In the age of information and technology overload, stress is at an all time high. By being connected to our devices 24/7, we’re expected to be available to work at any time.
Recently, I’ve been coaching a lot of people who suffer from anxiety. Whether I’m speaking to Fortune 100 companies or working one on one with different individuals, I’ve been finding that people who say they are suffering from anxiety is becoming more common.
Why Do We Feel Anxious?
A big reason we get anxious is because we feel like we lack control over the situation we are in.
We all have unique triggers that ignite this stressful response. For some it can be having too many projects on the go, a disorganized desk, a backlog of emails or simply having too much to do in not enough time. For others it come from managing the expectations of friends, family and social commitments.
Whatever your trigger is, in that moment there is often too much information and tasks for your brain to contend with and it simply gets overwhelmed.
Once overwhelm happens it can trigger your brain to go into a reactive state. In this state, your brain narrows its focus on the problems around you, which can make everything else seem like a threat. That meeting at 3pm all of a sudden becomes a huge burden, that call you have to make seems devastatingly difficult to do and that dinner party tonight feels like it’s going to completely sabotage your productivity for the entire week.
On top of that, everything seems urgent. It all of a sudden becomes impossible to determine your priorities and which task you should tackle first. Everything seems like an emergency you need to address.
Your brain’s focus becomes so confined and hyper focused in this reactive state, that it is unable to see a way out.
This state can unfortunately paint everything red and make everything seem worse than it actually is. It literally can distort your perception of reality and send you in a downward spiral towards anxiety.
The challenge is that when many of us feel anxious, we try to tough it out and push our way through. However, the more we push, the more self-critical we get and we begin believing all the negative things we are thinking.
How To Regain Control
1) Be aware of your triggers
We all have unique things that can make us feel anxious. The next time you begin feeling this way, take note of exactly what is causing it. The more aware you are of exactly the people or circumstances that cause it, the more chances you have of cutting it off at the source before it gets worse.
Rather than trying to push your way forward, it’s better to step back and take a break.
2) You are not your thoughts
If you are already feeling anxious, remember that everything is not always as it seems. As mentioned above, reality gets distorted when we are in those highly negative emotional states and everything can seem much worse than it actually is. Try to not take your thoughts too seriously and give yourself permission to not analyze them either.
3) Predetermine your control activities
Have a set group of activities that can help pull you out of this anxious state. Remember that the reason you are feeling anxious is likely because you are lacking control over the situation you are in. The simple act of feeling in control of your environment can take you out of that downward spiral.
These can be things like: cleaning, cooking, gardening, writing, reading, drawing, painting, exercising, any hobby, playing a sport, sewing, arts & crafts, going for a walk, spending time with others, being in nature etc.
While it sounds overly simple, this sense of focus can be a fast and effective way to calm your brain down and give you control over the moment.
4) Submerse Yourself with Ultra Focus
Whichever activity you choose, try to submerse yourself within it. For example, if you choose cooking try different recipes and focus on cutting each item with precision. That ultra focus can help give you a sense of control in that moment and take your mind off of that anxious trigger.
As you do these activities, try to not think about life or analyze the stressful experience that made you feel anxious. That will just make the anxiety worse. To make this strategy work effectively, simply try to be focused, present and in the moment.