Conquer any anxiety-driven problem head on with smart thinking strategies to help you manage stress and keep your cool
I've rewritten the first paragraph of this article 20 times and I'm still convinced it's not good enough. I'm an anxious person. If you are too, chances are, you can relate. And to some extent, these feelings are normal: "Some people are just more inclined to worry," explains Alice Boyes, Ph.D., author of The Anxiety Toolkit. But if you're at the point where worry interferes with your day-to-day activities or work, it's time to start addressing it instead of avoiding it.
After all, anxiety isn't here to paralyze you, but to save you—all thanks to evolution. "Anxiety is something that we're wired to have," says Boyes. The emotional state characterized by nervousness, worry, and unease is actually our body's alarm system, which helps us to pause and scan for potential threats. However, in overly anxious people, sensitive systems fire too often without good reason. (Learn the 10 Weird Ways Your Body Reacts to Stress.) The good news: Eliminating paralyzing worry is doable. If you have a clinical disorder, or suffer from panic attacks or depression, your best bet is always to talk to a professional. But practicing your responses to these five common traps can help send worry packing too.
Call it the culture uncertain. "Someone isn't 100 percent sure of what the outcome will be so they don't enter into it," explains Boyes. For example, you don't know what will happen if you leave your current job for a new one, so you never apply.
Move past it: Ask yourself: "What's the worst, best, and most realistic outcome?" Typically, anxious people focus on the negative, but this series of questions forces balanced thinking. Also, it's comforting to worrisome folks to be prepared for the worst. "It's all about that shift in cognitive psychology where you realize you can cope with negative experiences," adds Boyes.
Say something stupid in a job interview and can't stop replaying it in your head? That's ruminating over something that has happened, according to Boyes. Even obsessively worrying about the future before it happens could inhibit you.
Move past it: Practice mindfulness through yoga, meditation, or breathing exercises to refocus your attention. Also, try kind self-talk. "Think: 'How would I talk to a friend about this situation?'" explains Boyes. If you would tell a friend that they probably had a great interview, prepped well, and just need to wait it out, follow that advice! (We have 3 Breathing Techniques for Dealing with Anxiety, Stress, and Low Energy.)
"Perfectionism is when you're sweating the small stuff to the point that you're not sweating the big stuff," explains Boyes. For example, you're so concerned about being late for an appointment that you arrive 30 minutes early, even though you had to duck out of a work meeting early.
Move past it: Differentiate between a good level of conscientiousness and going way over the top. "Understand your own triggers and what would be more useful," advises Boyes. To identify your triggers, ask yourself if arriving to that appointment 30 minutes early, for example, is helpful or unhelpful to you, she says. It's not worth it if you're missing something important at work and would be better off just being five minutes early.
Does this sound like you: You keep quiet in a brainstorming meeting at work instead of throwing out ideas, because you fear the response will be bad? "When you're not willing to seek feedback, you will never realize that you can actually learn from negative feedback," warns Boyes.
Move past it: Choose someone who knows your talent to bounce your ideas off of pre-meeting. "If you already have that acceptance from a person, then you can take that criticism," says Boyes. Beyond that, expose yourself to small bits of feedback to build up your tolerance. Start by emailing ideas to a few members of your team and build up to speaking up at next week's meeting. (And while you're at it, check out these 9 Smart Career Tips for a Bright, Successful Future.)
Boyes' example of fearful procrastination: Your best friend wants you to be a bridesmaid in her expensive destination wedding, but you can't afford it and are afraid to tell her. So you avoid it and risk ruining the friendship.
Move past it: Just do it. "Think of avoidance as a mountain shape, it's about getting over the top of that to the other side," she says. "Take some sort of small action to get over the hump." Invite your friend (the bride) out to lunch or draft an email; that little push may be all you need.