In a recent piece for Harvard Business Review I took on the topic of the almost universal irritant of anxiety.
Anxiety is like a swarm of flies, buzzing inside your head. Distracting, disturbing, incessant. There is little or no relief from the irritating pests. Seldom silent, seldom at rest. It affects the quality of your work; the quality of your life.
Stuck in traffic; you’re going to miss your flight. And the game-changing meeting at the other end of it. Your presentation is poorly executed. You’re not going to win the new client; there goes the promotion, and maybe worse. Impending layoffs? There’s a pink slip with your name on it. You’re going to lose your house. You’re a neglectful parent/spouse/significant other. You spend too much time at work, and still it’s not enough. You don’t dare take a break for the weekend, much less a vacation. You have an impossible deadline to meet. And, even worse, a company dinner. Is there no way out of that?
There’s a haggard image in the mirror. Haggard and fat. You eat wrong, sleep wrong, don’t get enough exercise. The heart attack, stroke, cancer—whatever—looms in the near future. Just as well; your portfolio is tanking again. You won’t be able to finance a retirement anyway.
Buzzzzzzzzz. Buzzzzz. Buzzz.
If only anxiety could be swatted like a pesky insect.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that in any given twelve month period, over 18 percent of adult Americans will suffer from an anxiety disorder, one of the most common forms of psychological illness. Even for those whose anxiety doesn’t rise to the level of a ‘disorder,’ it can become a very unwelcome, nearly constant companion in our stressful lives and uncertain times.
Anxiety isn’t always bad—sometimes it’s a whetstone, honing the sharper edge we need to perform well and successfully achieve our goals.
Here are a few simple techniques that help keep anxiety at a manageable, even productive, level.
- Impose Structure: Make a list of what you need to do, and a plan to get it done. Learn to leave early for appointments, jump on calls a little ahead of schedule, and tackle distasteful tasks quickly. Don’t procrastinate.
- Relinquish Control: Creating structure helps organize us for accomplishment but it doesn’t give us control over outcomes. We have to give up the illusion that we can always be in charge.
- Self-Care: The same behaviors that are good for our health help ward off or control anxiety. Get adequate sleep. Eat well and drink plenty of water. Avoid known anxiety aggravators like caffeine and alcohol. Meditate.
- Exercise: “In one study, researchers found that those who got regular vigorous exercise were 25 percent less likely to develop depression or an anxiety disorder over the next 5 years.”
- Pace Yourself: It’s okay to slow down sometimes. We’re not just working to advance our careers; we’re trying to advance the quality of our lives. Think interval training: alternate cycles of hard work with restful activities to rejuvenate mind and body for the next challenge.
There’s always another fly; there always will be. But a single fly is better than a swarm. A few techniques, practiced regularly, can keep the flies of anxiety swatted away, and help reduce the buzzing in our heads to white noise.
You can read my full Harvard Business Review article here:
Photo Credit: George Larcher via Creative Commons License
This post originally published at Linkedin