When facing important life events — whether it is upcoming tests or exams, the first day of school, a high-stakes meeting at work, or any other highly anticipated moments — you might be familiar with a feeling of restlessness, sweaty palms, your heart beating faster, and a general feeling of uneasiness. Although it is a common experience that people feel from time to time, these experiences might be a sign that you are having anxiety.
Anxiety is often viewed as something that can have a negative impact on life, thus many interventions and practices for minimizing symptoms of anxiety are gaining popularity. The adrenaline rush and increased heartbeat that comes with anxiety might make it difficult to focus on the task at hand.
However, despite the fact that many people find themselves experiencing excessive worry that negatively affects their daily activities, there are also some perks of having occasional anxiety. With the right strategy, anxiety can be managed and used as a tool that increases your productivity. In this article, you will find different ways and strategies to manage your anxiety and use it to your advantage.
What is anxiety?
As an emotion or experience, anxiety can be defined as a feeling of unease, tension, and worried thought and might involve physical changes such as rapid heartbeat or increased blood pressure.
Anxiety is a common feeling that usually relates to stress. When these symptoms of anxious feelings start to interfere with your daily activities, it is a sign that some intervention or changes are needed to regulate your anxious thoughts. But if worrying about uncertain things is common, then what does anxiety mean?
According to the DSM-5, anxiety is described as excessive worry and apprehensive expectations. It is considered a disorder if it occurs frequently for at least 6 months and if it’s about a number of different events or activities (such as work or school performance).
An experience of anxiety is related to the body’s natural response in anticipating potential threats from general or non-specific stimuli. In many contexts, anxiety is related to fear and stress response.
Anxiety differs from fear where the former is a future-oriented, long-acting response broadly focused on a diffuse threat, whereas the latter is an appropriate, present-oriented, and short-lived response to a clearly identifiable and specific threat. However, they are often used interchangeably because some of the symptoms can appear to be similar.
10 ways to channel anxiety towards growth
Just as not all stress can be bad, anxiety also plays a role in how individuals behave. At a moderate level, having anxiety can even push us towards better performance at work, or achieving more. Even though it seems contradictory, having mild anxiety or experiencing worry from time to time can be a way to embrace self-growth. Here are some things you can do to manage your anxiety and turn it to your advantage.
Increase your personal awareness
Self-awareness has a lot of positive impacts throughout your lifespan. By acknowledging strengths and weaknesses, people can start identifying areas of improvement and start making necessary changes. But, a heightened sense of self also means that individuals are more likely to worry about certain aspects of their experience and over-criticize their actions in certain situations.
Anxiety can sometimes come from the feeling of being overwhelmed by the amount of information, criticism, or expectations of others. It can be difficult to process all this information and to make sense of the information overload, and here is where having personal awareness would help.
By knowing what triggers your anxious thoughts, you can try to create a mental image of the situation and prepare your actions. However, keep in mind that there are things that are beyond your control.
It is important to keep a balance and embrace self-awareness in a healthy way. Being aware of negative thoughts, feelings, and self-impressions can help individuals reduce the discrepancy between objective feedback and personal bias that typically affect anxious people.
An experiment found that self-focus manipulations with minimal changes to the environment such as using a mirror or video camera to monitor behavior increased both self-awareness and anxiety during social interactions.
The findings demonstrate that an increase in public self-awareness may only become problematic if they are associated with a negative view of self and the belief that the self is flawed in some way. Meanwhile, individuals that can shift their attention away from internal aspects of themselves and are more aware of their surroundings tend to have more accurate attributions of social tasks and are less anxious.
Know what’s important
In regards to motivation and goal achievement, having anxiety can often be a good sign that something is considered important to a person. Experience of anxiety can feel unpleasant and overwhelming, or even stop people from taking a step toward their goals. That is normal. It can be a sign of awareness of the task at hand and the ability to anticipate upcoming stimuli.
In fact, a high level of anxiety can be an indicator that you are ready to perform, you just have to confront your fears and vulnerabilities.
A study on university students shows a high level of anxiety contributes to higher levels of academic achievement. The reasoning behind this is related to students’ self-regulation technique that improves as they find the optimum level of anxiety and start exploring their personal resources.
Having anxiety before performing a task can be a signal of inadequacy that is necessary to trigger personal development. Therefore, anxiety should not always be treated as a negative trait.
Set specific goals
When you already identify the task or specific situation causing you to worry too much, it is usually when the fight-or-flight response kicks in.
One thing to remember is that anxiety toward goals is a common experience. The more you care about something, the more overwhelming the feelings of worry and uneasiness can become and this may hinder performance or cause feelings of low self-worth.
Instead of setting one big ultimate goal that subconsciously puts a lot of pressure on yourself, try to break it down into several small parts that are more attainable. That way, you can focus on realistic steps to take and reduce the uncertainty that might induce your anxious thoughts.
Knowing specific goals can be a simple yet effective strategy to deal with anxiety, as anxiety often leads to procrastination and inconsistencies in individual performance and achievement.
Therefore, by having a set of specific goals and visualizing how you will feel after you start performing a task, you can listen to your own negative thoughts and prove them wrong by actually achieving these small tasks.
