Anxiety levels seem to be at an all time high at the moment, and as life becomes increasingly complicated, uncertain and faster paced, this is unlikely to decrease, UNLESS we change our relationship with anxiety.
So what can you do?
Firstly, embrace your emotions. Accept anxiety as a valid, and well-intentioned, feeling – it might not feel nice but it can be useful. In essence, get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.
Then learn techniques to use your emotions more intelligently so they enhance your experience and results, instead of being a symptom of suffering.
Here’s an idea that’s simple yet incredibly effective.
Open up a dialogue
When you start to feel anxious, open up a conversation with the emotion, ‘Anxiety’, as if it were a person.
This will help you disconnect from the unpleasant feeling, lessening its intensity.
It will also build your resilience to face it and provide an opportune to develop different responses to this situation, and similar ones in the future, that work for you as it’s YOUR conversation.
Here’s an example of one such conversation I had with Anxiety:
Me: Hey Anxiety, you’re here again – don’t you ever take time off?
Anxiety: Hell, no – it’s a 24/7 job looking out for you, no time to rest. Everything and everyone is a potential threat as far as I’m concerned. I’ve got your back.
Me: So what is it this time?
Anxiety: Well, it’s that email you sent to Bob inviting him to an event – he hasn’t replied
Me: Ok, and…
Anxiety: Well, I’ve gotta protect you from any fallout. I’ve made a list of initial thoughts:
- Bob hates your idea – it wasn’t good enough, creative enough, fun enough….
- He’s told everyone how stupid your idea is
- He probably doesn’t even like you and, when everyone else hears about your idea, nor will they
- No one will come to this event (or future ones)
- No one will invite you to theirs
- Everyone prefers Bob….
Notice the use of words such as no-one and everyone – one for another time but good to keep in check!
Me: Whoa, whoa, whoa – hang on, thanks for having my back, I really appreciate your attention to detail.
But hasn’t this happened before?
For example, can you remember when my email went into junk? And the time when Julie wanted to check that everyone could make the date before she replied? And then there was the time when we changed the plan and it ended up being the best day ever – even better than the original plan?
Anxiety: Well, yes but…
Me: What do you want for me?
Anxiety: I want you to be valued, liked, included, doing what’s important to you…
Me: Thanks, that sounds good. So if I follow up a few of those things will that help?
For example, I could check that Bob received the email, ask for his feedback, check if the idea/date etc works for him, ask him for alternative ideas and thoughts.
Anxiety: I guess finding out more facts won’t hurt. It will take away the uncertainty so you can work out what to do next.
Me: Ok that’s where I’ll start and then we can chat again. Leave this one with me now.
Did that sound at all familiar? Do you recognise this catastrophe thinking pattern? (This is actually incredibly common.)
If you do, then please give this technique a go. Why not write it down and say it out loud for even greater effect – the more senses you use the greater the impact.
Use this as a habit for managing anxiety. Let the feeling act as the prompt to have a conversation with yourself. It will put thoughts into perspective, lessen the anxiety and get you back into the driving seat, feeling in control, choosing, and taking actions to address whatever has triggered the anxiety.
Emotions are data and energy – pay attention, analyse the data, and use the energy to take action.
I hope that inspired you and gave you some ideas to support others. Please share it. And if you need more inspiration, help or you’d like a sounding board, do get in touch.