How to stop worrying and start working: 4 steps to self-help for anxiety [Personal experience]
Hi, I’m back with you again, Anna, a marketer at click.ru.. And today our special guest is anxiety. It visits us more often than we would like, and teaches us bad things: to think uncritically, to “dumb down” or, on the contrary, to rush too much with solving problems, to twist negative thoughts in our heads. Today I will tell you how I accept this guest, so that he does not have time to trash the already fragile world of professional efficiency.
Instead of a preface: about the author, sources, and types of anxiety
You may already recognize me from my series of articles about testing time management techniques, here they are: 1, 2, 3. If you’ve read them, you’ve probably already figured out that I’m an anxiety-prone person who tries to control as many things at work as possible. Somehow it turns out that when I buried myself in the topic of personal effectiveness, I also buried myself in the topic of psychology. But not academic or medical psychology, but personal, everyday psychology. Everything I learn I test on myself, and sometimes I tell my colleagues and friends about these experiences. By the way, here are a few sources of information for this article. Today’s article is a story about such personal experience with examples and life situations.
We will talk primarily about ways to cope with normal anxiety – the state of discomfort and anxiety that arises when there is an external threat, lack of time, lack of information, or when a person is making a very significant life choice. Here are some examples of work situations where anxiety is normal.
You work in the same position, but you see a dream job online, or you are even called for it. But now you have a normal salary, a nice team, a good supervisor, and you’re generally happy. The choice between dream and reality should be made as quickly as possible, because the job can be filled in a matter of hours.
On the project came the edits, which should be done within 3 hours. Time is short, but it is not clear what to do with the rest of the things that were planned for this time.
You have the task to “redo everything”, but what and how is unclear. It is scary to specify, because the customer is already ravenous. Beginning to do it is also not possible, because it is not clear what exactly you don’t like.
It is important to understand: despite the fact that anxiety is normal for people, this does not mean that you need to be alone with it.
Anxiety can severely damage your professional effectiveness:
paralyze activity (instead of solving a problem, you sit and dumb down);
reduce critical thinking (the cause of anxiety overshadows all other events and seems super important);
activate tunnel perception (you rush to solve the problem the first way you can instead of working out the best solution or postponing the problem altogether);
Decrease the quality of your work (you can’t concentrate and do the job half-assed just to get rid of it);
cause a strong emotional reaction – anger, tears;
affect physical sensations – increased heartbeat, increased sweating, dizziness, nausea, etc.
There is also pathological anxiety – a condition that is disproportionate in its influence on a person to the factors that supposedly caused it. It can testify to the most different disorders and conditions: emotional burnout, chronic fatigue syndrome, anxiety disorders, etc.
For example, if you spend 3 hours a day on your way home and back from work thinking thoughts like “What if our department closes?”, “What if I get that awful project?”, or “What if my salary is delayed and I don’t have time to pay the mortgage?” (and there are no concrete reasons for all these fears), then there is something wrong with your anxiety.
I’m not discussing such cases in this article. If you have noticed a prolonged or very intense anxiety that is inadequate to the stimulus, it is better to see a psychologist or psychotherapist.
Step 1: Reducing high intensity anxiety
Imagine that a friend runs up to you and says: “This is the worst! A letter came from the head of the department that half of the department will be cut, and the names will be told only tomorrow! I can not work, so worried, even my hands are shaking! What can I say to someone like that?
This is a joke, of course-the advice from this meme does not help. Since anxiety has a physiological basis, stopping it instantly with an effort of will is not possible. Although, if a person’s stress management skills are very well developed, he can go through all the steps described in this article in minutes, so from the outside it looks like he simply “stopped” worrying.
But back from the ideal world to the real world, where thoughts are confused and a sense of disaster is looming.
I have four self-help techniques for acute and severe anxiety.
1. imperative technique: I call the anxiety into words and look at it from the outside
Anxiety can reduce the criticality of thinking, giving rise to thoughts like this: this is a complete failure, I’m very scared, I do not understand anything, I do not know what to do, etc. At the very beginning, I try to notice the anxiety and create distance between it and me with words.
