Four Ways to Tame Your Anxiety
Interview with Loretta Breuning
Posted Jul 27, 2019
Are you struggling to manage your levels of anxiety at work?
As our workplaces become increasingly dynamic, demanding, and complex, it’s hard not to feel anxious. So what can you do to tame your anxiety if it’s undermining your well-being and performance at work?
“Anxiety is a pathway in your brain connecting past experiences to your cortisol's on switch that equips you to recognize danger and anticipate threats in the future,” explained Professor Loretta Breuning from California State University when I interviewed her recently. “Taming anxiety means blazing a new trail in your brain, one that leads to happy chemicals—dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, endorphins—instead of threat chemicals.”
To help tame your anxiety at work, Loretta suggested trying:
- Focusing on your own steps. When you’re in a moment of anxiety, chances are, you'll just get annoyed when others tell you to relax and perhaps picture yourself on a tropical beach. However, we haven't evolved to relieve a threatening feeling in this way. Mammals have learned to save their lives by focusing on their steps.
While you may not necessarily feel confident in your steps when you're in a moment of anxiety, you can build the habit of breaking your goals down into small chunks, where you can define a step that is within your power and ability to take. This activates the good feeling of dopamine and can help you get out of your tailspin.
- Practicing self-soothing. Set aside 22 minutes of your time to practice self-soothing.
Start by setting a timer for one minute to orientate yourself and focus on what you really want, which is to stimulate the happy brain chemicals that your brain is looking for. Then spend 20 minutes doing something fun that will enhance your mood—such as watching a comedy or listening to some of your favorite music that you’ve put together previously when you’ve been in a good mood.
This way you’ll have an anxiety tamer that’s ready for you on a bad day. Spend the last minute initiating or committing to a small step that you’ll take by the end of the day to meet your own needs.
- Be a mirror of calm—rather than feeling obligated to immerse yourself in other’s discomfort, displeasure, or distress, try to present as a model of calm.
This doesn't necessarily come risk-free. In the short term, if you're not bonding around common enemies through sharing distress and agitation, others may resent you or critique you as no longer being one of the herd.
However, by presenting a calmer mode of interaction, over time and through repetition, others may learn this more positive form of bonding. And as they perceive what you’re doing, they can mirror your neurons and discover that, ultimately, it’s a better way to provide support.
- Avoid social comparisons.
Along with every other group of mammals, we have inherited a brain that creates social hierarchies to ensure our survival. And as you compare yourself to others in the hierarchy, your brain releases serotonin—a happy brain chemical—when you see yourself in a position of strength, and cortisol—a stress chemical—when you see yourself in a position of weakness.
You can ease the pain of social comparisons by reminding yourself that although you’re believing that others are putting you down, it can actually be you putting yourself down and releasing cortisol. Find ways to construct social standing in your own mind in a healthy way and consider how you can put yourself up without putting others down.
What are the steps you can take to improve your levels of anxiety at work?