We’ve all experienced anxiety in the course of our lives. It is an emotion and a natural response to stressful situations. But when it becomes overwhelming, it can interfere with our personal life and affect our work.
In this blog post we will explore what anxiety is and how a simple three-step process based on mindfulness can help you empower your mind and outsmart anxiety on a daily basis.
You will learn how to:
Train your mind away from anxiety and start living a happier, more fulfilling life.
Just like many people, you may not even be aware that you are experiencing anxiety in the workplace. You may call it other names or simply not recognize it as an underlying emotion. That’s why we first need to look closer at where and how anxiety shows up in your daily life. And why it can hide in plain sight.
Mastering Anxiety: Why Positive Thinking Won’t Cut It
First, let’s break anxiety down for you.
Anxiety is not the same thing as fear. Fear is a quick and automatic response that comes from the oldest part of your brain. Think cavemen running away from a saber-toothed tiger.
Anxiety, on the other hand, affects the prefrontal cortex – a newer part of the brain that’s responsible for planning and decision-making. It’s like the CEO of your brain.
When the prefrontal cortex doesn’t have enough information to make a good prediction, it can start spinning out all kinds of scenarios, and that’s when anxiety creeps in. Sometimes, the prefrontal cortex can even shut down entirely, which can lead to a full-blown panic attack.
So, what does this all mean for you? Well, it means that you can’t just “think positive” and magically make your anxiety go away. You can’t just Google “10 tips for reducing anxiety” and expect them to solve everything. Anxiety is a part of your brain’s wiring, and it takes time and effort to rewire it.
But don’t despair! There are things you can do to manage your anxiety at work. One of them is mindfulness. Let’s break that down for you, too.
Mindfulness – Be Present, Not Perfect
Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present in the moment and aware of your thoughts, feelings, and surroundings without judgment.
It’s like hitting the pause button on your life and taking a step back to observe yourself and everything around you.
When you’re mindful, you’re not worrying about the past or stressing about the future. You’re simply existing in the here and now. It may be a lot harder than it sounds, to be honest. Our brains are wired to constantly think about what’s next and what’s happened before. But with practice, you can learn to quiet that inner chatter and just be.
Mindfulness can be practiced in many different ways – meditation, deep breathing, mindful walking, and even just taking a few minutes to observe your surroundings.
It’s not about being perfect or never getting distracted – it’s about being kind to yourself and gently bringing your attention back to the present moment when your mind starts to wander.
Now let’s look at how mindfulness can be applied to outsmarting anxiety in three basic steps.
Step 1: Break the Cycle and Become Aware of Your Coping Mechanisms
Have you ever found yourself mindlessly scrolling through social media during a work break? Or maybe you always reach for a snack when you’re feeling discomfort and stress? These behaviors may be covering up the real issue – anxiety.
We all have our own coping mechanisms to dispel anxiety, but they can become so habitual that we may not even notice we’re doing them.
By becoming aware of your habits and recognizing them as coping mechanisms, you can start to identify your triggers and notice when you’re starting to feel anxious. For example, instead of mindlessly scrolling through social media, you could take a walk or do a quick mindfulness exercise to help calm your mind.
Step 2: Flip the Switch and Teach Your Brain that Anxiety Isn’t Rewarding
Have you ever noticed that the more you overthink something, the worse you feel? This is because our brains adopt habits based on how rewarding the behavior is. Your brain, too chooses which habits to adopt based on how rewarding your behavior seems in a discomforting situation.
Constantly checking your mail may make you feel like you’re doing something relevant because it keeps you busy. But in reality you’re just feeding the underlying anxiety and giving your brains more reasons to feel apprehensive.
By becoming more mindful of what your coping mechanisms really feel like, you can teach your brain that those coping mechanisms are not as rewarding as you thought.
So, instead of constantly checking your email, you could take a few deep breaths and remind yourself that none of those emails is an emergency. You could tell yourself that you need that short break to refocus and recover energy.
This twist in thinking will help you break the cycle of negative thinking that often accompanies and feeds anxiety.
Step 3: Upgrade Your Coping Skills With Mindfulness
Instead of relying not-so-rewarding habits like scrolling social media, eating snacks or constantly checking your mail, give your brain a bigger, better reward. Mindful awareness can itself become the reward your brain craves.
Get to know that experience and teach your brain how much more pleasant it is than its respective anxiety habit.
Mindfulness also entails curiosity, which can calm the restless, driven quality of the “Do Something!” that gets our anxiety habit-loops going.
You could for example get curious about your breath, or about what your five senses are detecting in your surroundings, and find joy in the freedom of choosing one thought over another.
By practicing mindfulness, you can train your brain to seek out healthier coping mechanisms. For example, you could drink a glass of refreshing water slowly and observe how each sip runs through your body to rehydrate you. Or you could try a brief breathing exercise during a work break to help clear your mind and reduce anxiety.
Mindfulness really is the key to outsmarting anxiety in the workplace. By breaking the cycle, flipping the switch, and upgrading your coping skills, you can take control of your life and live a happier, more fulfilling life. So, give it a try and see how much better work can feel. You got this!