For example, your friend may say to himself, “Right now I am feeling very anxious about the future. I’m afraid of losing my income and not finding a new job. I will be very sad if they downsize me because I have given a lot of effort and time to this company. (In such conversations with myself I sometimes add profanity if the worries are very strong. But here I will write correctly). This has never happened to me before, so I don’t know what to do yet. In the next hour I will gather information on what to do when I am downsized.
Or, for example, you are a freelancer and you receive a termination letter from a client for whom you had big plans and paid a lot of money. A wave of thoughts come over you:
“This is a nightmare, minus 30% of my salary!
What have I done wrong? Maybe I should have tried harder?
Well, goodbye, new smartphone!
I don’t understand where and how I can find a replacement!
It is important to tell myself right away:
Now I feel anxiety, it is caused by an unexpected event and uncertainty. This is a normal, natural feeling in such a situation.
I am afraid of losing a significant portion of my income, afraid of feeling guilty because of my possible mistake. I feel annoyed by the fact that I will have to make an effort to find a new customer.
This has happened to me before, I found a new customer in a week and ended up with enough money for everything.
I haven’t thought through exactly what I’m going to do yet, but I’ll get to it in the next day and make a clear plan.
This technique helps you to rise out of a wave of fear, to “pull” the anxiety out of yourself and consider it from the outside.
2. Calling a friend or the help of the room
I like specifics very much, so I try to get at least minimal information on the troubling subject as quickly as possible. It is important not to solve the problem the first way I see, but to get more information, for example from a knowledgeable person or from the Internet.
Once I was urgently looking for copywriters-assistants for one-time tasks, and I was stumped by the huge range of prices for their services: from 40-50 to 1000 rubles per 1000 characters for approximately the same quality of text. This literally paralyzed me, causing anxiety and a lot of questions:
what if good writers really went up a lot?
What if I have forgotten how to distinguish good from bad texts?
I do not understand what exactly people charge 1000 rubles for.
What price should I put in my calculations?
I just will not have time to figure it out before the deadline!
Quite quickly I realized that I was anxious, so I used the “call a friend” technique – an old colleague who knew the market. He reassured me completely by giving me specific information about current prices. The anxiety went away.
3. Concentrating on the present
I have two options for this concentration.
When the anxiety is severe. Consistent concentration on what you see, hear, smell, touch with your hand (from 3 points for each case). It helps to forcibly shift your attention to calm down.
For example, you had a conflict with your supervisor, in the process of which you both said nasty things to each other. To calm down the intense anxiety a bit, you can go outside and start describing your surroundings in sequence:
I see a new brick wall, and a green fence adjoining it. There’s a beautiful yellow Lamborghini standing next to it (which I’ll never have because of this bad man!). This is a bad example! Don’t do that. If thoughts go back to the anxiety situation, take them back to the description.
I can hear the streetcar go by, the sparrow on the fence chirping, the cat meowing, colleagues from the pre-sales department talking in the smoking room, and the garbage truck loading trash.
I can smell fresh buns from the bakery, car exhaust, cigarette smoke, dust and fresh leaves.
Seriously, it helps a lot!
I had a funny experience with this technique. I once used it to stop the anxious work “word stirrer” in my head, but ended up getting so carried away that I made plans for both upcoming weekends and thought of a gift for my mother for her birthday, and I didn’t even immediately remember the anxiety after those descriptions.
With moderate to mild anxiety. You can describe in detail your current stage of life and professional life, noting all the pluses.
For example, you had a failed interview, at which literally everything did not stick: you mumbled, did not know the answers to questions, laughed inappropriately, and mixed up the names of Timlida and HR. Well, in general, not fatal, but alarming.
Fears and questions swarmed in my head:
They thought I was a complete fool and would say no.
It turns out that I do not understand the title of the position.
I have to remember what they asked me and Google it.
What if I study? Where?
I only have two weeks to find a job, I won’t have time.
It is important to calm down now, separating your negative thoughts and anxiety from the real facts about you. You can take a sheet of paper with a pen or dictaphone and describe your current stage in the format of the most honest and complete resume possible: what I can do well, what I want to learn, what my qualities were liked by my colleagues, what my negative sides are, how I work with them, what programs and services I know, etc.
I had more than one resume from such notes! I also had to cut down.
