In part 1 of this three part series, I introduced you to the emotion of anxiety.
In part 2, I addressed the 3 secrets to mastering your anxiety as a strategic tool.
In this post, I will discuss the 4 steps to mastering your anxiety.
Mastering (getting the most out of) your anxiety.
When I first got my iphone, I only used it to place and receive calls.
I had to learn how to master my phone and while it still does a whole lot more than I need it to, I have made progress. Today, I use it to record my ideas for future posts and books (memo app), provide a countdown timer for my barbecue ribs, remind me what I need to buy at the store (list app) and so forth. These are tasks my phone could always do but I needed to learn how to effectively use it as a tool to improve my productivity.
The same is true for you and your anxiety.
You need to know how to make it work for you.
Four Steps to Mastery
Mastering your anxiety involves four steps, each of which you can learn to do.
Step#1: As soon as you experience anxiety, create a psychological safe space.
There is an unspoken assumption here and this is it. I am assuming that you know your body well enough such that you know your physical signs indicative of the emotion of anxiety.
Do you experience anxiety as…
- faster heart beat
- changes in skin temperature
- and so forth?
I devote a chapter to the physical signs of emotions and include checklists in my book Emotions as Tools: A Self Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Feelings which is available on Amazon.
You can google “physical signs of emotions” or here is a link to a website.
Create a psychological safe “space”
You do this by taking a deep breath (or two).
Let’s say you are worried about an upcoming interview and you are getting all tied up about what might happen.
Rather than “go with” the anxiety and react as if the danger is real, stop what you doing (thinking) and force yourself to take a deep (full bodied) breath. Fill those lungs up over a count of 4, hold it for a 4 count, and exhale over a 4 count. By the way, you might have to do this a couple of times.
This process does two things.
- First of all, it naturally relaxes you a bit.
- Secondly, it breaks the connection with your anxious thoughts and, thereby, sets you up to assess your situation. This gets you out of the what-if whirlpool and sets you up for step #2.
Step #2: Ask yourself this question—How real is the threat?
Have you ever been caught in a “rip-tide”? Well, if you are in the ocean and you find yourself being pulled out to sea by the current, the worst thing you can do is try to swim to shore. You will tire out and die. The correct technique is to swim parallel to the shore and out of the current. You can then swim back to shore.
What-ifs are like a rip tide (or a whirlpool). If you try to answer each hypothetical what-if, you’ll wear yourself out. Instead, focus on two questions:
- Do I have any evidence that this particular “what-if” is even a possibility.
- What other possible outcomes (more positive and less catastrophic) am I not considering?
The reason what-ifs and catastrophising are so debilitating is that people tend to view them as “probable” rather than “possible”. In other words, when you ask yourself “What if I go to the interview and blow it?”, instead of viewing this outcome as one possibility because it could happen, you react to this hypothetical outcome as if it is both probable, highly likely to occur and inevitable, as in the only outcome that will happen. This is why your what-ifs draw you in just like a whirlpool or a riptide.
Step #3: Assess your answers and your options.
There are three possibilities here…
First: The threat is real (the interview could go bad).
Assess your options by asking yourself–Can I survive it if it goes bad?
In nearly all cases, the answer will be “yes”.
This answer does two things for you.
- It frees you up from disabling worry by reminding you that no matter how bad the outcome is, it won’t kill you. You can take yourself off “red alert”.
- it reminds you that you will still have options (eventhough they might not be all that great).
Second: The threat is not as bad as you thought or isn’t really a threat.
This answer tells you that you have misunderstood the threat and you can let go of your anxiety.
Third: The threat is real and your anxiety is telling you that you need to take steps now to avert the threat.
This is mastering your anxiety as the tool it was designed to be. You are using the energy of your anxiety to motivate you to take corrective steps.
This is what my students do prior to an exam. Their anxiety motivates them to study.
Step #4: Use the energy of your anxiety to develop a plan to deal with the threat and work your plan.
Once you have created a psychological safe place and lowered your anxiety such that you are able to think things through and make some decisions, you can assess the future threat and make some plans regarding any action you might take to minimize the threat.
Remember the example in my last post about asking for a raise. Actions you can take on your behalf is to make a list of all the value you bring to the job and the reasons you believe you deserve a raise. You can’t really know what issues, if any, the boss may bring up but you can be prepared to make your case.
And, by the way, it is also possible that the boss scheduled the meeting to praise you and inform you that you are going to get a raise.
You’ve made it through all three posts covering the emotion of anxiety. You are now in a position to begin the process of mastering your anxiety as a strategic tool.
You can do it.
I welcome your comments.