“What’s Important Here?”: Your Anxiety Is Telling You Something Valuable
This is a follow up to my article on anxiety, Name and Reframe: 2 Simple Strategies to Overcome Anxiety with EQ.
Warren Phillips, a clinical psychologist and President of Transformative Workplace Solutions, a Six Seconds Preferred Partner, brought up a great question after reading Name and Reframe: 2 Simple Strategies to Navigate Anxiety. He asked the following: While reframing anxiety as excitement works in some cases, like before a job interview, are there other situations when this would be a mistake?
The answer is yes, absolutely.
He brought up a couple great examples:
Imagine you are going to a meeting with your boss, and you know you have done something wrong, so you feel anxious.
Imagine you are going home and you are worried your partner, who struggles with alcohol, is drunk.
In these cases, naming the emotion may still be helpful. But reframing it as excitement? Not so much. Those are times when it’s appropriate, necessary and even helpful to feel anxiety. Your anxiety is telling you something valuable. Can you think of an example in your life when you have felt anxious and it wouldn’t be appropriate to reframe it as excitement?
And in those situations where reframing it as excitement isn’t the answer, what’s an emotionally intelligent way to navigate that anxious feeling and use it to take purposeful steps forward?
What is anxiety trying to tell you?
Before we talk about ways to navigate anxiety, let’s circle back to a basic question: What’s the message of anxiety?
There’s an unclear risk.
And sometimes, of course, that anxious feeling is spot on. Something we care about IS at risk.
When you should be anxious… what can you do?
So when we feel this type of anxiety that shouldn’t be reframed, Phillips and Six Seconds CEO Josh Freedman recommend asking another question: “What about this situation feels important to me?”
Or, “What is the outcome I am really looking for?”
Then the anxiety can be reframed as an alert, Phillips says, that something important is happening. “Part of Six Seconds approach that I love,” he told me via email, “is the exploration of emotions and the important messages they share with us. Emotions help us determine what’s important in our lives so we can explore how we might get there or what approach we might want to take.” The anxiety serves as a signal to evaluate priorities and start going through the KCG process of considering what you really want and all your options for getting there. Emotions, even challenging ones like anxiety, are data – and can be a catalyst for positive growth.
What does this look like in action?
Consider the example of heading into a meeting with your boss when you have failed to get an important task done or lost a client account.
Phillips says he would go through a 4-step process to help a client navigate anxiety in this situation:
- Help them notice and name the anxiety.
- Encourage them to consider the message the feelings or thoughts are sharing with them. (“Perhaps how important this job is to me, how much I enjoy it or don’t enjoy it, how important it is to be organized, what self-limiting belief keeps me from reaching out for help when I’m overwhelmed, etc.”)
- Use that information to come up with ways of handling the situation better the next time.
- Utilize ways of navigating the anxiety (such as mindfulness, deep breathing, distancing methods, or self-compassion) to enter the meeting with as much focus and clarity as possible.
There are no good or bad emotions. Emotions are data.
A big thank you to Warren for sharing his insight. Reframing anxiety as excitement does work, and in some cases, it’s the way to go. But in other cases, your anxiety is trying to tell you something valuable, and it should be accepted as is, and be a catalyst to help you learn and grow.
Check out this video from Six Seconds’ CEO Josh Freedman about what happens to a stressed out brain. It adds further evidence for why it’s essential to go through this process of actively looking at the bigger picture and recognizing options when we’re feeling anxious.
Why Six Seconds?
Why do leaders from places like the UN, FedEx, Amazon, Qatar Airways choose Six Seconds’ tools and methods?
- Global: Used in 157 countries & territories — this approach works everywhere.
- Scientific: The latest research creates a robust approach by the pioneers in EQ — these tools are reliable.
- Practical: It’s not enough to talk about emotional intelligence — Six Seconds helps you put it into action.