Break The Negativity Loop: Releasing Stress, Anxiety and Overwhelm

Throughout July, DRIVEN explored the Releasing of Emotions that keep us ruminating in the past. The antidotes to this counterintuitive state of mind are the growth mindset, learning from our mistakes, and naming certain thoughts and feelings to ourselves and with trusted colleagues to gain perspective— which immediately depletes the power of the past.

This month, we’ll consider a tug from the other direction: The Future. The telltale signs of your mind dwelling prematurely in the future while your body goes through the motions of the present equate to huge daily challenges in the workplace. Many of us are perpetually experiencing the unhealthy states of Stress, Anxiety and Overwhelm each day, not even recognizing our culpability.

To start, it’s not my intention to analyze these human realities from a psychological basis. The aspiration associated with “Releasing” something that doesn’t serve is to employ a shift in perspective and incorporate healthy practices to manage workplace overwhelm. If you suffer from chronic anxiety, know that you’re not alone— about 18% of us do. Give yourself the gift of self-compassion and reach out to a licensed professional to help you manage these challenges. If you don’t know where to turn, DRIVEN can help connect you.

There are numerous situations and interactions that cause stress and anxiety at work. But I’ll only have four chances this month to explore these real-life roadblocks with you. Thus, I’ll plan to focus on two workplace challenges that most driven professionals face.

First is the stress of being “too busy” and the perceived lack of productivity associated with that stress in a career paradigm where professionals are needing to do more with less. Second, we’ll focus on the anxiety of managing ourselves when interacting with difficult people and faced with tricky situations. Let’s jump in.

The Story of Stress

There’s an important difference between stress and anxiety. Stress is a response to an external cause, a change or a challenge— you know, those times when you feel like there’s just too much to do, and not enough time to do it. It causes overwhelm at times, exhaustion at other times, keeping your brain running and your heart pumping.

When that stress becomes internalized, anxiety is born. But stress can be mitigated if you are action-oriented. Anxiety makes you feel helpless, uneasy, even fearful due to situations where you have very little or zero control. And it’s toxic because it endures, even after the stressor is gone. The low hum of anxiety seems to work independently in order to uncover fears where they don’t exist. This is why we find ourselves anxious, even when there’s nothing to be anxious about.

Thanks to the fMRI, neuroscience, and the concept of Conversational Intelligence®, it’s become clear that these states of negativity that focus on the future are perilous to our careers. They play into our natural negativity bias, which results in the release of cortisol, fogging the brain that we’re paid to use. This process then perpetuates the stress of being unproductive, not to mention the anxiety of workplace interactions— since others can sense when we’re anxious! This all becomes a cyclical loop that takes awareness, effort and energy to break.

Henry Ford said famously, “If you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” So, when you let stress (which is a necessary condition to stay alive) and anxiety (which in the workplace is exacerbated by fear and feeling unsafe) combine to produce overwhelm, you simply CAN’T.

The Solutions Are Within

We CAN break these negativity loops once we become aware of them. We can also employ good practices to mitigate the preponderance of stress and anxiety in the first place. Let’s start backwards by suggesting three things we can all engage in to increase our tolerance for stress, anxiety and overwhelm.

Breathe: At its most extreme, anxiety can convert to panic attacks. These physical manifestations are devastating to the brain and body. I used to live in a perpetual state of fear that an attack was right around the corner. I’d hold my breath, thereby igniting the insidious episode. But I finally learned to manage the anxiety through that very breath. Devoting myself to a simple meditation practice was the secret solution. Even 5 minutes of intentional breathing each day can provide the skills to breathe our way out of anxious situations.

Self Care: Stress and anxiety are heightened when we’re physically lacking. Sometimes, just sitting in front of a computer seemingly compounds our anxiety. Sleep, nourishment and exercise are all opportunities to steel ourselves against these threats. Exercise works double duty; I’ve come up with solutions to the world’s problems during walks in the woods, and have created my most effective and compelling workshop content while paddling a kayak!

Perspective: When you’re being bombarded in the foxhole, you can’t peek your head out to see the actual battlefield. Consider “zooming out” for perspective. Just like meditation, this takes practice. But in order to jumpstart the practice, acknowledge that unless you’re a brain surgeon, your job isn’t brain surgery. Your work is highly important, but it doesn’t dictate life or death. You’re also physically safe; you won’t fall through a trap door if you can’t make a deadline or have a personality clash with a teammate. Since zooming out is a practice that takes practice, call on that kitchen cabinet of confidants you’ve been compiling.

In my follow-up article, I’ll dig into stress, sharing how to live a stress-lite life!

If you enjoy what you’re reading and are considering living life more fully, schedule a complimentary consultative session with DRIVEN HERE.