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How Anxiety Traps Us, and How We Can Break Free

By Bekzod Mardiyev

It's common to periodically feel anxious, for example, when dealing with a stressful employer, a high-stakes meeting, or a disagreement with a coworker. But according to the National Institute of Mental Health, 31% of American adults will deal with a condition at least once in their lives, and 19% of U.S. adults suffer from an anxiety disorder at any one moment. Mental health professionals believe that when we are anxious, we have a propensity to think in erroneous or constrained ways. These mental habits produce a crippling downward cycle that can take over our life by convincing us that disaster is imminent and escalating our sensation of helplessness. These traps and cognitive patterns are detailed on the website Anxiety Canada, a resource for those who experience anxiety. The following are the ones that my clients, who are often senior executives, most frequently encounter and the kind of things they say when caught in a particular trap:

Catastrophizing: Predicting the worst-case scenario. If there are any errors in the presentation, I will be fired.

Imagine what other people are thinking by using mind reading. "I know he thinks I'm stupid and doesn't like working with me."

Fortune telling is the act of speculating about the future without any actual data. Since I'm the only one in the new group who isn't a physicist, they will all despise me.

Thinking in black and white refers to focusing on just two potential outcomes. "I'll either get fired or hit a home run."

Overgeneralizing: Using a generalized outcome to describe all circumstances. "Last year, I gave a presentation to the CEO, and it didn't go well. When it comes to executive audiences, I never succeed or get things right.Use the techniques I've used with my coaching clients to escape these thought traps if you find that you are caught in one or more of them. Although I'm neither a psychologist or a doctor, I have experience assisting my clients in altering their behaviors, shifting their perspectives, and improving their productivity at work. These tips can help you break negative thought patterns, gain control over your anxiety, and enable you to listen to the chatter that truly important in your daily work. They do not replace the need to consult mental health professionals for a possible diagnosis and treatment for anxiety.The pattern is paused. It is common for physical symptoms to come before anxiety. Recognize your physical indicators of an approaching attack, such as a churning stomach, perspiring hands, or sneezing. These responses are a result of an amygdala hijack, which makes your body respond in a fight-or-flight manner rather than by employing the thinking brain. Change your behavior consciously when you become aware of these reactions. Try using math to activate your brain's thinking processes. Choose something that will challenge you enough to take your mind off your stressor, but not anything as straightforward as adding 2+2.

Identify the trap. Whether it is one of the traps mentioned above or a name you come up with yourself, give your pattern a name. By giving the threat a name, it becomes more concrete. When you acknowledge that you've faced it before and survived, you regain power. Depending on the particular trap you were caught in, you can adjust your mitigation method. Zulfi, for example, had a clearer idea of what to do after naming his patterns and learning the difference between catastrophizing, mind-reading, and fortune-telling.Identify fact from FUD. Make a list with two columns. List all of your FUD (fears, uncertainties, and doubts) on one side. Verified facts are listed in the second column. Comparing the two might allay your concerns and return you to reality.

More stories, please. We frequently make assumptions, draw hasty judgments, and tell ourselves stories. Although telling stories makes life go by more quickly, they can also be restrictive. When we're concerned, we frequently believe the worst and most exaggerated versions of our own stories.

Rather of stifling this reflexive behavior, reward it. Write three distinct stories, making sure they are all completely different from one another. For instance, he initially believed — or, more precisely, the tale he made up and told himself — that his manager was unhappy with his performance when the manager of a client urged him to raise his technical depth. I prodded him a little more, and he came up with two related stories: "My manager wants me to showcase my technical depth further to have an even bigger impact in the group," and "My manager wants my skills to be more easily transferable, so as I become more senior, I have more places in the company where I can move for my next role."Extending the narratives you tell yourself about a certain circumstance reveals that there are other options, many of which are preferable to your initial assumption.

Act as you speak. Consider what you would urge others to do. When a client is feeling worried, I ask them what advice they would provide a friend or coworker in a comparable circumstance. Individuals who a minute ago seemed stupid are now able to give wise advice right away. If you hear yourself saying, "I feel stuck," "I don't know what to do," or "There's no way out," stop and consider what you would say to a colleague in the same situation. You can become more objective and escape the mental trap that has you in its grip by pausing for a while.

Many of these tactics can be useful while you're in a panic, but plans are difficult to remember, let alone carry out. Take these strategies with you to your high-risk meetings and write them down. Look at your note and try one of these calming techniques when you experience that recurring change in your heart rate or dryness in your throat.It's normal to feel scared, uncertain of yourself, and confused. These emotions, when experienced in moderation, can be beneficial since they keep us alert, involved, and active. The moment has come, however, to actively select the techniques that put us in control of our internal dialogue and tune in to the chatter that matters when fears overwhelm our brains and negatively impact performance.


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