4. A Safe Place.
Uncertainty often takes you out of reality. So as a reinforcement of past techniques, I sometimes either physically or mentally transport myself to a comfortable, safe place. This can be like a cozy bedroom or the square outside the house, or an interesting book or computer game. Last month, Dragon Age: Inquisition helped me personally a lot. I’m such a gamer, so I’ve been going through this game for a few years now. But it’s a real virtual comfort zone for me.
The main thing is not to use this technique as the main or the only one, or instead of eliminating anxiety and solving the problem you can get displacement of fears and game addiction.
Step 2: Criticize Anxiety
Here I have basically only one technique: simplistic cognitive restructuring. Because anxiety and worry are often based on or caused by negative thoughts, criticizing these thoughts can either eliminate anxiety altogether or greatly reduce it.
One cognitive restructuring technique involves 13 questions, here they are:
You can answer all of them if you want. But I mostly only use the ones that I stumble over most often because of my personality traits. I’ve highlighted them in gray.
For example, I once had a criticism written to me about my article. At that time I was quite tired, as it was at the end of the work week. And without noticing it myself, anxiety began to plant thoughts in my mind:
You’re a bad professional and you can’t write.
Why did you take on this topic, you should have given it up.
Now you won’t be asked to write anything.
You need to take a course so you don’t make mistakes like that again.
You have to fix it as quickly as possible, right now.
Fortunately, I remembered the cherished questions in time:
What would my older colleague on the “Calling a Friend” block think in this situation? – Well, now I know more, I will thank the customer for the free consultation. Yes, and the edits here for 10 minutes.
Is the thought based on how I feel? Definitely yes, I am very tired. Being “fresh,” I would think differently.
Am I making more demands on myself than others? Definitely yes. A few of the comments were not directly about my work, but about setting a task that didn’t depend on me.
As a result, after a weekend I quietly corrected the material in just 15 minutes and without unnecessary nerves.
By the way, in marketing, the greatest amount of anxiety is associated with urgency. In this case, the manual process of adjusting the RK is not a quick thing. Our service click.ru. is designed specifically for those who want to simplify and speed up the professional launch of campaigns, as well as conveniently manage them (transfer funds, download statistics, keep track of KPI). Using our tools helps you save up to 80% of labor costs in comparison with manual configuration. And how to use the remaining time – for rest or other projects – everyone decides for himself.
Step 3 (optional). Inventing a disaster
If you don’t feel better after going through the first two steps completely, or if you want to build up your resilience to the stress of uncertainty, you can try a catastrophic scenario. I warn you that this can be unpleasant, so if you are “out of resource,” it’s best not to use this technique.
I think through the worst possible outcome of a situation in detail. This allows me to literally live through and relive the anxiety by letting it pass through me. After this practice I usually feel better and often solutions to problems seem to come naturally.
For example, a few years ago at one of my previous jobs I critically needed a promotion that I felt I fully deserved. But it was very scary and unsettling to think about what would happen if I was rejected. Should I accept it and keep working? Proudly go nowhere? Search for a job? And how would I discuss all of this with a supervisor with whom I had a normal relationship?
I turned on the tape recorder and for 45 minutes I talked about all the thoughts I had on the subject, including the worst professional scenarios (no job, no orders on freelance jobs, losing all my small savings, etc.). Surprisingly, by about the 30th minute, I started to have a clear understanding of what to do and stopped being afraid of a bad outcome. At that time the best choice was freelancing, I am still grateful to myself from the past for this decision.
Step 4: Elaborate a plan of action and solve the problem
In psychology there is a concept of “problem solving skill”, that is, it can be developed in the process of training, just like any other skill.
There are four steps in this process:
Brainstorming to gather all possible options;
Choosing the best option;
Breaking down the path to the goal into parts and smaller specific tasks;
Completing the smaller tasks in sequence.
This scheme is simple in appearance, but not in implementation. In fact, that’s why I’ve spent so much time learning how to break down tasks into “monkey-understandable” partsTo prioritize them and plan their implementation (read about this in the series “Testing Time Management Techniques»).
Let’s take the last example with the layoff. Among the solution options were: freelancing, the same company, another company, and a layoff to nowhere. Then I started describing the pros and cons of the options.
It came out something like this.
