Anxiety – I believe that anxiety plagues some of the most successful people. While anxiety can be debilitating, it can also push us to do better, and sometimes go overboard to perfectionism. Nonetheless, anxiety can be a useful tool. It doesn’t have to instill fear or a sense of losing control. You can use it in a productive way.
Anxiety may present in the form of your muscles tensing, your stomach experiencing fluttering (“butterflies”), uneasiness, and even fear. These are signs that whatever is coming up may be important. If this is happening before a big test or possibly a job interview, it means this is a major thing in your life. Coming from a mindfulness approach, here is a way to look at your anxiety.
Scenario: It's an hour before the big event (imagine anything – interview, big game, presentation). You’re feeling the butterflies, the fear, the anxiety.
- Embrace the anxiety. You are anxious for a reason. This is important to you so YES, you feel anxious.
- Take a deep breath and comfort yourself. Understand that you feel anxiety but don’t let it control you, don’t let it take over. Imagine a file cabinet in your head. You have different files related that event. Place anxiety in the back of the drawer, push it back. It’s still there but not at the forefront. Your success and desire to succeed is the first file in that mental file cabinet.
- Next, refute or reframe any negative thoughts. Common negative distortions are filtering, mind reading, or catastrophic thinking (*see below for examples).
- Negative thoughts coming in and dominating your thought process is letting the anxiety take over. Anxiety exists because this is important to you, it does not need to control the situation. You control how you react, what you say and what you will accomplish during this big event.
- Next, tell yourself how great you are. This is hard and something I recommend you practice daily. How often do we say things like, “Yes, I am athletic”? “Yes, I write very well”? This isn’t an ego boost, it’s a fact. Know what you are good at and of course always know what you need to work on. Balance.
- And when its all done, congratulate yourself! Maybe review what you want to work on in the future but also take note of what you did well. Accept that this event is done and look forward to the future.
Anxiety isn’t all good. It can be debilitating. If not properly managed, it will try to take control. I think one of the most difficult things is that we try to tell ourselves we are not anxious, that we are fine. It’s important to embrace and be aware of our emotions rather than stuffing it into the crowded mental file cabinet. You don’t want too many files in there with anger or anxiety stuffed in the back, because at some point that cabinet will become full and explode.
It is normal to feel a barrage of feelings. It is normal to feel them, deal and cope with them, and then move on. It is healthy to look at how we react and behave and try to be better. Anxiety can push us in a good direction so embrace your anxiety and use it as a tool, not a hammer breaking you down.
*Examples of filtering, mind reading, and catastrophic thinking
- Filtering: hearing only one part of the statement or conversation, filtering down to the one thing YOU want to focus on. EX: Ben has a presentation; one person gets up during the presentation. Many people tell Ben he did a great job, but he focuses on that person leaving, even though he has no idea why.
- Mind reading: This is pretty much how it sounds. You can not read people’s minds. Many times, we think a look means someone is thinking we look bad or if someone says “I can’t make it” we assume it has something to do with us. If you don’t ask, you don’t really know why. And honestly, not everything is about you, I promise.
- Catastrophic thinking: Basically, the worst of the worst is going to happen every time, and there’s nothing you can do to change the outcome.