Furthermore, feeling the rush of achieving the goal will help you become more aware of what is going on internally and focus your attention on the task at hand. By focusing on the goals, individuals can switch their attention from the probability of negative outcomes and all the emotions causing anxiety to the requirements of actually doing the tasks at hand.
Keep yourself accountable
Having anxiety might make it difficult to stay accountable. People can be easily swept up into the emotional rollercoaster, and some cope with it by avoiding things that are important to them. This natural response is related to a human’s fight-or-flight mechanism, where in situations that induce anxiety, people can perceive things as threatening and try to avoid the situation.
One way to keep accountability is by overcoming limiting beliefs that you have about yourself. This is where self-awareness plays an important role in recognizing when you start sabotaging yourself with negative thoughts or start questioning your self-worth.
Another strategy is to involve an accountability partner. You can find a mentor to ask for feedback from or find a reliable peer to check in with each other and make sure you are focused on the tasks and taking steps towards overcoming the situation that makes you anxious.
Holding yourself accountable might be a challenge, especially in the face of anxiety. But once you set your goal and manage to accomplish the goal by staying on track, you get a sense of achievement that could bring satisfaction, increase your confidence, and put less stress on yourself.
Even after setting goals and being aware of internal and external processes that you need to overcome, feelings of worry and fear of failure might still be there and stop you from achieving your goals.
However, worrying about something can be a sign that the situation is important to you. By taking your time to think about the situation, try to assess your inner thoughts and separate the things that are in your control and things that are not.
Anxious people view the world as threatening and imagine the worst-case scenario. An effective strategy to manage anxiety is by practicing realistic thinking. This means looking at all aspects of the situation before making conclusions and looking at the world around you in a balanced and fair way.
Whenever you feel overwhelmed by anxious thoughts, try to do a little reality check while assessing the possible outcome of your actions. Sometimes people with excessive worry can be nervous about trivial details of a situation. By keeping your goals and intentions in mind, you can stop yourself from imagining the worst possible outcome.
While you are processing your inner thoughts and feelings that induce anxiety, some practices of self-compassion can be used to calm you down. According to Neff, having compassion for yourself starts with acknowledging the challenges and difficulties of your experiences, showing kindness and understanding when there are failures or mistakes, and not being judgemental.
One simple way to practice self-compassion is by changing your critical self-talk. People with high anxiety often anticipate negative outcomes of various situations and are not forgiving towards themselves.
Having compassion for yourself means that you accept the good and bad sides of your actions and experience and recognize that not everything has to be perfect and it is a normal part of being human.
Share your worries
People with anxiety often avoid interaction with others because they get overwhelmed with their own thoughts or get distracted by particular worrying thoughts.
However, when anxiety starts causing trouble in communicating, it is best to be open about it with the person you are communicating with. Sometimes addressing your anxious thoughts and worry can relieve some stress and help you become more comfortable communicating with others.
Connect with others
As anxiety is a common experience, more often than not, the person you are interacting with also has a similar experience to what you are feeling. The good thing about this is that people who suffer from anxiety may have higher empathy as they can relate more with others who are facing similar difficulties.
Study shows people with anxiety demonstrate unique social-cognitive abilities with high empathy and high accuracy in identifying what others are feeling. Embracing this positive trait makes for a supportive environment that is less stressful.
Develop healthy habits
Parts of what makes people feel anxious are affected by their environment and their daily habits. Poor sleep quality, for example, is one of the risk factors for anxiety disorder. Some strategies to overcome anxiety are also related to daily routine and developing healthy habits, such as getting more active or exercising regularly. Not only is it good for your health, but exercise can also help elevate and stabilize your mood and improve your self-esteem.
Study shows various types of exercise such as jogging, swimming, and dancing exercise has a significant impact on mental health and alleviates symptoms for individuals with serious mental health conditions. Evidence suggests a physiologic response plays an important role in increasing cognitive functions.
Aside from exercise, getting enough sleep and limiting social media use can also be simple ways to reduce stress and anxiety.
Practice daily mindfulness
Mindfulness teaches us to be aware of stress and respond to it accordingly. Practicing mindfulness includes being in tune with the present moment and not being overly reactive or overwhelmed by our surroundings.
You may not be able to change your situation or the circumstances you are in, but mindfulness practice helps to gain more perspective and change your response to the situation. Mindfulness helps you to overcome uneasiness and anxious feelings without overanalyzing or suppressing the thought.
Use the rush
When feeling anxious, oftentimes people have increased levels of adrenaline that make their heart beat faster and lose a sense of their surroundings. While these symptoms can be distracting, it also increases the brain’s ability to focus by releasing stress-inducing substances that send signals of high alertness. These signals are similar to the body’s natural response to excitement. Therefore, you can use the rush of anxiety and try to reframe it as if you are doing something exciting instead of feeling nervous and overwhelmed by the circumstances.
Sometimes stress is inevitable and experiencing occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. Even if your worrying thoughts seem too overwhelming, you can try to use some of the above strategies to calm yourself, and even find your optimal level of anxiety that helps push you to keep improving and get better at managing upcoming stressors.
If you would like to know more about anxiety management, visit the Happiness Science Labs. Using the research of the Institute for Life Management Science, the lab produces courses, certifications, podcasts, videos, and other learning materials. Check out the Happiness Science Labs today.
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