Freelance. Pros: I myself decide what to do, I set my own workload, no more commuting for 3 hours a day, the salary ceiling is higher than the current one. Cons: I do not understand the legal issues of self-employment, you have to look for projects yourself, and if not go.
Same company. Pluses: stability and some kind of salary; normal relations with the team. Cons: low wages, which I am not satisfied, a very high load, long and difficult journey to and from work, it is difficult to be surrounded by other people every day.
While I was laying it all out, I already realized that at my current stage in life, freelancing would be 100% the right solution. I realized that I really wanted to take advantage of all of its pros and the cons seemed surmountable.
I then broke down the foreseeable part of the job into stages:
Calculating the income desired at first;
The active phase of working with clients;
Summing up the interim results (if point 1 is reached, set new goals, if not – analyze, correct errors and repeat the cycle).
Each of the items is broken down into specific “monkey” parts and scheduled on a calendar. For example, for step 2:
make a price list of services;
select and categorize my work and cases;
describe 3-5 cases in detail;
upload your work to Google Drive;
It’s amazing: as soon as you start to think through and break down the tasks, there is clarity and motivation.
The main thing here, it seems to me, is not to plan too far ahead, because in every project, according to Maxim Dorofeev, there is a zone of GOPP (life experience gained in the process). These are the rake that we will inevitably step on, but which can change both the goal and the path to it. Here’s a visual diagram from Jedi Techniques:
Did you notice how we went from severe anxiety and shaky hands to problem solving smoothly? Thank you for walking this path with me! If you’d like, share in the comments what techniques you have for dealing with anxiety and worry and where you learned about them. It would be very interesting to read.
How to stop worrying and start living
“Don’t worry about nothing!” We often hear this phrase from friends, colleagues and relatives, from whose point of view we show groundless worry. But we don’t stop worrying. But the tips of our experts will help you cope with anxiety and stop worrying.
Psychologists say: every third resident of a metropolis lives in a state of anxiety, and every second – regularly encounters episodes of anxiety that arise literally out of nothing. According to experts, this is primarily due to the environment, which has changed dramatically over the past 100 years. For a long time, man’s life has depended on his reaction and strength. In today’s world, there are many external factors that affect people and against which they are powerless to defend themselves. This is what gives rise to our anxiety.
Anxiety and fear – what is the difference?
Between these feelings are often put an equal sign, although, in fact, they are unequal. “Fear is a normal emotion, which indicates that something new, unexplored and probably dangerous is approaching,” explains Maria Arkhangelskaya , psychologist, coach of the Women’s Training Center “Alternative” . – Thanks to this feeling, the body mobilizes, all of its reactions accelerate (it is no coincidence that at the moment of danger, it seems that time slows down). When the frightening event is left behind, relaxation sets in. In other words, fear can sharply constrain a person, but then, nevertheless, let go. Anxiety is a background state of chronic tension that accompanies you throughout the day. Sometimes it can last for weeks and years.
Anxiety is often accompanied by tossing, restlessness, and muscle tension. “It can occur at the beginning of some mental illnesses, such as various phobias or hypochondria,” says Tatiana Tikholaz , psychologist at the Academic Clinic of Neurology and Dentistry “Cecile”. – In such cases, anxiety is manifested brightly in the form of palpitations, trembling, sweating, shortness of breath, dizziness.
What is the cause of anxiety?
Why do some people tend to worry about everything and without it, while others remain calm in any situation? It turns out it’s all in the peculiarities of the nervous system, namely, the strength of the mechanism of displacement. Every day we receive thousands of signals from the external world, some of them are sifted out (displaced), and some of them are processed in the brain.
People with a powerful displacement mechanism sift out everything that does not correspond to their picture of the world,” says Maria Arkhangelskaya. – This is characteristic of demonstrative personalities, hysterics. They can’t stand the experience that happens to them and look for reasons for failure in other people or in the coincidence of circumstances: “I went through 10 interviews and they didn’t hire me… They were just afraid of the competition.”
There is another category of people who have a very weak displacement mechanism. They read the maximum number of signals from their environment, do not sift any of them out, and live in constant anxiety. A variety of external signals especially in a big city, so residents of megapolises are anxious much more often than provincials.
