner, etc. The thing is, I’m not even particularly great at it! Our holiday decorations are pretty basic (our artificial tree is only four feet high), I only ever bake two things (shortbread cookies and orange-cranberry loaf), and we usually go out for Christmas dinner. But I get totally swept up in trying to make things as festive as possible.

You might be able to guess that you’re currently visiting my latest project, this blog! My very first blog, what a wonderfully multifaceted project: designing the layout, thinking about what sort of things I want to write about, writing posts, choosing images, trying to spread the word about it – so much to learn and do! It’s been a lot of fun and a lot of work, and I’ve really enjoyed it so far. And it certainly has kept my brain occupied, and then some!

I suspect that I have a natural affinity for becoming immersed in my projects in a similar way that I have an affinity for worrying – overthinking things comes very easily to me, thanks to my GAD. I sometimes wonder if these projects occupy similar pathways in my brain that worry and anxiety do. And as much as I generally enjoy these tasks, I do find that my projects are most compelling to me when there’s a hint of anxiety about them (will I make the wrong decision about which phone to buy? what if people hate my new blog?) – not enough anxiety to cause me significant distress, but enough to keep me preoccupied. So I have to try to be aware of the occasional tendency that I have of going a bit too far with a project, and tipping over into full-blown anxiety over wanting to accomplish it to state of utter (and impossible) perfection.

That “just enough” / “too much” anxiety distinction is a fine line for me sometimes, but at this point, I guess I’d rather worry over the selection of a cell phone than something that I’d find more anxiety-producing (and more upsetting), like my job or my dog’s health (and goodness knows those heavy worries will return once my project wraps up). Ideally, I suppose, I wouldn’t be worrying about anything (at least not to excess), but I’m not there, at least not yet. Hopefully someday.

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