Anxiety can help motivate you to perform better, but too much can become overwhelming and get in the way of living life to the fullest. When ignored or avoided, anxiety can actually become more intense rather than less. To keep anxiety under control, we have three letters for you: PFD. We aren’t talking about a Personal Flotation Device; we’re talking about first preventing anxiety, then facing it, and finally de-stressing.
There’s a difference between preventing anxiety and escaping it. Preventing it means recognizing the patterns leading to anxiety and doing something about it. Preventing anxiety makes more sense than just running away and waiting for the thing that makes you anxious again. But it’s easy to just want to run away when you feel a lot of anxiety, even if this pattern isn’t healthy. For instance, maybe you regularly wake up a little later than you should, and then anxiously rush to make it to work on time. Setting the alarm a little earlier and actually getting up when it goes off can help prevent anxiety. Ask yourself, “What steps can I take to prevent anxiety?” And put your action plan in motion.
Face your anxiety
When you can’t prevent anxiety, you can tolerate it. Your instinct might be to “escape” by pretending the feelings aren’t there, by trying to push them away, or by avoiding the situation altogether. These are short-term fixes at best. The problem with escaping anxiety is that it reinforces the idea that you can’t tolerate any anxiety at all—making the feelings actually seem more scary! But you can dare to face your fears. By staying aware of the feelings and letting them come and go without trying to seize control, you learn on a deeper level that you can cope with them.
Imagine times when you did a good (or good enough) job on something nerve-wracking such as giving a speech, despite your nerves. Such experiences can help you feel more confident for the next time.
You can influence the physical sensations of anxiety, for better or worse. You can either ramp up your anxiety with thoughts such as “I must be in control and not feel anxious” and by breathing quickly. Or you can ease anxiety with thoughts such as “This will come and go and I’ll still do what’s important” and by slowing down your exhales, allowing yourself to exhale fully.
You can learn to face anxiety with techniques that aim at de-stressing you physically and mentally such as slower breathing. This can give you more confidence to handle anything, with a more relaxed mindset that says “because I can,” instead of a frantic mindset of “because I have to.” Just keep practicing your breathing with longer exhales, counting to four as you inhale and all the way to six as you exhale.
Anxiety management isn’t about escape. It’s about becoming proactive, mindful, and empowered. The “Prevent, Face, and De-stress”—or PFD—approach can give you some concrete steps to manage your anxiety and live a fuller life.
Written by Tim Herzog and first published by the Human Performance Resource Center.