Professional, creative and entrepreneur anxiety is a real issue few dare to talk about. It affects close to half of all workers and entrepreneurs. It can seriously impact your work performance, and there are two simple things you can do to get it under control.
Over the last few months, I researched over 200 articles and studies, interviews with anxiety experts, therapists and physicians, and related books.
After all that, and after testing a few things for myself — I looked for the best and easiest-to-implement solutions that would provide immediate relief, and long-term return to a normal non-anxious state.
It turns out you just need to know and implement the following two things:
DARE to stop
Half-way into my research, a friend posted about a book on anxiety, DARE by Barry McDonagh. After listening to the first 5 minutes of the audio version, it felt like he was speaking to me directly. All the symptoms, worries, and effects I have experienced.
Barry did a considerable amount of research, which resulted in a simple 4-step methodology to overcome anxiety. It’s called DARE, and it had an immediate impact for me.
Here is the premise:
Stress, left unchecked, can quickly spiral into anxiety. And if you get anxious often enough, it can develop into a depression (which currently costs the US economy over $70 Billion).
The best thing to do is to get it under control before it spirals into a monster. Here’s how, with an example (I realize this may read a little cheesy, but stick with me).
Let’s say you want to start a side project. Immediately the “what ifs” kick in — you start feeling like there was no way it would work, and who are you to build something that anyone would pay attention to, and if you dedicated your time to this, you’d probably lose your job, your clients would drop you, and you’d end up living in a van down by the river.
First ask yourself “What is the worst that can happen?”. Then address the feeling with a dose of humour: “So what if I end up living in a van down by the river. At least I’ll have a chance to enjoy nature and go fishing whenever I feel like it. And really the chances of that happening are almost non existent”.
Starting with a “So what” statement, followed by a bit of humour and a “whatever” statement takes the wind out of anxiety’s sails.
Fully and completely accept the discomfort of the feeling and thoughts — realizing that is all they are. Thoughts and feelings. Not your reality. Say to your self: “I accept and allow these anxious feelings. That is all that they are”.
This step re-engages your neocortex, and takes back control from your impulsive fight-or-flight limbic system. It reframes the fear and anxiety from a potential reality, into what it actually is — a thought or a feeling.
9 times out of 10, this is all you need to get anxiety under control.
R (run towards)
Face your anxiety down. Dare it to do it’s worst. Say to yourself “Is this the worst you can do? This feeling excites me. Give me more of it!”. If you’re feeling a pit in your stomach, ask your anxiety to make it bigger. If you’re jittery, ask your anxiety to make you more so.
This step further re-engages your neocortex, and starts the process of reframing anxious energy into excited energy (because that’s what it actually is).
Now engage in an activity. Do something that fully immerses you in an experience. Get to work on whatever you have in front of you. There’s an article you have half-finished — finish it. There’s a run you’ve been putting off — put on your shoes and go now.
This step allows you to redirect your newfound energy towards something more productive. So find something that envelops your attention and get to it. This will also allow you expend that built up energy rather than allow it to control you. It’s very similar to Behavioural Activation Therapy – which has proven very effective for anxiety sufferers.
Do this enough times and you WILL get anxiety under control. Since I started implementing this, it made a HUGE difference. With practice, you can move through the stages pretty quickly, and stop it before it spirals out of control.
Simple Mindfulness Practice
This is a longer term solution, meant to get your neurochemical balance back in check, and your brain and mind back to functioning normally.
There have been thousands of studies on the effectiveness of mindfulness practice on health, cognition, and well being.
Here is how to start a simple 5-minute-a-day meditation practice (or take this 10 day meditation challenge)
Sit comfortably with your feet on the ground. It could be an armchair, couch, or an office chair. You don’t have to sit on a special cushion, but if you want to — all the power to you. Sit straight. As if someone connected a piece of string to the crown of your head and pulled it straight up. Try to sit as still as possible.
Focus on your breath
You can close your eyes, or focus on a single spot in front of you. Now notice how it feels when you breathe in and out. Pay attention to the air moving through your nose, through your body into your lungs. Feel your chest expanding. One trick to calm your mind is to count your breaths. For example, counting every exhalation. Try counting to 10 (most people never get there!).
When your mind starts wandering, just bring your focus back to the breath.
Chances are, thoughts and ideas will pop into your mind — especially if this is your first time meditating. Allow yourself to notice the thoughts and emotions that arise. If you start thinking about a meeting you have coming up, or a looming deadline — gently bring your attention back to your posture (sit straight), and breath (start counting again).
That’s all there is to it.
I currently do this for 5 to 10 minutes, once or twice a day, keeping time with an app called Insight Timer. It’s free and simple to use. I set the starting and ending bell to Kangsé, without interval bells or ambient sound. Then I set the duration to whatever I can do that day.
As the habit starts forming, feel free to increase it to 15 – 25 minutes a day. If it ever becomes too much, drop back down to 5.
That’s it. With these two things in your toolkit – you can get anxiety under control and get back to living and creating!
There are literally thousands of studies, articles, and books on anxiety. During my research, I came across two great, easy-to-follow books that summarize what I outlined here.
DARE: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks by Barry McDonagh. This is the book my friend recommended. It has over 300 5-star reviews on Amazon, and this approach has helped thousands of people get anxiety under control. I would highly recommend buying the audio version because just listening to Barry is soothing enough to calm you down :)
10% Happier by Dan Harris — an ABC anchor who had a panic attack on live TV, putting him on an investigative path eventually leading to meditation. The book follows his journey from an anxiety sufferer, to a skeptical spiritual explorer, to a 10 day silent meditation retreat, to conversations with Harvard researchers, and into a meditation practitioner that largely has anxiety under control. His book has over 2000 positive reviews, and is a fantastic read!
You can rip through these in a couple of weeks.
I sincerely hope this series was helpful to you. If it has, please share it with your networks so that more of those suffering in silence can get back to building and creating.