WHY can’t I keep track of my life admin?
I have thousands of unread emails, a growing pile of ASOS returns in my hallway and a long overdue dentist appointment.
I also have a bunch of old clothes for sale on Vinted, an Irish passport that I need to apply for, a lot of WhatsApps that I need to respond to and the air conditioning in my car needs urgent repairs.
But will I be able to check any of these things off my seemingly endless to-do list soon? Almost certainly not.
That’s because I have running paralysis.
This is not necessarily an illness, but rather something that can have devastating effects on your mental health. The term describes the inexplicable inability to complete everyday tasks.
It is a mental block, a metaphorical wall that cripples those affected through everyday life.
Psychologist Emma Kenny said: “When you hear the term ‘errand paralysis’ what you are really dealing with is the phenomenon of being unable to complete small, everyday tasks, even though you may have the skills and resources to do so.” .
“It’s as if these small tasks become monumental to you, causing you to put them off or avoid them altogether.
“Many people struggle not with the complexity of the task, but with the sheer weight of the accumulated responsibility.”
“Think about it. It’s not that you can’t buy milk or respond to an email, it’s that you’re constantly trying to keep a multitude of balls in the air and sometimes that becomes overwhelming.”
Running paralysis gets worse as tasks pile up and a snowball effect occurs.
What started out as a short list for me – taking an eBay package to the post office, scheduling a dental check-up, and clearing my 7,987 email inbox – has turned into what feels like a completely unmanageable checklist.
Not only do I still need to do these things, I now have a couple of wedding guest dresses worth £278 that couldn’t be returned, three bin bags full of old clothes to stick on Vinted and old university friends that I need to organize to meet, book my partner’s birthday dinner and submit an application for an Irish passport, which I had planned to submit before Brexit.
I also need to get the broken air conditioning in my car repaired – which I might get done in time for next summer.
You’d think that driving around in sweltering heat for the last three years would have been enough to give me the impetus to do it, but running paralysis helped.
People who suffer from the same type of constant fatigue will get it.
COMPLETELY OFF YOUR TO-DO LIST
As Helen Anne Peterson, who coined the term “errand paralysis” in 2019, said, “I would put something on my to-do list and it would repeat itself from week to week and haunt me for months.”
But those who don’t know the feeling will probably argue that it’s simply another word for laziness or procrastination.
Well, according to Emma, they are very different.
“While on the surface, running paralysis might resemble laziness, it’s important to differentiate the two,” she said.
“Laziness often arises from a lack of motivation or desire to do something.
“But messenger paralysis is not about a lack of desire; it’s about feeling so overwhelmed that you become stagnant.”
It is also different from burnout – a state of physical and emotional exhaustion due to prolonged stress and overwork.
Emma said: “Both are accompanied by a feeling of exhaustion, but burnout generally encompasses a wider range of professional and personal life, while running paralysis is more limited to mundane, everyday tasks.”
It’s as if these small tasks become monumental to you, causing you to put them off or avoid them altogether.
So why do thousands of us suffer from this inability to get things done?
“That’s easy,” Emma said. It’s modern life.
“The world we live in today bombards us with endless stimuli, tasks and obligations,” she added.
“Add to this the expectations of society, our families, and often ourselves, and it is not difficult to understand why the burden of simple tasks becomes unbearable.”
“The constant connection through technology, comparison with others on social media, and the pressure to be productive at all times can leave many of you feeling like you are constantly running on a treadmill with no stop button in sight.”
It’s probably no surprise that running palsy is most prevalent among Millennials and Generation Z.
“These are people who are juggling multiple responsibilities and navigating the challenges of adulthood in a digital age that demands constant attention,” Emma said.
But it’s not just limited to the younger generation, she added.
“Many modern adults, regardless of age, trying to find balance between work, home life and societal expectations find themselves in errand paralysis.”
So once you’ve accepted that you have a problem, what can you do about it?
Emma suggested the following:
- PRIORITY: Learn to distinguish between urgent, important and postponeable tasks. Not everyone will have the same weight.
- DIVIDE TASKS: Instead of thinking of chores as one big, intimidating lump, break them down into manageable pieces.
- LIMIT EXPOSURE: Reduce the amount of time you spend on platforms or in environments that increase feelings of inadequacy or overwhelm.
- SELF CARE: Remember to schedule time for yourself. This is not a luxury, but a necessity.
- SEEK SUPPORT: Talk about your feelings. Whether with friends, family or professionals, talking about your feelings can make a big difference.
Emma said: “Remember, it’s okay to feel overwhelmed sometimes.
“The key is to recognize it, accept it and take actionable steps to manage it.”