Studies have shown that roughly 40 million adults are affected by anxiety in the United States. Fifty-six percent of those suffering from anxiety list work as the cause.
Our bodies read our stress levels and release adrenaline in response. These chemicals are there to help us fight or flee a dangerous situation. However, when there is nothing to physically fight or flee, we are left with an unhelpful dose of anxiety that is not being put to use. Typically, workplace anxiety revolves around abstract ideas, such as being fired or not being able to complete projects. These feelings can spiral out of control, and prevent you from doing your job. However, there are ways to channel this anxiety toward positive outcomes. Learning how to redirect your energy to solve problems and focus on the task at hand is one way to harness your anxiety and become more productive.
There is a sweet spot to anxiety. Similar to sports professionals and performers, having small amounts of stress or nervousness actually helps your performance. This is because the adrenaline is being used to focus the mind and boost productivity. Studies show that learning increases while you are under small amounts of stress. You do not have to be a sportsman or an actor to utilize this tool, however. Next time you are feeling slightly anxious, use the beginning rush to focus on one particular task before your anxiety has the chance to develop further.
By capitalizing on anxiety early on, you can use the chemicals released throughout your body to benefit you. Focus on becoming motivated by early signs of anxiety, confident in the knowledge that your heightened senses will actually improve your productivity, rather than hinder it. We actually need these chemicals in small amounts to be productive. If you associate the feelings of anxiety with being useful, you can use it to your advantage.
Recent studies in cognitive behavioral therapy show that self-compassion and self-reflection can change the way anxiety is processed in the brain. Viewing your anxiety in a negative light will cause you to view yourself in a negative light, too. Accepting your anxiety and seeing it as something that can help you will reframe the way your brain processes stress. In most cases, anxiety and excitement are intertwined. By changing your attitude towards stress, you can switch out your anxiety for excitement.
Studies have shown that stress is simply an indicator that you care about the task at hand. Acknowledging your stress and taking a deeper look at why you are feeling anxious can help you better understand the root cause. If you are anxious because you care about the outcome, your feelings are a result of being passionate, not stressed.
Write down the reasons you are feeling anxious, and challenge your fears and assumptions. Ask yourself why you are having negative thoughts about work, and if they are truly founded in reality. Replace them with positive thoughts about how you are capable of achieving your goals.
Use your anxiety to complete smaller tasks, rather than tackling multiple problems. Typically, multitasking and setting yourself large, unachievable goals can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed and derailed. Facing multiple incomplete tasks can cause a type of anxiety-based lethargy, which inhibits employees from moving forward in any direction. Instead, break up your projects into manageable bites. Your anxiety will be curbed if you tackle smaller projects, and tick them off as you go. These smaller accomplishments will give you a feeling of triumph, and boost your confidence.
Learning what triggers your anxiety is just as important as combating it. Pay attention to the tasks, events or moments that increase your anxiety, and jot them down. After you have pinpointed your triggers, you can preempt them and minimize their affects. For example, if being late triggers your anxiety, make it a priority to arrive early, and eliminate the opportunity to become stressed. These triggers are often a result of long-term habits. Changing core behaviors is hard, and may take a while. However, like anxiety, repeating these new habits over and over again will make them a part of who you are.
Depending on the situation, your anxiety may be fruitless. If you are worrying about something that cannot be changed, accept that your anxiety is not serving you. On the other hand, anxiety can be a sign that there is something you can change. If you are worried about a project being completed on time, know that you are capable and endowed with the tools to change the outcome. Use your anxiety to take control of the situation. Learning the difference between the two can help prioritize your feelings and, focus your attention on the items that are truly changeable.
If you find yourself debilitated by something that you can change but cannot seem to conquer, it is sometimes helpful to follow that thought to its conclusion. Ask yourself what the worst-case scenario really is. In some cases, facing the reality of your fear can help you overcome your anxiety and channel that energy into something more productive.
Practice makes perfect. In most cases, stress and anxiety are inevitable. Those who learn to channel their anxiety are typically better-equipped at dealing with high-pressured environments, and make great leaders. The same way your anxiety develops through repetitive fears, repetitive exercises can be used to develop ways of controlling it. Put yourself in a safe situation that triggers your anxiety, but has no effect on your environment. For example, if your anxiety of giving presentations is rooted in your fear of public speaking, take a public speaking course or practice on crowds that have no impact on your professional life. By experiencing stress in a non-threatening situation, you will learn to control your feelings and channel the energy into giving powerful presentations. Trying to ignore your anxiety, or working against, it will not necessarily make it go away. However, facing the reality of your fears – and feeling comfortable with them – may give you access to the benefits of your anxiety.
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