by Poonam Sharma, Ph.D.
As a child, did you ever believe that there were monsters under the bed? Many of us lay frozen under the blankets, afraid to make a sound because doing so might alert the monsters of our presence. Have you outgrown your monsters, or have their names simply changed? Most adults have a number of “monsters” or “fears” that secretly terrify them from time to time. In the workplace, these fears might include fear of failure, fear of uncertainty, fears about layoffs and so forth.
Anxiety is based in underlying fears that may seem beyond our control. It can produce many negative consequences that can interfere with optimal performance on the job or with life in general. Most would agree that anxiety can cause chronic worry and negative thoughts that distract us from doing our best. However, this feeling can also result in a number of additional negative consequences. For example, anxiety can be directed inward, causing self-doubt and hesitation that keeps people from acting confidently and effectively when needed. In the extreme, being anxious can produce chronic procrastination and avoidance of important tasks that could seriously jeopardize one’s effectiveness and success at work. Anxiety can also cause a host of physical and mental problems such as sleep difficulties, problems with concentration and focus, and general uneasiness. At its worst, anxiety can result in panic attacks, during which an individual might experience heart palpitations, shortness of breath, hyperventilation, and a fear of dying.
Any of these sound familiar? Anxiety might seem like “the enemy,” but if channeled properly, a low level of anxiety can be an ally. Anxiety is energy that can help to charge us up and prepare us for action. Feeling anxious might signal that something needs attention—that there is something that we may need to face. It can also help spur us on to greater and greater personal growth and achievement.
Anxiety is often born from busy, challenging lives. The world of work is uncertain and unstable. There are layoffs, big changes, and unexpected expansions that can create an unpredictable work environment. At a personal level, you might find yourself feeling anxious about financial issues, changes in work tasks, and the competing demands of work and home. Your feelings of anxiety can also come from internal sources. Some of us start with temperaments that are more prone and sensitive to anxiety. We may place too many demands and expectations on ourselves, or have a fear of being out of control.
Our natural instinct is to run from what we fear the most, or to freeze, hoping that what we fear will go away. However, just like turning on the lights helped to dispel the monsters under the bed, turning around and facing your fears directly can have an empowering and liberating effect from anxiety. As you confront your fears, they WILL become smaller. Here are some suggestions for breaking the cycle of anxiety:
1. TAKE ACTION.
Don’t procrastinate, hide, or run away. Believe that you have the power to overcome your anxiety. Immediately, it may not feel good to face your fears directly, but if you apply this strategy consistently, it always works.
2. GET SOME PERSPECTIVE.
Often anxiety is rooted in exaggeration of one’s worst fears and negative thoughts. If you are the kind of person who embraces “worst-case scenarios” regularly, you may need a cognitive tune-up. Strategies such as thought stopping might be helpful. Whenever a negative or anxiety-based thought occurs such as “I’m going to make a fool of myself” or “I don’t measure up,” tell yourself to STOP! Stopping these types of thoughts is essential to interrupting the cycle of anxiety.
3. TUNE OUT.
If anxiety causes physical problems such as sweaty palms, heart-racing, shallow breathing, or nervousness in general, it is important to distract yourself from these physical sensations. Deep breathing and simple counting can be effective. Use any of your five senses to distract yourself. For example, count the dots on the wall, focus on background voices or music, and so on. Remember, what you focus on tends to grow.
4. REPACKAGE ANXIETY.
Sometimes relabeling anxiety as “energy” or “excitement” can cause a positive transformation. An interesting study compared the thoughts of beginning and expert skydivers. Beginning skydivers reported a lot of fear and apprehension about their jump; whereas, expert skydivers reported feeling excited or exhilarated. However, on actual physical measures, both groups were experiencing the same physiological reactions. The only difference was in the label they attached to them.
If you are experiencing extreme or chronic anxiety (i.e. panic attacks), consider talking to a professional to learn effective techniques that might work for your particular situation. You can learn to manage and even conquer anxiety.
For more information about anxiety and its management, visit Holisticonline.com