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Have you ever felt like someone is playing tug-of-war with you, except you are the rope? Being pulled in too many directions can be exhausting, and if it happens over an extended length of time, it can lead to extreme anxiety or burnout.

If you are experiencing a bit of life’s tug-of-war, you might explore about how you personally process anxiety before determining how best to cope. We’ve noticed that people tend to experience one of two different types of anxiety:


“I can’t sit down unless everything is done.”

“Why won’t my brain slow down?”

“I don’t want to be thinking about work at night.”

People that experience ACTIVE ANXIETY often describe difficulty slowing down until a task is off their to-do list. They are pros at delayed gratification! In fact, people with this tendency can appear to have super powers of accomplishment.  Accomplishment is one of the reinforcing rewards from occasional mild-to-moderate ACTIVE anxiety. Things get done! In fact, this is an extremely healthy, adaptive reason why you don’t actually want your anxiety to go away completely.

When ACTIVE anxiety gets out of hand, however, thoughts about your to-do list (or other concerns) can bleed into your off-times. It can keep you from sleep, hinder focus, or cause you to skip out on self-care activities all together. Even worse, tasks can become all-consuming, causing relationships to suffer as people you love get minimized or ignored.


“I can’t get motivated.”

“Just thinking about this overwhelms me.”

“I should be able to handle this, but I’m not handling it.”

People that experience PASSIVE ANXIETY often postpone to-do items until the last moment. They are motivated best by deadlines or other external obligations. Students might wait until the night before a deadline to start a 10-page paper, but still get it accomplished all the same. People with PASSIVE anxiety are masters at procrastination, prioritizing selectively only the most urgent tasks.

When PASSIVE anxiety gets out of hand, people may feel paralyzed by their stress. They wonder why they can’t seem to get motivated to start a task. Just remembering an unfinished task can seem overwhelming. This can hinder work or school attendance, heighten isolation, or lead you to give up on challenging goals.


As you can imagine, different coping methods might be needed for the different types of anxiety. For example, a person with ACTIVE ANXIETY might benefit from relaxation, mindfulness, containment skills, and intentional slowing. In therapy, they might be asked account for their laundry list of “musts,” evaluating each thoughtfully. They might explore what awful thing could happen if something didn’t get done.

PASSIVE ANXIETY might be helped more effectively with behavior activation, assertiveness training, or gradual exposure therapy. Therapy might focus around building self-compassion with one’s limits while accomplishing tasks at a more measured, self-honoring pace.

Regardless of your anxiety processing style, a therapist at Star Meadow Counseling may be able to help. You can contact us at [email protected] or give us a ring at 360-952-3070.