Modern society's fast-paced, digital-driven culture can leave many feeling like they need to respond to texts and emails immediately or that they must achieve all of their goals by, like, yesterday. And this underlying sense of urgency can really take a toll on one’s mental health over time. According to Dr. Kevin Gilliland, a licensed clinical psychologist, while technology has enhanced lives in many ways, it is partly to blame for the increase in anxiety and depression cases considering many carry around a connection to work (via phones) everywhere they go. Still, it's not so much the constant presence of phones, but rather that many haven’t been taught how to deal with urgency culture properly. "As humans, we struggle sometimes to develop a strategy that helps us manage our life regardless of what the world is doing," says Dr. Gilliland.
As for the rush to achieving life goals and all the things you feel you "should" be doing, such as getting married, starting a family, buying a house, landing a higher paying job, etc., Dr. Gilliland credits that pressure to social media. While we have always dealt with comparison to some degree, he says, before social media, we were comparing ourselves to the people around us versus now we are unfairly comparing ourselves to people around the world.
If you, too, feel the effects of urgency culture, whether it's workplace-related or relating to life goals, keep scrolling for tips on how to deal with it from Dr. Gilliland and Dr. Alice Fong, an integrative naturopathic doctor specializing in natural holistic solutions, stress, and anxiety.
Separate Your Self-Worth From Your Accomplishments
First off, Dr. Fong says it's vital to start by dissociating one’s self-worth with how much you achieve and accomplish. Regardless of how much you do or don't, she says, realize that you're still a lovable and valuable human being.
To put this into practice and begin to disconnect this association, Dr. Fong advises showing yourself kindness and compassion when you feel like you’re not doing enough by saying things to yourself such as: “I’m doing the best I can and that’s all I can do. It doesn’t mean I’m not enough or that I’m not worthy.”
Celebrate What You Have Accomplished
Often, one will create an unrealistic to-do list for themselves every morning and then feel like they failed if they didn't tick everything off the list by the end of the day. Dr. Fong says operating in this way creates a negative feedback loop and diminishes self-confidence. Instead, she recommends focusing on one to three big priorities for each day and celebrating yourself for accomplishing those top priorities. The same goes for big goals. Rather than focusing on what you have not yet achieved, focus and acknowledge yourself for what you have accomplished.
If you’re unsure what tasks are priority, Dr. Fong recommends “zooming out” and thinking about what are the top goals you have for the quarter or the year. From there, you can ask yourself what actions you need to take to achieve those goals over the next month, week, or day.
Practice Not Responding Right Away
Often, a sense of urgency comes from external factors (when you receive an urgent email, for instance). However, Dr. Gilliland says, a lot of the time we are the ones creating that sense of urgency. When we hear the notification go off, he explains that it can trigger fear, and we start creating stories in our minds of the potential consequences of not responding right away.
To remedy this, when you hear a notification go off, he recommends pausing, taking a deep breath, and practicing not responding to things right away. For example, if you're in the middle of enjoying a meal or spending time with a friend, don't interrupt that experience by responding to something that isn't truly urgent. "Don't let things take you out of that moment," he says.
Set Boundaries Around Your Time
Dealing with urgency culture also requires that you set strong boundaries around your time. "Don't say yes to everything; consult your calendar first to see if it works with your schedule to ensure that you still have time for your wellbeing and self-care," Dr. Fong says.
Boundaries can also look like scheduling windows of time during which you answer emails, so you don't get distracted when you're working on other things, Dr. Gilliland says. He also advises staying offline after work hours to be fully present and enjoy your time off.
If there's urgency around deadlines at work that are affecting your mental health, Dr. Gilliland recommends having a conversation with your boss to see if you can have a longer timeframe. Sometimes the deadline is not moveable, he says, but your boss may help you prioritize what's most important within the timeframe which can help minimize the overwhelm and urgency.
Slow Down To Speed Up
When the sense of urgency permeates one’s life, that can lead them to go into overdrive and try to do and accomplish as much as they can as fast as possible. However, Dr. Fong notes, this actually has the opposite effect. "Realize that sometimes you have to slow down to speed up," she says. "If you don't stop to get rest and take care of your wellbeing, you're slowly depleting yourself where you probably won't be performing as well anymore."
In other words, take your time. Ensure you're scheduling self-care. Dr. Fong recommends meditation to help stay engaged in the present moment instead of worrying about what you have to get done or what you feel you “should” have already accomplished. "It helps create a sense of inner peace, joy, and supports your wellbeing," she says of meditation. And the better your wellbeing, the better equipped you are to achieve your goals.
Implement The Two-Minute Rule
For Nadia Boujarwah, CEO and co-Founder of plus-size clothing brand Dia & Co, following the two-minute rule has been very powerful in dealing with urgency culture. “If it takes less than two minutes, do it right away,” she says. “I find that part of the stress of urgency culture is the accumulation of tasks that can start to feel impossible to get through. By completing quick tasks as soon as they come up, my backlog stays more manageable.”
With emails, for instance, that doesn’t mean that you have to respond to emails as soon as they land in your inbox. Rather, Boujarwah says, if you can complete what is required in less than two minutes upon reading the email, then do it right then and there to reduce the number of tasks you have to come back to later.
Be Clear About Expectations
Boujarwah offers up another tip for dealing with urgency culture, especially in the workplace: be clear about when you can deliver on something. “I often find that dependability is more important than speed,” she explains. “Even if I can't get to something immediately, communicating when I can and following through on that can be just as valuable. It helps others know how to sequence their own work and doesn't slow them down.”