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Anxiety—A Major Driving Force: Understanding It and Managing It


27Sep 2009

I don’t know about you but a lot of my daily life can be contaminated by anxiety— not major, life-crippling anxiety, but those small little worries about daily life activities and events. And if I am not careful, anxiety can almost rule my day. While I’m doing one thing, I’m worrying about the next event or meeting. What a waste. It is not the way I want to live my life.

So let’s talk about ways we can manage these worry-focused thoughts. First, let’s briefly define what anxiety is.

First and foremost, anxiety is fear (usually a “small” fear). We are afraid we are going to be late. We worry about what others will think of us. We are concerned about being adequately prepared for a meeting/speech /test /presentation later this week.

Secondly, we can note that worrying and being anxious is about the future—something that is going to (or may) happen at some point after “now”.  We don’t worry about the past, although we may worry how our past actions or decisions will impact the future.

Finally, most anxiety has some component of circumstances you can’t totally control. Some people worry about the weather, others about the stock market, or traffic; some are anxious about what other people will think about them. [Think about it— if we are worrying about things totally under our control, we could effectively manage the anxiety by just doing the action necessary.]

Now let’s identify the three most common responses to anxiety

  1. Action. A lot of people (myself included), do something when they are anxious. It may not be productive activity—but doing something gives the person a sense that they are helping the situation (this may or may not be true).
  2. Paralysis. Others tend to become paralyzed when they are anxious. They don’t know what to do, so they withdraw, become passive and do nothing. Frequently, these individuals also become highly internally focused, focusing on their thoughts and feelings.
  3. Rumination. This is the third response, that can go with either action or paralysis. Some people focus on what they are worrying about and continue to think and talk repetitively about their worries. This response can lead to a self-stimulating cycle of increasing anxiety.

So, what can we do when we are anxious? Here are some ways to manage ourselves:

*Limit the amount of “future” that you allow yourself to think (and worry) about. Since worrying is all about the future, the more “future” that you allow yourself to be concerned about, the more opportunity there is for things to worry about. So just focus on today—take “one day at a time”. In highly stressful circumstances, you may even break the day into smaller segments (“I’m going to get to lunch, and then figure out the rest of the day after that.”)

*Determine what you can do to manage the risks you are concerned about. If you are worried about getting a low grade on a test, make a plan and schedule to study for it. If you are concerned about “blowing” a presentation, prepare the best you can. If are anxious about being late to an appointment, leave early and allow extra time for unplanned events. Make sure and take small steps to implement the plan.

*Avoid people, unnecessary situations or input that increase your anxiety. There are some people who are chronic worriers and have a fearful approach to life. If I am anxious myself, I try not to be around these people too much so they don’t feed my own anxiety. Or if I am worried about the economy and my retirement savings, I will limit how much financial news I will expose myself to.

*Distract yourself with positive activities. Sometimes there are situations where all you can do is “wait” (for example, waiting to hear if you were accepted into the college of your choice; or waiting to hear if you got the job you applied for). When there is nothing you can really do to make the situation better, it may be good to go ahead and live life—go for a run, spend some fun time with friends, do some other work or tasks that need to be done, read a book, help somebody else in need.

*Be thankful for the positive things in your life—especially the “little” things. Gratitude is a great antidote for a lot of negative things in our lives, including anxiety. Look for little daily things that you appreciate—food to eat for breakfast, a nice cool morning, being able to work inside when it is raining outside, having family and friends that care about you, a car that starts, and so forth.

*Build competencies into your life that will help you deal with ongoing challenges in your life. Sometimes there are circumstances in our lives that are going to be there for a while—financial hardship, long work days, being away from family and friends. And it can be helpful to have a longer term view on dealing with these situations—figuring out what you can build into your life that will help you long-term in dealing with the challenges you face. Work on a “tighter” budget, figure out some ways to earn a little extra money, develop an exercise program, learn how to use Skype to keep in touch with people over long distance.

So, that’s it. For those of you fellow-worriers or anxiety addicts, maybe there will be some advice that can help reduce your daily anxiety level. Have a great week!

 

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