Founder of Staffing Referrals, an automated referral management platform that helps staffing firms track, manage, and scale referrals.
I wake up. It’s 3 a.m. My heart’s racing. It’s just another Thursday morning during the pandemic. I take a few deep breaths, grab my computer and start writing.
In this article, I’ll explain my approach to using the energy created by my anxiety to create new opportunities. And I’ll share a few specific tactics that might help you turn your anxiety into what I like to call the “anxiety opportunity” to tackle new challenges.
Please note, I’m not a doctor, and I recognize anxiety is different for everyone. Using these techniques, I’ve launched a couple of businesses and have run a few ultra-marathons. These strategies have helped me be better, and I hope they’ll do the same for you.
There’s some good news about anxiety. Research suggests those with anxiety tend to score higher on IQ tests. This means that while your unsettled brain might be frustrating you today, it might also be the key to helping you solve tough problems tomorrow.
We’re all living through a strange time. Millions of people are dealing with job loss, financial uncertainty or, even worse, the suffering or loss of a loved due to COVID-19. And we are doing this without our normal social interaction and peer support that enriches our lives.
For many of us, this pandemic is one of the first experiences in our lifetime in which we’re dealing with the same exact problem as billions of other people at the same exact time. We are not alone in this fight.
Here is the reality: We can’t change our current situation, but we can change how we manage ourselves.
Here’s how I see it:
• I believe anxiety is your brain’s way of giving you the energy you need to take action and do something about your current situation.
• I believe stress is only bad for you if you believe it’s bad for you. It turns out there’s some science to back this up.
• Most people’s response to anxiety falls into one of the three F’s: fight, flight or freeze. I’d like to suggest a fourth F: focus.
I’ve let anxiety freeze me many times, but I’ve learned that I can do better by changing my mindset and using the energy to focus.
By simply changing my story about anxiety, I’ve turned my “disorder” into a life-changing opportunity. As one of my favorite characters, Dwight Schrute, once said in an episode of The Office, “Use the surge of fear and adrenaline to sharpen your decision making.”
I use the physiological response to get more work done faster, including writing this article at 3 a.m.
When I’m super anxious, I like to think about my anxiety opportunity as a free double shot of espresso for my brain.
Ray Dalio, one of the world’s smartest thought leaders in business and someone I admire, stated that “pain plus reflection equals progress,” and I’d add that “anxiety plus positivity equals opportunity.”
So, how can you use your anxiety to move your life forward?
First, learn to control your anxiety and relax the mind:
• Start meditating so that you can learn to control your mind during anxious times. This has changed my life by helping me to acknowledge my anxiety, embrace the thoughts that arise and change my behavior accordingly.
• Consider more intense and frequent exercise. During my most anxious hours, I find that going on a long run eases my mind and helps me find new ways of approaching my biggest challenges.
Second, create an anxiety opportunity plan:
• Reflect on what’s driving your anxiety. Use the focused energy from your anxiety to think about what you can control and what you can do now to improve your future state.
• Reposition your challenges. Try to change the way you look at challenges, and realize that the obstacles in front of you might just be your best way forward. Obstacles equal growth opportunities.
• Write down a few bold ideas or goals you want to accomplish. Think bigger than usual. Think about what you’d accomplish if you had all the energy you ever wanted. Come up with something that gives you peace of mind. Write it down, and be specific. For example, you might set a goal to write your first book this year.
• React to anxiety with positive action. Take your newly minted concept on how you can use your anxiety opportunity, and put it into action. Pick up your list of goals, and identify the smallest step you can take to move toward each goal. If your goal is to write a book, write one page today.
• Repeat the actions that felt good, and become a better you. When anxiety revisits, calmly think about how you’d like to channel that energy. Start working on the goal that made you feel better last time. Use this process repeatedly to turn your anxiety frustrations into anxiety opportunities.
For a real-life example, I’ve thought about writing this article for two years; it took the anxiety opportunity provided by the pandemic to get me to do it.
The bottom line: How you view anxiety matters. Change the story you tell yourself about anxiety, and you might change your life for the better.
Here are a few resources that have changed my life in a meaningful way:
• Ted Talk: “The Power of Vulnerability” by Brene Brown.
• Meditation App: Waking Up with Sam Harris.
• Book: Principles by Ray Dalio.
• Podcast: The Tim Ferris Show.
During this process, be courageous, and communicate authentically about your situation with friends or colleagues. It helps them, and it helps you. If you’re up for it, share how you plan to use your anxiety during this pandemic.
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Author: David Folwell, Forbes Councils Member