How to Handle Anxiety and Stress Like a Pro
Here’s How It Works
Anxiety is an absolutely necessary emotion. If you don’t think you experience it, you simply don’t understand it.
Our brains are hard-wired such that it’s difficult to take action until we feel some level of anxiety. In fact, performance peaks under the heightened activation that comes with moderate levels of anxiety.
The trick is to manage your anxiety and keep it within optimal levels in order to achieve top performance. If you don’t have the tools in place to keep your anxiety in check when it comes on strong, you’ll never realize your full potential.
You can get better at managing the anxiety you inevitably feel when facing difficult and uncertain situations. You just need to follow the steps that successful and empowered people take to keep their anxiety from taking over.
The key thing to understand before getting started is that you are indeed facing uncertainty—the outcome of your future has not been decided. It’s up to you to develop the beliefs and mental toughness that will make you one of the Empowered.
Step 1: Expect and Prepare for Change
People change and businesses go through ebbs and flows. It’s a fact that even the Empowered in Judge’s study can’t control. They’ve found themselves out of work. Their companies have fallen on tough times. The difference is that they believe they are fully capable of dealing with changes and making something positive happen.
In other words, they are mentally prepared for change—and you can be too.
If you don’t anticipate change naturally, you need to set aside some time regularly—either every week or every other week—to create a list of important changes that you think could possibly happen. The purpose of this task is not to predict every change you’ll face. Rather, it will open your mind to change and sharpen your ability to spot and respond to impending changes. Even if the events on your lists never happen, the practice of anticipating and preparing for change will give you a greater sense of command over your future.
Step 2: Focus on Your Freedoms, Not Your Limitations
We’ve all had the old mantra life isn’t fair beaten into our brains since we were young. This mantra is a voice of despair, anxiety, and passive inaction. While it’s true that we sometimes have limited ability to stop negative events from occurring, we are always free to choose our response.
On your list of possible changes from step one, jot down all of the positive ways in which you can take action and respond to each change. You’ll surprise yourself with how much control you can wield in response to seemingly uncontrollable circumstances.
Step 3: Re-write Your Script
Step three is going to be the hardest because it requires you to change the mode of thinking that you’ve grown accustomed to. Over time, we all develop mental scripts that run through our heads and influence how we feel about our circumstances and what we do in response to them. These scripts go so far as to tell us what to say and how to act in different situations.
In order to be empowered, you’ll need to rewrite your script.
To do this, recall a tough time you went through recently. What was it youbelieved about your circumstances that prevented you from making the most of your situation or responding more effectively?
Write this script down, and label it your hard-luck script.
Since hindsight is 20/20, go ahead and write a more effective and empowered mental script that you wish you had followed next to it. This is the empoweredscript you will use to replace your hard-luck script.
File these away so that you can pull them out and study them whenever you are facing stress or strong anxiety. When you do pull your scripts out, compare your present thinking to your hard-luck and empowered scripts. This will keep you honest and enable you to adjust your thinking so that you’re operating from an empowered script.
These periodic reminders will eventually rewrite your scripts completely, enabling you to operate from an empowered script at all times.
Step 4: Stop Negative Self-Talk
A big step in managing anxiety involves stopping negative self-talk in its tracks. The more you ruminate on negative thoughts, the more power you give them.
Most of our negative thoughts are just that—thoughts, not facts.
When you find yourself believing the negative and pessimistic things your inner voice says, it’s time to stop and write them down. Literally stop what you’re doing, and write down what you’re thinking. Once you’ve taken a moment to slow down the negative momentum of your thoughts, you will be more rational and clear-headed in evaluating their veracity.
You can bet that your statements aren’t true any time you use words like “never,” “worst,” or “ever.” If your statements still look like facts once they’re on paper, take them to a friend or colleague you trust and see if he or she agrees with you. Then the truth will surely come out.
When it feels like something always or never happens, this is just your brain’s natural threat tendency inflating the perceived frequency or severity of an event. Identifying and labeling your thoughts as thoughts by separating them from the facts will help you escape the cycle of negativity and anxiety and move toward a positive new outlook.
Step 5: Appreciate What You Have
Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for isn’t merely the “right” thing to do; it also lessens anxiety because it reduces the stress hormone cortisol by 23%.
Research conducted at the University of California, Davis, found that people who worked daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experienced improved mood, energy and substantially less anxiety due to lower cortisol levels.
Bringing It All Together
Overwhelming anxiety and empowerment are mutually exclusive. Any time you are overcome with enough anxiety to limit your performance, just follow the five steps above to empower yourself and regain control.
Article extracted from Forbes.com