How to cope with Anxiety

It can be disheartening to come across yet another self-help article that tells you to go for a walk or take a bath whenever you’re feeling stressed. Stop reading it! You’re probably done with listening to or reading reactionary advice about how to manage what you feel and experience.

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Let’s face it. It doesn’t actually address the root causes and it’s a band-aid, temporary fix.

If you no longer want to just cope with anxiety and stress you experience in the course of your work, read on. Learning how to predict, be prepared for and apply proactive strategies to embrace the triggers which drive your adrenalin and cortisol hormone levels skyward, will have you thriving in times of stress.

So get ready to learn some performance psychology strategies and techniques that are truly going to help you long-term.

There is a catch. You have to commit different effort until you bed down these changes which will have you responding – not reacting – to your work-related unique stress and anxiety triggers far differently to how you have been up until now.

1. Realize that anxiety and excitement are physiologically expressed the same way

Unfortunately, every which way you look, the word ‘anxiety’ itself automatically attracts a connotation that we’re weak because we experience anxiety and stress responses. It is seen as something unhealthy. Negative self-judgement, self and talk and labels quickly transpire in our minds.

Sport and performance psychologists ascribe a different perspective to anxiety: arousal. In decades of research, optimal arousal responses have been shown to deliver peak performance not just in sporting contexts but in work and business as well. Everyone – and that includes you – will have their own optimal threshold of anxiety or stress symptoms for each circumstance that drives you to be alert, focused and ready to perform where it matters.

Unfortunately we often get stuck on the how badly our experiences have felt. Our physical symptoms combined with the emotional derailing of the moment, have a purpose: to keep the status quo. What we don’t realize is these physical symptoms and unhelpful thought processes operate to keep us safe. But we ended up feeling stuck.

When you have been anxious at work or remember times when those physical stress symptoms bared their unwelcome heads, see if you can ask yourself if there is an excitement component to what you are experiencing. Can you recognize that there might be a benefit to what you are experiencing here?

Start working with a coach or psychologist to undertake hind-sighted reviews of when you’ve felt work-related stress and anxiety.

Explore whether or not there have actually been positives in your experience that to date, you have not been able to see. Never do the analysis in the heights of feeling stressed or anxious. It’s like trying to throw more clothes into a front-loading washing machine that’s already mid-cycle. You’ll only end adding to the chaos!

Do, however, start asking yourself this question more. It will open up a perspective of possibilities as to how what you’re experiencing truly is helping you.

2. Look beyond the obvious to face deeper underlying causes

You don’t need yet another scientific explanation of what anxiety is.

You know what your own definition of anxiety and stress is. You know what it feels like. However, if you experience the symptoms of stress and anxiety continuously without any apparent triggers, (i.e. general anxiety)[1] detecting where it transpired from can be a more complex journey of discovery.

It’s also unlikely you can take an unpredictable required amount of time to figure it out. You can’t just stop the train, ask to get off and tell the world you’ll get back on board when you think you’re ready. When you have work demands, what can you do to keep moving and managing how you feel along the way?

If your experiences of stress and anxiety in situations are unique to you and not shared by others, it is likely values, principles, morals and ethics of your own are being violated or dishonored in some way. When this happens, our bodies will naturally show signs of stress and anxiety even if we try to convince ourselves with self-talk to ‘get over it’, ‘don’t over-react’ or ‘toughen up butter cup’. Your stress and anxiety will remain, each and every time one of those values and principles are violated and the negative effects will compound.

If you keep getting colds and flu’s despite eating well, exercising, sleeping properly and taking supplements you can guarantee deeper issues are going on that you need to face. We’re trying to trick ourselves and ignore what’s really aggravating, scaring or depleting us. We need to go deeper.

Let’s look at an example:

Customers not paying on time and your experiencing financial stress.

Customers who don’t pay on time are every business’ headache. When you are constantly stressed, angry and questioning your self-worth chasing for payment, there could be a few things to explore surrounding your internal values concerning money:

  • Your comfort level and therefore ability to initially assert terms and conditions of receiving money which reduces customers delaying payment;
  • Your level of comfort to illustrate and assert you deserve the money – asking for 50% up front then commencing your service versus requiring full payment once the job is complete to the customer’s satisfaction;
  • Potentially feeling obligated to accommodate this payment behavior;
  • Why you attract customers who treat you this way.

You only have control of changing your own behavior. Looking above, one of those occurrences might resonate with you strongly. You have the option of looking to adjust that existing behavior, create an additional one which better honors what’s important to you or replace one completely. Your customers’ response to your behavior will need to change in some way. It is your developmental journey to find out which of your new behaviors receives a better response that honors your values.

When you start to first observe and notice that certain things, people and circumstances raise alarm bells within you, stop and ask yourself why this might be creating such a rise in you. You’ll be surprised at what moves from your subconscious train of thought into your conscious one.

