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By Alicia H. Clark
Life without stress and anxiety is simply unrealistic.
To handle the overwhelm, we’re often told to simply change our mindset.
This sounds great, but what does that even mean?
Are you supposed to act like possibly losing your job doesn’t actually worry you? That’s a legitimately scary thing to have hanging over your head.
“Changing your mindset” about anxiety and stress doesn’t mean faking it or pretending you aren’t anxious when you are.
It means understanding anxiety itself in a totally different way.
You see, stress is simply energy — energy that’s activated when something you care about is on the line. It’s protective and stimulating, and it summons focused energy to the things in our life that are most important.
Proof of this is how stressed out we can feel even when really wonderful things are happening in our life. The first step is to understand this overall point — that anxiety is energy — and that you have the power to choose how you relate to it.
To help you keep that energy from feeling scary and preying on your fear, here are 9 ways to keep your mindset positive when you feel stress and worry rising to turn these traits into a powerful weapon for your success:
1. Embrace your deepest worries.
Switching out “I’m worried about” to “I care about” can go a long way towards making your anxiety usable. Instead of dreading meeting a deadline, relish that you care about the deadline, and what you want to do to meet it.
Embracing the things we really care about gives us purpose, and serving a purpose gives us positive energy on which we thrive.
2. Rename your anxiety from a positive perspective.
New research shows that how you view your own anxiety can impact your performance. In research on a phenomenon known as “anxiety reappraisal,” data show that when we switch out anxiety for excitement, we perform better. That’s right, when you’re worried about that talk you have to give, re-framing that anxiety as excitement can help.
Next time you’re anxious, try telling yourself, “I’m really just excited!”
3. Move your body.
Exercise is a great way to mobilize extra energy, and also bathe our neurons with fertilizing protein that helps us think better. If you are anxious, not only can you likely benefit from burning off some steam, but you probably need all the thinking resources you can muster.
Exercising helps your brain function optimally, something we all need when we feel pressure.
4. Practice mindful breathing.
Feel your body being alive and caring. In and out. Regulating our breathing to include longer exhales and a slower overall rhythm can help regulate your autonomic nervous system, and also help center your awareness on the present moment and away from your fears about the future.
Try reminding yourself as you breathe that you are alive, vibrant, and responding to something you care about deeply.
5. Limit your caffeine.
When you feel anxious, your body is probably already revved up enough. Caffeine can push anxiety’s useful energy over the top into jitters and agitation.
Be mindful of your caffeine intake when you are anxious, and limit it where you can.
6. Make sleep a BIG priority.
Anxiety is exhausting — not just because of the extra energy consumed by worry, but also because insomnia can so often set in, robbing us of the sleep we need to function at our best. Sleep is critically important to our functioning, yet it is often something we take for granted, especially when we feel stressed.
Times of stress, however, are exactly when we need a good night’s sleep the most, since a driver of excess anxiety is inadequate sleep. Perhaps no one has been a more vocal advocate of sleep than The Huffington Post’s founder, Arianna Huffington, who is determined to change our collective apathy about sleep.
7. Talk it out with someone you trust.
Anxiety can drive the natural urge to reach out for help. Call on a trusted friend, colleague, or professional who can talk through your worries with you and help you zero in on the core issues in order to help you maintain the positive attitude you need.
Feeling understood also boosts our self-confidence, and inspires the courage we need to press on.
8. Engage in some form of forward action.
Even if you begin with one small step, channeling your anxiety into smart action is the best way to drive it down. Not only does action give anxiety a needed outlet, it also chips away at the root problem causing your anxiety in the first place. Doing something towards a solution helps diminish, and ultimately solve, your anxiety.
And, hey, it feels good. Enjoy the pleasure — yes, pleasure — in activating yourself towards important goals.
9. Be a friend.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and almost myopic in our perspectives on things when we feel stressed. But forgetting about others is dangerous. It robs us of needed perspective on our values and the relationships we care about and need the most.
Showing compassion to others can provide a welcome distraction from our own anxiety, as well as supply much needed help to someone we care about.
Compassion has also been shown to stimulate natural stress-busting brain chemicals that can help restore a sense of calm. There is no more adaptive reset to anxiety than nurturing an important relationship.
Most of all, be gentle with yourself and others when anxiety starts to rise. Just like when showing compassion to others, self-compassion helps moderate stress, especially when it comes to procrastination.
So, when anxiety next flares, take a deep slow breath, know that it fundamentally means you care, and encourage yourself to bravely identify the opportunities ahead.
Need more help understanding anxiety, and how to best harness its adaptive energy? Check out my website for more information.
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