Not sleeping well? Overthinking every decision? So worried about saying the wrong thing, you stay silent? Unable to relax? Constantly checking your phone? Never sure you’ve made the best choice? Sure you’ve missed something?
Let’s take a tour through the crashing, crushing, turbulence of anxiety and the role it plays in our lives. For many of us Anxiety has always been with us, like a shadow at our back, jumping out to scare us and block our way in life. Anxiety is on the rise, affecting millions of people in brutal ways, including anxiety disorders and related mental illnesses. Sadly, research shows that those most imperiled are teens & young adults who are experiencing historic levels of anxiety (this new study from the American Psychological Association found the most afflicted are 18-26 years old).
What can we do? Given the scope of this challenge, one steps is learning more about Emotional Intelligence so we can strengthen the skills to wrangle anxiety back into the background.
This quarter Six Seconds is trying something new by embracing and getting up-close and personal with “negative” feelings. We know there are no good or bad emotions; they’re just data. Feelings are a messages that can help us, if we use EQ. Yet humans tend to steer away from feelings that are uncomfortable. So this quarter we are leaping into the cold ocean of Anxiety.
Throughout this quarter’s articles, our free EQ Cafés (held by Six Seconds’ volunteer Network Leaders around the globe), webinars and other events, you’ll learn much more about anxiety over the next three months.
Want to rise above the waves?
Get your poster with three EQ tips for Anxiety
Calling out your anxiety, recognizing it and giving it an objective appraisal goes a long way towards lowering anxiety. There is a physiological aspect of anxiety (and all emotion); sometimes it’s easier to notice the physical signals, such as an uncomfortable tummy or persistent pain in the neck.
Research tells us:
Anxiety consumes our brain’s and body’s attention. When our stress response system is activated, many other processes in the body and mind shut down. Bodily, our long-term immunity, reproductive and digestive systems shut down. Mentally, our higher order thinking – which is our ability to empathize and analyze – shuts down, too.
For some people anxiety is part of perfectionism, where nothing is ever good enough leading to inaction or destructive thinking. For more on perfectionism, check out the Illuminate series on Perfectionism.
Does this stress response cycle sound familiar to you? Can you tell when you are feeling over-stressed or anxious? Try recognizing the signals for your stress cycle, keep track on a calendar to mark the frequency. Let’s do some research! When do these cycles tend to happen? At the end of the day while you are making dinner? On Friday nights when you make it through another week? Who is a repeated character in your stress episodes?
Learn the landscape of your anxiety so you can recognize it when it appears.
What is your anxiety driving you to do? Withdraw? Protect? Attack? We all have learned responses when we feel at our limit. Taking a moment to see what’s behind our auto-response can give us insight… and remember you have MORE options: What haven’t you tried?
Research tells us:
Anxiety causes us to fall back into our old patterns. When we’re stressed, the brain pushes for safety. We do what we’ve done before. Read more about this push to follow old patterns leads our brains adapt to stress leading to less collaboration and innovation in the workplace.
When you catch yourself in a cycle of anxiety, take a moment to create options for yourself. What are possible responses to a last minute demand from your boss, a dead car battery, a call from your child’s teacher? This step of taking inventory and making a choice is how we exercise our EQ. We are responding rather than reacting.
Choose alternatives to our usual stress response.
One of the most insidious tricks of anxiety, is that it drives a wedge between us and the outside world. Connection is actually anxiety’s kryptonite. Let’s turn anxiety around and learn how to rise above the waves.
Research tells us:
Trust, empathy and creativity have an inverse relationship with anxiety. When we feel stress, we are biologically programmed to be less creative, less compassionate, less visionary. The stress-related hormone cortisol literally blocks the release of oxytocin, the trust chemical.
Plan ahead of time with a list of ideas for alternate responses (take a walk, listen to music, cook delicious meal, call a friend, help your grandmother) for alternatives to shutting down in the crashing waves of anxiety. When we engage with others we are supporting our larger purpose. This can lead us out of the stress response cycle and into creating new habits. Remember when we do anything new, it will feel challenging at the beginning, so try it out and don’t quit on the first go.
Connect with someone to disarm anxiety.
Stress is on the rise all over the world. According to research from the Journal of Applied Psychology, stress has increased 20 to 25% in the last 30 years. Nearly 1 in 4 Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder.
All of us are affected, at least sometimes, by a sense of uncertainty and stress in our lives. Anxiety is a feeling that can help us pay attention to problems. But Anxiety Disorder causes us to pay TOO much attention to problems.
From the US National Institutes of Health: “Occasional anxiety is an expected part of life. You might feel anxious when faced with a problem at work, before taking a test, or before making an important decision. But anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The symptoms can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work, and relationships.”
Please know that you can get help. If you think you might have an anxiety disorder, ask for medical assistance. Medication won’t solve the challenges, but it helps most people, making it much more possible for you to take care of yourself. Then, in addition to medical treatment, there are complementary therapies and practices like EQ can support you.
This will be a powerful three months of research insights and practical strategies for anxiety. I hope you’ll join us in person and online. Let’s imagine for a second “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” and let that guide our reflective moments as we explore dimensions of anxiety that holds us back.
Latest posts by Patty Freedman (see all)
- Threat or Challenge? The Surprising New Science of How We Think About Stress - April 16, 2019
- Hello Anxiety: 3 Tips for Using EQ to Navigate Worry - April 3, 2019
- Celebrating Emotions with UNICEF World Children’s Day - December 19, 2018