There’s a Bit of Stan in Each of Us...
Some Effective Strategies to Manage Anxiety and Foster a Calmer Presence
In our May Practice of the Month, we introduced Stan and learned about the Four D’s, which refer to four techniques people can use to deal with their anxiety. The Four D’s are Displace, Distract, Dissolve, and Deploy.
Stan is a good manager and family man. With back in the office restrictions lifted, he has a lot of time to think now that he’s stuck in rush hour traffic again. He sees his time to think as a gift; it allows him to reflect on things in his life, some of which are unsettling but which he tended to ignore or were otherwise not even aware of in the past. But now he is beginning to sense a vague discomfort which is actually a life force swirling beneath his conscious awareness.
Stan is becoming more self-aware. He is slowly getting in touch with his chronic anxiety, an abiding sense of unease about imagined or anticipated threats. It’s always present in us, but we seldom recognize it directly. For Stan, it shows up at different times as a racing mind, tension in his neck and shoulders, a knot in his stomach, difficulty staying focused, or even difficulty falling or staying asleep. These symptoms are what Stan is wondering and worrying about on the drive to work. You may recognize some of these symptoms in yourself. We all experience our own unique form of discomfort when anxious.
In the May Practice of the Month, we described some unhealthy choices Stan made as he tried to Displace or Distract himself to manage his chronic anxiety.
At first, he would Displace his anxiety by gossiping about others who were, in his mind, the cause of his anxiety. He would complain to others about his situation, his problems, the people he had to deal with, and his life in general. He also tried to Distract himself to relieve his upset through procrastination, overindulgence in food, alcohol, and excessive television.
Now, Stan is at a crossroads. Nothing has worked for him. So now what? New advice for Stan (and each of us):
Dissolve It: Think about the calming activities you enjoy already. Chances are good that you could spend more time doing those activities and get even more benefits from them. It probably means changes in your routine. Here are a few simple suggestions that you can consciously choose.
- Exercise – walk, don’t run (unless you’re already a runner.) Start with 10 minutes a day, and gradually increase your time, pace, and distance. Get outside if you can, and here’s the key – turn off the notices on your phone or put your phone away altogether. Enjoy nature, hear the birds, feel the breeze. No gym or special equipment is necessary. If you are already a runner, that’s great. The next step is to join a running club; the camaraderie and the endorphin euphoria will be a game changer!
- Meditate – 10 minutes a day is all you need to get started. Yes, even you, a busy executive, can find 10 minutes! There are many inexpensive apps that make this activity mindful (which is the point!) Here are some to try: Headspace (voted best overall), Ten Percent Happier (voted best for beginners), Calm (best for sleep), Buddhify, Unplug, Simple Habit, Breathwork, and more. Calm your thinking mind, work on breathing, practice awareness, and you’ll feel better! Trust us, it works.
- Read – Turn off the television, put down the iPhone, and close the laptop. As Stephen Covey once said, “Those who don’t read are no better off than those who can’t.” Having trouble falling asleep? Blue light from your computer screen and TV stimulates your brain. Doom scrolling makes just you mad. Read a good book instead. The options for books and authors are even more varied and significantly more positive than the snarky comments you’ll get to (happily) ignore on Twitter!
Deploy It: How good are you at facing a real threat with courage? Some of us will immediately say, “Not great.” Here’s the thing – you can learn how best to address each situation rather than simply reacting to every perceived threat. Here’s the fact-based, real question – “Is this actually a threat at all?” Some things to consider:
- Don’t succumb to the “amygdala hijack.” The amygdala is the oldest part of the evolutionary brain that is constantly alert for threats. You can learn to pause, take a breath or two, and allow the prefrontal cortex (the youngest part of the evolutionary brain) time to kick in and factually evaluate the situation. Most of the time, these few seconds will allow you to make a better choice. Learn to pause rather than your old habit of immediately having a reactive response.
- Learn to remain calm. If you give meditation a try and stick with it, you will learn to calm your racing mind. Meditation will help you build awareness. You can learn that you are not your thoughts. You will always have them, but you don’t have to believe or act on them. You can learn to say, “oh, anger,” or “oh, sadness,” or “oh, joy.” Now no matter what the thought, you can choose your actions to these thoughts or choose to dismiss them if they are not serving your better self. It is up to you. Your thoughts come and go; it’s what you choose to do with them that matters. By the way, there is no finish line. No mastery, just progress. This is a lifelong journey of personal discovery!
Choose to be a “Less Anxious Presence.” This sounds great, but you’re thinking, “My (spouse, family, team, boss, company, etc.) is highly reactive!” This may be true, but here’s one thing we know for sure: the only person you are in control of is you. You cannot change anyone, any family, or any company. It is only their choice to change. What you can choose to do is be a less anxious presence. Your behavior, your demeanor, and your choices are contagious. As the old saying goes, “Keep your head about you when all around you are losing theirs.” Choose to “stay calm, stay the course, and stay connected.” You really can choose to make positive, proactive choices to be a less anxious presence that inspires those around you to choose to do the same.
Mike Nowland is a persuasive and empathetic communicator with over 30 years of senior-level experience in Leadership Development and Human Resources with companies like Marriott International, ResMed, and Kisco Senior Living.
John Moyer has 30+ years of experience training and coaching both student and adult leaders. His focus is primarily on individual coaching along with targeted training engagements as a complement to his teaching career.
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