How to reduce the degree of anxiety?
The tendency to increased anxiety psychologists often compare with a chronic disease: it will stay with you for life. All you can do – is to try to keep anxiety under control and learn to reduce his anxiety. “The strategy here is simple,” says Maria Arkhangelskaya. – The circle of your anxiety should be equal to or less than the circle of your opportunities. In other words, you should only worry about what you can affect. Everything that is not within your sphere of influence should be thrown out of the zone of anxiety. Say, if you do not belong to the category of people who can change the situation in the world, for example, economic and political, then you should not constantly worry about it.
For most of us anxiety is caused by typical things and situations. Let’s figure out how to deal with it.
Expecting the Worst. You’re anxious because you might not make it to the bank before closing time, you might fail at a speech, or you might fail on a responsible project. “Think about how much time you spend worrying about things that haven’t happened yet! – says Robert Leahy , a cognitive psychologist. – Use it to plan your life so that the worst can be avoided.” Make a list of disturbing events, and next to it write down the actions that will help prevent them. For example, you can rehearse your performance in front of your loved ones to iron out the rough edges, or make an appointment with a doctor if you’re worried about your health condition. Direct your attention not to empty worries, but to specific actions.
Another strategy suggests Maria Arkhangelskaya. She advises to accept your defeat in advance. Mentally relive the worst of what you fear, and accept the situation as a given. The understanding that life does not end there, greatly reduces anxiety.
Fear of change. Anxiety about this is common to those who are used to keeping everything under control. They believe they can control those around them by the power of their actions and even their thoughts! “Try to shift your attention to your own life, which you have more control over,” advises Robert Leahy. – Start small: concentrate on some pleasant little things that happen to you at a particular moment in time. For example, walking the dog, focus on the rhythm of your steps, at dinner concentrate on the taste and flavor of food. Over time, you’ll find it easier to embrace the flow of life.
It’s not uncommon for people who are controlling to put people close to them in their area of responsibility. “Even when it comes to our children, there are a huge number of things that you cannot influence,” says Maria Arkhangelskaya. – In particular, you can’t do 100 percent to keep your child from bad habits. There is always the possibility that he will try cigarettes or drugs. To realize such things is sometimes very scary. What can help in this situation, so is the formation of a sense of trust in your man, the children, as well as faith in God, the guardian angel, the justice of the world.
Premonition of misfortune. Some people (especially women) tend to consider their anxiety as a harbinger of impending misfortune. In other words, they pass off increased anxiety as intuition. In this situation, it is important to determine what you are experiencing: an unproductive anxiety or a real premonition of some unpleasant events. It’s not easy to do, because often we not only anticipate misfortune, but also attract it with our fears.
“Try to understand what caused your anxious state,” advises Robert Leahy. – Intuition always begins with a feeling, while anxiety begins with a thought. For example, if you, meeting a colleague, suddenly experience internal discomfort (sometimes it is felt at the physical level – the stomach can clench, a headache), most likely it triggers an intuition. And maybe it says that this person should not be trusted. If you worry about work all the time, then thoughts of possible impending troubles are evidence of increased anxiety.
Another marker of intuition – it always generates clarity and calmness. No such thing can be said about anxiety – if this feeling is not dealt with, it gives rise to even greater anxiety.
Re-experiencing past events. Returning to the experience of unpleasant events from the past life, sometimes it seems that in this way it will be possible to stop regretting the happenings. However, in fact, repeated reliving of past events “feeds” feelings of guilt, insecurity and regret. “The only general advice that can be given in this case is to turn the page,” says Maria Arkhangelskaya. – Turn the page and look to the future. History has no subjunctive mood: what happened could not have happened differently in the circumstances.
To make it easier for you to revisit the past, write down what happened before, your actions. Then think about what you would do now and record it on paper. Don’t use the words “should,” “can’t,” “no one,” “everyone,” “always,” and “never. Replace them with more realistic ones: “may”, “prefers”, “some people”, “sometimes”. Don’t forget the most valuable thing about the past is the experience you had. It can be good or bad, in any case, if a similar situation arises again, you will be able to behave more adequately and wisely.
The described techniques will basically help you to behave more adequately and wisely in anxious situations. And worry less about nothing.