Who hasn’t felt butterflies in his/her stomach or even a sense of dread before an important event like a job interview? Anxiety is uncomfortable, so our first reaction is to try to make it stop—we fight it, run from it or simply aim to ignore it. But if you embrace it instead, you can turn all that negative energy into a positive.
Anxiety is a natural response to facing some type of challenge. Much like a baby’s cry, anxiety is loud and grating and lasts until you find a solution. For instance, you may feel on edge and jumpy when facing a deadline and yet these very feelings can give you the focus and energy to complete your work…if you reframe your thinking and tap into anxiety as a resource. You want to control it instead of letting it control you. Here’s how…
Step 1: Identify the source of your anxiety. What are you afraid of or worried about? To channel it, you first need to name it and identify it—don’t turn away from it, and don’t get scared it will hurt you.
Step 2: Ask yourself if the anxiety is over something reasonable and rational or is it just noise and irrational? Example…
- Rational anxiety—you’re anxious because your plane is late and you might miss your connection.
- Irrational anxiety—you’re anxious because the plane is late, so there must be something horribly wrong and the plane will go down in a fiery crash.
Step 3: Take action. When your anxiety is irrational, make it rational. First, look at the evidence. What makes you think the plane will crash because it’s late? Just because a plane could possibly crash, doesn’t mean it’s probable. Think of the thousands of planes that take off and land every day without incident. You might even Google “how safe is it to fly” to put your mind at ease. If you feel like your anxiety is crossing over into panic, practice deep diaphragmatic breathing—you can’t panic while doing this.
Even if your anxiety is rational as in the example above, wasting time worrying about being late isn’t using anxiety to your advantage. You want to channel that energy into figuring out how you will get to your final destination if you indeed miss your connection. Use the time to search for other flights or look into alternatives, such as a rental car for the next leg of your trip. Or a hotel if you’ll need an overnight stay. Action puts you in control and melts away anxiety.
Another common example is not speaking up for yourself. You might know you need to ask someone for a favor or for help but are anxious about it—you worry what if you’re turned down?—so you procrastinate. But putting off something you know you need to do only makes it harder and more difficult.
Anxiety may be irrationally scaring you into inaction, when you rationally know that you need to speak up for a situation to improve. Using anxiety as a tool for motivation, rather than avoidance, is a key way to use it to your advantage.
Simply rebranding anxiety’s signals can give you the upper hand, too. For instance, if your heart beats fast at the thought of going on a blind date, don’t focus on the fear of potential rejection. Instead focus on the opportunity to meet somebody new and your excitement about it.
Stomach tied up in knots over the thought of saying “I’m sorry” to someone? Look at your worry as a sign that you care about the person who needs to hear your apology.
Important: As with any new habit, the more you practice using anxiety as a tool, the better you’ll get at it.