How to Deal With Anxiety and Stress
Anxiety is often a nebulous concept. We know it affects our emotions, but it’s difficult to describe. This is because anxiety feels different for everyone. You might feel uneasy. You might feel light-headed or dizzy. Your heartbeat might escalate. You may experience hot flashes. Regardless of how anxiety affects you, it takes a heavy toll on your performance and stress levels. As a leader, you’re probably no stranger to it.
Anxiety is ultimately a reaction to stress, and it's commonly associated with rumination or obsessive thinking. It can even cause palpitations and tremors, and is closely related to what’s called anticipatory stress, which concerns thoughts of the future. Leaders experience anticipatory stress when they express worry about a future event like an upcoming presentation or board meeting. Remember Murphy’s Law? It's the idea that if something can go wrong, it will.
You probably wish you could deal with anxiety more effectively. Well, you’re in luck. Studies have found that the simple act of stroking a living creature (no matter if it is furry, fuzzy, slimy, scaly or hard-shelled) can reduce anxiety levels. Here are four key tactics you can apply to deal with anxiety and get back on track.
1. Let go of the past.
Anxiety happens when we’re stuck in the past. You can let go of the past by reflecting on your current situation. What does your present state look like? Try to put your imagination cap on and imagine and visualize a different and more effective outcome, and then another and another. The process of imagining yourself in different situations will catapult you out of the past. You should try to find a colleague to bounce ideas off of. If you’re struggling to find a solution to a business problem, ask them what they would do. If you’re struggling to prioritize your work, ask them for advice. If you’re dealing with a difficult co-worker, ask them to role-play with you. When you’re anxious, it’s important to let go of the past and rid yourself of the “doom and gloom." Like getting in a time machine, you’ll be transported to a better version of you that’s waiting to come out.
2. Find humor.
Comedian Milton Berle once said, “Laughter is an instant vacation.” But you don’t need to be a comedian to find humor in your current life. There’s humor everywhere. Try to think about your hobbies, your friends and your recent experiences. Consider using self-effacement to bring a different perspective to your situation. When you’re confident enough to be the subject of the joke, you gain the respect of others. By injecting humor into your life, you create a more trusting environment and put things into perspective. Plus, humor is a powerful antidote against anxiety. When you laugh, your body releases dopamine and endorphins, which ward off your stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline.
3. Don’t be a perfectionist.
Perfection is the enemy of good and one of the most common internal stressors affecting leaders and executives. If you are a perfectionist, anything less than the ideal will cause you to experience ruminations, increasing your anxiety levels. It’s important not to expect to get things right the first time, and not to be afraid to fail. If you’re always seeking out perfect solutions, this can prevent action. You should experiment with new things and embrace the learning process. If you’re anxious about something, build the skills necessary to master the task at hand. For example, if you have anxiety about public speaking, enroll in public-speaking classes. You can even videotape yourself and study your performance. You owe it to yourself to have the freedom and space to learn and develop your skills. And remember, experts can help you learn new things too.
4. Build a task force.
When we’re anxious and stressed, we often withdraw socially and no longer find pleasure in being around people. When you’re anxious, you may avoid social events and eat lunch at your desk. The next time you’re faced with a big endeavor or feel anxious, try building a task force. The comfort and support of others can be the best medicine for getting back on track. Try to think broadly, and don’t limit your task force to people in your department or even your industry. Instead, try to recruit people from different areas of expertise. When you enlist a team of professionals with different skillsets, you’re more likely to come up with creative and innovative solutions. Research has shown that the strength of your support network is strongly tied to stress, even enhancing your resilience. People who have emotional support evince notably lower levels of stress than people without similar access.
When we experience anxiety, we often fear the worst. Events at work might elicit a positive response or a negative stress response of anxiety. Changes in office location, speaking at meetings, layoffs, performance reviews, getting a new assignment or manager or even getting a promotion can cause anxiety. The symptoms are real and tangible, and it's okay and natural to experience anxiety. Now you have a tool kit to confront it. The result is a better you. And most importantly, take good care of yourself.