I remember my mom referring to herself as a “worrier” spending time thinking about what could go wrong. If I was out with friends or forgetting to check-in, I’d hear about how worried she was, uncertain of my safety.
I’m not sure if worry is what we now call anxiety, but that word, “anxiety” seems to come up regularly in my work with leaders. Anxiety is defined as a state of apprehension; distress or uneasiness caused by fear of danger or misfortune. Whether you call is worry or anxiety, the common element is focusing on the future and feeling like you have no control over a situation.
The top reasons causing anxiety include stress from work, school, personal relationships, illness, and emotional trauma. People who suffer from anxiety tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the future. Playing “What if…” games. We make lots of assumptions and project how things could go wrong.
One way to combat anxiety is to be fully present in the present. Remember, the best way to impact what happens in the future is to focus on what you are doing in the present moment. It’s actually the only thing we can control.
When I think about what I think about, it’s typically about the past or the future. Why is that?
We often ruminate about past events wishing we had said or done something different. OR we worry about what will happen in the future.
Social media is not helpful, either. Seeing the beautiful, curated lives publicly posted tends to make us feel anxious because our lives can’t compare.
We tell ourselves…
I am not doing all the amazing things everyone else seems to be enjoying.
I am not as beautiful or successful.
I am not enough.
What can we do to overcome these anxious feelings?
- Concentrate on what you can control in the present moment. This may be why mindfulness is such a hot topic these days. Mindfulness is all about being present. Being fully engaged in what is happening right now. Since both the past and future are out of our control, the only thing we can control is what we do in the present.
- What can help you stay present? Practice Yoga, deep breathing, or other relaxation techniques to calm your mind.
- Get Physical. When we move our bodies, chemicals in the brain are released that stimulate positive emotions. Physical exertion and an active lifestyle can improve self-image. We also sleep better when we are physically tired. A good night’s sleep does wonders for our physical and mental health!
- Plan instead of worry. While we can’t control what happens in the future, we can plan for how we show up in the future. Here are some examples of how we can plan:
- Think through mitigating actions to help prevent adverse outcomes. For example, communicate pro-actively, secure appropriate resources in advance, and establish deadlines to stay on track.
- Focus time and energy on your education and professional development. Work to acquire the right skills/behaviors that support our career and personal aspirations.
- Prepare for critical events/milestones. Have you anticipated what data/facts you will need to support your business case? Have you considered the possible questions you may receive, so you are ready to respond with confidence? Have you socialized your ideas with un-like minded people to gain new perspectives and validate your proposals?
All of these strategies have worked well for me. I’d love to hear from you if these are helpful or respond with your fresh ideas. We can all learn from one another!
If you are leading others who experience anxiety, here are some other tips you may find useful.
Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner with PeopleResults. Follow her on Twitter @mduesterhoft or connect via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.