At some point in our careers, the nervous energy that helped us push so hard to be successful starts to become detrimental. We can no longer double-check important stuff because everything is getting to be vital. Issues are more complex, the solutions uncertain, and our anxiety level skyrockets, with the internal critic incessant.
If that sounds familiar, clinical psychologist and author Chloe Carmichael has nine relatively simple techniques to help you keep functioning and performing well. As with any menu, not all need to appeal to you – a few that fit your appetite will suffice:
- The three-part breath: Instead of pushing on through the angst, disconnected from self-awareness, you can ground yourself physically and mentally. Breathe in deeply from the belly, feeling it sequentially in your belly, middle chest, and upper chest; pause to hold that breath for a moment; and then exhale fully, pausing again before repeating the cycle.
- Zone of control: Break down the issues confronting you into those you can control and those you can’t. Write down a list of feasible actions for the issues within your control so that when your anxiety is next triggered you have a list of actions to focus your energy on.
- Mental short list: In advance, generate a list of everything you would rather be doing rather than ruminating on an undesirable or unproductive topic. Aim for five enticing topics on the list to pick from when necessary. It can range from thinking about gifts for upcoming family birthdays to checking out websites of competitors.
- To-do list with emotions: Usually our task lists are meant to be oblivious to our emotions – just things to be done. But she suggests you mark beside each item the emotions it arouses, to understand why you may be avoiding the item, and then reflect on the self-care each requires. “This not only feels good, it tends to help free energy to work on the task at hand, since you’re no longer sandbagged by unaddressed emotions,” she writes in her book Nervous Energy.
- Mind-mapping: You can use word maps to gain clarity, increase emotional connection, and discover meaningful links between complex goals and personal values to create engagement. Choose a topic – large or small -- to explore and then write down the first word, feeling or phrase that comes to mind. Now see what ideas and words flow from that, building visual links on your word map that may illuminate powerful themes.
- Worry time: Pick a block of time on your daily calendar specifically for worrying – make sure it’s sufficient – and then throughout the day capture any worrisome issues that rise. At the appointed time, sit down and worry. Knowing that time is scheduled to deal with the issue allows you to focus on other things during the day since you know the troublesome matters will be eventually addressed.
- Response prevention: This is aimed at stopping compulsive behaviour, such as checking for e-mails. Define the behaviours you want to stop, think about the stimulus that triggers your unwanted response, and then make a list of the ways you can deal with the same stimulus without lapsing into the traditional response.
- Thought replacement: To quell negative internal monologues, write down on paper the thoughts that tend to interfere with your ability to cope or adapt well to your situation. Beside them write counter thoughts that can supplant the internal critic. Practise replacing the bad thoughts with more accurate, good thoughts.
- Anchoring statements: Similarly, have some previously crafted statements to bring you back to reality when your thoughts run haywire, out of control. An example: “This is certainly uncomfortable but I will definitely live through it.”
She urges you to be patient in employing these techniques. They will take time to learn. But if you’re prone to anxiety at work, they can be helpful.
- Don’t be surprised by surprises. They are inevitable, despite your best planning. When they happen, consultant Steve Keating says your first reaction should be to do nothing. Examine the situation dispassionately and don’t rush into action until you understand the implications of that decision.
- Research suggests your best brainstorming ideas – contrary to widespread belief – do not come from the sparks at the start of the session. Your ideas will actually get better over time.
- Job hopping can be a red flag on your resume when hunting for work. Executive coach Patricia Carl advises emphasizing how the experience of working alongside different leadership styles has accelerated your learning and professional growth; focusing on your accomplishments in each role rather than your time in the role; and highlighting how the experience you gained by working across industries and the exposure to best practices in different types of organizations increased your abilities.
- Executive coach Dan Rockwell finds his brain turns on when the lights turn off for sleep. A great solution has been listening to audiobooks, notably autobiographies and fiction, which quickly ease him to sleep.
- Fear of failure is higher when you’re not working on the problem, says author James Clear.
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