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You know that feeling…your heart is beating fast, your palms are sweaty or maybe you can feel those butterflies fluttering? To some, this may seem like the breakfast sandwich is making its way, and we’ve all been there: in the reception area waiting for that important job interview, or before a presentation that is the result of weeks of effort, and that take place in front of hundreds of people. In such a situation, dopamine levels are high, and we let our nerves take over and get the best of us, or we use that rush to propel us into action.
Of course, anxiety can happen to us anywhere and at any time, particularly now that the uncertainty of Covid-19 seems to be ever present. Whether we’re running our own business or worrying about whether our job is safe, nervous stress is a new constant and can be debilitating.
If you find that you are experiencing sustained and extreme levels of anxiety, consult a health professional or therapist near you, but for more typical feelings of this type, there are some proactive steps that can reduce its effect.
1. Roadmap and document your feelings
If you are in tune with your emotions, and the larger contours of your life, you are more likely to be able to short-circuit anxiety before it sets in. Neglecting your finances, relationships, diet, and health all impact mental resilience. This may seem obvious, but it is too easily forgotten. For example, paying attention and setting limits around caffeine and alcohol intake, food consumed, impulse purchases online, and mindless scrolling on social media can reduce stress.
Related: How entrepreneurs can protect their mental health by being their own boss
I find it helpful to do a “feeling check” throughout the day. The process is simple: set a timer on your phone every few hours, name what you feel, and write it down. The more we become aware of what we are experiencing, the more present, connected, and grounded we become. These controls are particularly useful after a turbulent moment, such as after reading an article or receiving a phone call that threw you off balance. Once you can identify the associated feeling (anger, sadness, fear), you can move on and you won’t carry this feeling with you all day.
2. Meditate and apply breathing techniques
Meditation has a number of health benefits. It can help you gain a new perspective in stressful situations, connect with yourself, and focus on the present. It can also help reduce negative feelings. If you’re new to meditation, start with a five- to ten-minute guided version. (Just google and there will be plenty of free examples).
Or consider using a breathing technique; one of my favorites is the 4-7-8 method developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, in which the breath is regulated according to specific “in and out” counts, the result Weil describes as a “natural tranquilizer for the nervious system”. Breathing deeply and mindfully can help with blood flow and energy level. It can also relax your mind and body and help you focus, so consider starting and ending your days with them and/or when a stressful situation arises.
Related: 9 Ways High-Performers Manage Stress
3. Change focus… and when to let anxiety work for you
When you start to feel overwhelmed, walk away. Have some water. To make a phone call. Get involved in a new activity… in short, change your focus.
But interestingly enough, a fight or flight stress response can actually be helpful if used correctly. After all, without fear, the human race would not have survived, and fight or flight is what first responders rely on to serve our communities and keep us safe.
It is possible to use fear to find solutions that you might not otherwise have thought of. When we are stressed, our bodies release cortisol, which gives us a heightened sense of awareness until the stressful task or event is over. When you feel your body or mind on edge, consider taking the opportunity to finish a big task. It may be a great presentation or sales report, but East it’s time to focus on an item you might have been putting off. The key in the process, however, is to also give yourself breaks to de-stress.
In a nutshell, keep in mind that you can positively reframe what is going on in your mind. View a stressful event as a challenge, not a threat. An Iraqi war veteran with whom I am close explained to me how he was able to do this when he was in the service. He said that the moment he decided to view his year-long deployment as an adventure rather than a burden, his mindset and experience changed. He no longer felt frozen with fear and worry. It wasn’t that he wasn’t afraid anymore, but what became more important to him was to do the chores, alone under stressful conditions.
Related: Why showing courage changes everything
4. Find the meaning of your actions
Why are you at your job? If you are self-employed, why did you start the business? Something as simple as earning a steady paycheck could very well be the immediate answer to these questions. However, finding a larger meaning fuels introspection in general, and the results can be transformative.
Where are you now and where do you want to go? What actions are you taking daily to get there? For example, if you are currently running a business, what courses are you taking? what books are you reading? What podcasts are you listening to? What steps are you taking to gain more knowledge?
Then ask yourself, “What am I enjoying today? What brings me happiness?” Neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl believed that humans are motivated by something he referred to as a “will to meaning,” which basically means that we are constantly searching for meaning or purpose: it is what motivates us and drives us forward. . This often takes the form of a dialogue within ourselves to stimulate curiosity, fuel potential, and evolve and grow.
In Barbara Fredrickson’s book Positivity: discover the upward spiral that will change your life (Harmony, 2009), the psychology and neuroscience professor explains how deeply day-to-day emotional experiences affect the course of our lives. In one passage, he explains that “flourishing goes beyond happiness or satisfaction with life. It is true that people who prosper are happy. But that is not the half of it. Beyond feeling good, they are also doing good, adding value to the world.”
Related: 7 steps to find meaning in your work
When we can flip the script and change the narrative around anxiety, we can envision and create better pathways. We can also use it to create, inspire and motivate both ourselves and those around us. When we are able to control anxiety, instead of letting it control us, we begin to experience more possibilities, gain confidence and leadership skills, and receive more of what we really want.