Have you ever struggled with feelings of anxiety?
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), 62% of Americans felt more anxious last year than they did the year prior (2020 vs 2019)¹.
We all feel anxious now and then, and anxiety disorders are estimated to normally affect up to 20 percent of the population². In the past, anxiety was thought of as a moral failing and primarily ignored or swept under the rug.
We have a much better understanding of anxiety today. Through proven science and treatments, people can help themselves overcome the worst of their anxiety symptoms.
The word “anxious” gets used a lot in normal conversation to mean any nervousness.
Actual anxiety (that goes beyond normal levels and can affect your life) can manifest in several ways. You may experience severe fear or an inability to focus on work tasks. You may have a disrupted sleep schedule, or you might have trouble getting to sleep at all. Anxiety can also lead to irritation. Things that shouldn’t be a considerable deal may seem like the end of the world.
Anxiety can be acute or chronic. Some people experience isolated feelings of anxiety, where symptoms come about quickly and can leave you unable to function. For others, anxiety can be a more constant, lurking problem.
Science can help us beat anxiety when it tries to hold us back.
Here are three simple ways to help burst through the barriers that anxiety can put in front of you.
Procrastination is often the result of anxiety. Fears about “messing up” or disappointing others can put a roadblock in front of starting any project. It can cause serious problems both at work and at home.
You may be surprised to learn that procrastination has little to do with laziness. In a New York Times piece, Dr. Piers Steel from the University of Calgary detailed how procrastination is a mood disorder³. When we fear bad feelings, our brains will do anything to get us out of it. If you’re anxious about how you will be judged with your work, starting the project can seem nearly impossible.
The easiest way to combat this type of anxiety-fuelled procrastination is to allow yourself a “rough draft” of whatever project you’re starting. It means making decisions about how to proceed without worrying about whether or not they’re correct. You’ll find that once you’ve started a project with this mindset, the work will come easily, and you’ll be amazed that you waited so long to begin.
And don’t forget to forgive yourself. We all procrastinate. Studies have shown that people who can forgive their past procrastination are less likely to delay in the future than those who are self-critical.
None of us is perfect, and most people are too hard on themselves. It can be easy to blame ourselves whenever things don’t go perfectly, and that then feeds into our anxieties about making mistakes.
It is the hardest piece of advice we have for handling anxiety, but it might be the most critical: divorce yourself from the situation. Learn to focus on what led to your past failures or problems without attaching those failures to perceived personal shortcomings.
If a work project went poorly, your instinct might be to blame it on your work ethic or knowledge and avoid future projects. Instead, focus on identifying what experience or support you were missing that led to the failure.
The problem with being severely self-critical is that you have no path to improvement. Ideas like “I’m lazy,” or “I’m no good at this” are unhelpful because they are too vague and inflexible. While honest self-reflection can be substantial, it is equally important to acknowledge that things are not always “your fault.”
In other words, learn to differentiate better the difference between taking responsibility and applying self-blame⁴.
What about dealing with more existential anxiety? How can you fight the generalized anxiety that follows you everywhere? One way is to find a purpose in life.
It sounds cheesy, but we all want to be needed. Having a support network is more than just having friends and family who will support you. It is just as essential to be someone else’s anchor. Simply knowing that your life positively affects others will help you get through even the most difficult times.
Where you find this purpose is up to you. You might choose to care for a child or a relative. Volunteering for a cause you are passionate about can also give you this much-needed sense of belonging. You don’t need to seek recognition or praise for your work; you need to know in your heart that you are making a difference for someone.
Anxiety can be linked closely to feelings of depression and other emotional wellness issues. It would be best if you treat your feelings of anxiety seriously. Please do not assume it will go away on its own. Take control of your mental wellbeing and meet these challenges head-on. The relief is worth it.
(1) American Psychiatric Association (October 2020) New APA Poll Shows Surge in Anxiety Among Americans
(2) Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Facts and Statistics about Anxiety and Depression
(3) Lieberman, C (March 2019) Why You Procrastinate (It Has Nothing to Do With Self-Control)
(4) Streep, P (January 2018) Tackling Self-Blame and Self-Criticism: 5 Strategies to Try