Zainah Khan, Managing Director/Psychotherapist for Chakra Corporate Mental Strength, explains how stress and anxiety can affect us both physically and mentally and suggests how we can recognise, understand and manage these feelings.
The Business of January
Despite being only a few weeks into 2022, most of us are already back in the full swing of our business-as-usual activity and charging towards those new year goals. The restful recharge we indulged in over Christmas might have become a distant memory as we have perhaps suddenly become very busy, very quickly.
Last week’s observance of Blue Monday (sadly reported to be the most depressing day of the year) suggests that January can be a tough month for many of us. A combination of bad weather, accumulated debt and possibly neglected health over Christmas along with the struggles to maintain New Year’s Resolutions could swiftly lead us towards feelings of low-mood, guilt and worry.
If the above conditions are combined with business concerns and the pressures to improve and excel our business performance, it would not be unusual to also begin to feel stressed and anxious.
Stress and anxiety are unpleasant feelings to live with and it is easy to see them as debilitating. However, when we understand and properly respond to stress and anxiety, they might actually be helpful to us. Our feelings show up for a reason and understanding what these feelings are trying to communicate can really help us to benefit from them.
Anxiousness and Stress: A Logical Understanding
So how can we better understand our anxious and stressful feelings? Firstly, to recognise that both these feelings arise when we perceive that there is some kind of “threat” looming. The word “threat” sounds pretty serious but could refer to anything that we think could have a negative outcome. Examples could be:
More often than not, what we perceive as a threat is driven by the fears of rejection, failure or even death. Putting things into context like this can be helpful as it brings some reality into perspective. If any of the above threats feel true to you, it might help to ask yourself how threatening these situations really are? As well as also how much the threats truly matter? Are there potential benefits to the situation that we are dismissing?
Both the feelings of stress and anxiety have a knock-on effect to our thoughts and behaviours; they change our thinking-speed and can cause us to behave out-of-character. Anxiety and stress can make us think very quickly, often leading to overthinking whilst causing our bodily functions such as heart rate, rate of breathing, levels of perspiration and general movement to speed up. Again, this greater understanding can help us identify the feelings when they are there.
One of the most valuable notes on anxious and stressful thoughts is that they take us out of the present… and into the future. We are no longer in the present moment when we are feeling anxious or stressed. Anxious and stressful feelings catapult us into a future-based thinking space where we begin to imagine fictional scenarios that are all based on the premise of “what-if”. Such thoughts might be:
“What if this happened? What if that happened? What would that mean for me? How would I deal with that?”
These “fantasy” scenarios revolve around “worst-case” outcomes that can leave us feeling worried, unsafe and disturbed. If we are finding ourselves fearing failure, thinking that business plans and activities are destined to go wrong and procrastinating over making decisions then it is likely that stressful and anxious feelings are at play.
The Appropriate Response to Anxiousness and Stress
First and foremost, becoming aware of a feeling is the first step to overcoming it. If the above descriptions and details have resonated with you, you are already halfway towards managing your feelings healthily. We could call this insight improved self-awareness and that in itself can help us to feel more in control; the fact that we know ourselves and our feelings better than we did before.
Secondly, we must accept that true, healthy self-awareness does not involve any self-analysis, self-criticism or self-judgement. We can often become our own biggest enemies when we recognise our unhelpful habits but that can cause us to label ourselves negatively and feel worse. Being self-aware means that we are simply noticing our thoughts and feelings and purely accepting ourselves as a human being. There is no need to think beyond just being aware. This goes for our feelings, too. We might not like certain feelings such as anxiousness and stress, but the truth is that we can never stop them. Our feelings are part of who we are; they are what make us human and feelings like anxiousness and stress can play a huge part in helping us progress, develop and grow. Judging, analysing, escaping, or denying our feelings suggests that we are unfairly dismissing an important part of our human condition. It could even be preventing us from making a change that is needed to become a better person, in both our business and personal lives. Acceptance on the other hand has the power to drive us towards healthy change.
Thirdly, a helpful response to stress and anxiety is to acknowledge that these feelings are simply signs; signs that we need something more in our lives and that a situation is demanding more from us. As mentioned earlier, our feelings appear for a reason and seeing them as a sign can help us to move beyond the judgment and self-criticism we mentioned earlier. Human beings have evolved to intellectualise all events and situations. We most often rely on the brain’s logic to make sense of our circumstances and are too often stuck in our thoughts. However, our emotions can teach us a huge amount if we pay attention to them, too. We can help ourselves to move out of uncomfortable feelings by exploring them rather than jumping straight into analysis-mode. Anxiousness and stress could be an indication that:
Anything that is unfamiliar has the possibility of creating uncertainty. These could be things such as new goals, a new year, new processes, new strategies, in fact anything that feels “new”. A new space is often the perfect breeding ground for anxious and stressful thoughts. However, our feelings can help us to navigate our way through the “new” by reminding us to use the support available to us, to stay connected, to keep things simple and of course to trust ourselves with evidence of what we have already achieved. All these tools build our self-esteem and confidence; the ultimate antidotes to anxiousness and stress. Make use of them and keep going!
Look after you.
Managing Director / Psychotherapist
Chakra Corporate Mental Strength
Chakra Corporate Mental Strength supports businesses of all shapes and sizes with creating mentally healthy workplace cultures. We empower your people with the knowledge and tools to look after their own mental health. Our team of qualified therapists facilitate motivating wellbeing workshops, practical manager training programmes and solution-focused counselling sessions to reduce the sickness absence and underperformance that results from staff being stressed, anxious and feeling low.