The answers will come and you may not like them, however you will be in a much stronger position of power to recognize and plan the change necessary to not only help you cope but remove the trigger as stressful or anxiety-provoking altogether.

3. Know your resilience fitness and dedicate effort to proactively improve it

It feels like we don’t have the luxury of being proactive when it comes to managing stress and anxiety levels skyrocketing. The world of commerce changes at an alarming rate. We often feel we can barely catch our breath constantly burning the candle at both ends sometimes just to tread water.

What can greatly help you to cope with the stress and anxiety of constant change is to get real and honest with yourself about what truly does cause you stress and anxiety. Thinking about your workplace, brainstorm a list of things and see if you can do the following:

  • Identify patterns in the things, people and circumstances which cause you to feel stressed and anxious;
  • Against each item you’ve written, see if you can recognize any common responses looking at your behavior, emotional and mental states
  • Try to recognize how much each item affects you and impacts not just your working life but also your life outside of work.

Look to create a hierarchy of these to help you prioritize what irritants need strong attention, how much and when. It can greatly help to work with a psychologist to do this step. Forming the list and staring it in the face may be confronting but at the same time overwhelmingly liberating!

Against each item, start planning strategies which can either distract, displace or detach you from a downward spiralling process of negative thoughts, destructive self-judgment dialogue. At work, you need quick, fast ways to stop the broken record playing and repeating any messages to your subconscious that further debilitate you whilst you’re feeling stressed and anxious.

Distractions remove the ability for you stay stagnated in a highly anxious state. Change your seating position. Get up and stretch. Plug in your headphones for two minutes playing a song that makes you usually want to sing, laugh or makes you feel more confident. Research shows music to be an incredibly powerful mood regulator. So choose wisely and be bold!

You may displace your current focus onto something or someone outside you. Checking in with colleagues to help them or simply see how they are tracking reduces the ability for your stress and anxiety symptoms to increase. Turn your attention outward and be 100% present.

Distractions and displacement greatly help to pacify your nerves and negative, cyclical inner dialogue so that you can more calmly (even if slightly) face the projects, deadlines and/or people which are causing you angst. The most important thing is to stop the constant rhythm of your debilitating symptoms and buy yourself breathing space to get back on the work merry go ‘round.

The idea is not to be reactive, but proactive. Get familiar with those things that are likely to cause you greater stress and anxiety and have techniques and strategies in place already expecting that those things are going to affect you.

It’s too late to try and think of something in the middle of feeling chaos so have your strategies pre-prepared. Create your own recipe of managing stress and anxiety in the same way Martha Stewart might celebrate the final outcome of her culinary masterpiece: “Here’s one we prepared earlier.”

4. Learn the art of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

If you haven’t yet learnt the art of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), you’re in the dark on one of the most effective arsenals that helps people the world over process and cope with stress and anxiety, particularly work related stress.

Originally developed by Professor and clinical psychologist Steven C. Hayes[2] in 1982, ACT involves learning to recognize the unpleasant thoughts, memories and images for what they are: just thoughts, memories and images.

As you experience your unique physical symptoms of anxiety and stress, you also learn to make space for accepting the experience of them without creating resistance to suppress them.

You learn to become a calm observer. You become better at riding the wave of discomfort. Over time, the potency of what you have felt becomes less and less often sometimes to the point of the original stress and anxiety triggers no longer bubbling up.

Learning the steps of the ACT will truly change your life. Once you experience success with one particular trigger (work with a psychologist or other mental health professional to develop a prioritized hierarchy of what you will tackle first), you will want to apply it to many others, work-related or not.

5. Learn Emotional Freedom Technique to reduce anxiety and stress symptoms

Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)[3] is also known as ‘tapping’. And anyone can do it. Clinical psychologist Dr Roger Callahan[4] discovered clients were able to achieve relief and a reduction of their anxiety symptoms when they self-administered pressure to acupressure points on their body.

In collaboration with Callahan, professional associate Gary Craig drew on neuro linguistic programming,[5] thought field therapy[6] and acupuncture to create a suite of energy points that clients gently tap on with their fingertips. Whilst tapping, they consciously describe the discomfort of their thoughts, feelings and physical symptoms.

Best learned with the guidance of an EFT practitioner or trained professional, individuals first identify the intensity and magnitude of the stress and anxiety they feel. As they tap whilst labelling and describing (and often feeling the physical discomfort too during a session) their thoughts, feeling and emotions, individuals gradually start to experience relief.

Research shows that the positive effect of tapping is long lasting, particularly for anxiety disorders and post traumatic stress. Other mental health challenges it is becoming used more widely for include weight loss, grief and loss, low self-esteem and confidence.

Final thoughts

You often cannot change nor control your work environment, the people and often the circumstances that elevate your stress and anxiety levels.

With these mental strength training tools, not only will you be able to improve your ability to cope with work-related stress and anxiety you’ll be able to improve your skills in so many other areas of your life.

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