Time pressure – a compulsion to complete a task or be somewhere by a fixed time – is a major cause of anxiety for me. As the deadline approaches I feel myself getting increasingly tense, short-tempered and twitchy: sure signs of anxiety. It can happen in any situation: at home, at work or out and about; when I am alone or in company.
I’ve never had any success trying to find a strategy for handling time pressure. I’m not even sure why I feel under such pressure and get so anxious. It might be a fear of failure – an aspect of perfectionism – but I’ve not been able to analyze it sufficiently. It’s pretty much impossible to take a detached, objective view of my own behavior when I’m in that state of mind.
The effects on me include a tendency to rush and miss details, and my concentration is impaired. If it’s one particular task I need to complete I will become increasingly manic and unreasonable in my attempts to resolve it in the time remaining. It’s worse when I’m around other people because I stop noticing things like tone of voice and body language that indicate that people are getting annoyed or offended by what they perceive as rudeness on my part.
It happened last night. We were taking part in a pub quiz. There were a number of people around the table which can be stressful because I need to maintain a space around me to feel comfortable. There was one question that we hadn’t got an answer for and time was running out to hand in the answer sheet. So I was feeling under pressure to both come up with the remaining answer – I feel compelled to complete tasks – and also to hand the sheet in before it was too late. It’s a wonder there wasn’t steam coming out of my ears! I managed to really annoy my wife with my repeated insistence that we put an answer down for the last question and hand the sheet in – apparently I appeared very impatient and rude, almost shouting at her, and I just didn’t notice what effect I was having.
It’s hard to explain just how strong the urges are when under time pressure: I’ve used the word compulsion because that is literally how it feels to me. I have no control over it, I am pulled along by the tide. It doesn’t matter how important or trivial the task to be completed is. It might be something big like getting my wife to one of her appointments on time or it might be something so small and unimportant that nobody else sees any importance in it. The key aspect is that to me there is no distinction. There is simply the fact that something has to be done by such-and-such a time.