Are you a worrywart?
Do you worry more than others?
Are you the one who sees all the potential disasters waiting round the corner?
Is it you who speaks out first, warning of the “what ifs”?
Are you the one who loses sleep worrying while others slumber peacefully?
Worrying is not bad in itself. It can be useful to remind ourselves of potential mishaps so we are prepared for all eventualities.
But too much worry is unhelpful. It can diminish performance and irritate others.
It can morph into excessive anxiety. People with anxiety disorders experience fear or worry that is out of proportion to the circumstances resulting in difficulty carrying out daily activities.
If that’s happening to you, you are not alone. While depression is the leading cause of workplace disability globally and affects over one million Australians, anxiety affects double that number.
With the prevalence of anxiety in our society increasing at an insane rate what matters is addressing the issues causing so much stress and worry and having the strategies to manage them.
As Robert Sapolsky said, “We’ve evolved to be smart enough to make ourselves sick.”
There are a number of highly effective strategies to help diminish the impact of excess worry, including exercise because it burns off the excess stress hormones, reframing what is worrying you to keep things in perspective, talking with others and getting enough sleep.
There is something else you could try as well.
When Luke was shortlisted for a managerial position at his work he was ecstatic, but also terrified that what he wanted so much, might all come to nothing.
As the days leading up to the final interview drew closer, Luke noticed he was feeling increasingly tense. He mentally rehearsed his prepared answers over and over in his head. He was preoccupied by his thoughts during the day of what he would do if he wasn’t offered the position. His dreams were becoming increasingly bizarre – getting lost on the way to the interview, or not being able to reply to a question.
He tried running off his anxiety after work, spent time talking about his concerns with his family and girl friend, but the worry was still getting him down.
Luckily a colleague who knew him quite well suggested something else.
Luke learnt a short meditative practice that allowed him to slow down his racing mind and observe his thoughts and feelings. By focusing on his breath he found he could notice his thoughts but not attach emotion to them. Luke started to feel a lot calmer. By the time of the day of the interview arrived, while he still had butterflies, his anxiety was at a much healthier level. He felt in control.
He got the promotion.
Luke still practices mindfulness, not everyday but several times a week, taking 15- 20 minutes to press pause and check in with his thoughts.
Mindfulness meditation can be a powerful tool to help allay some of the symptoms of anxiety. Once learned as a life skill, it is always available to you and can be practiced anywhere, any time.
Studies have shown that when you meditate the area of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) are activated. These areas are involved in our executive thinking – our planning, organising and decision-making.
The VMPFC is concerned with controlling worry whereas activation of the ACC the area associated with cognition and emotion helps reduce anxiety.
Some studies suggest that using meditation can alleviate anxiety by up to 39%.
If worry is getting you down, and anxiety is making your life difficult, what have you found useful to keep those negative emotions in check?
What difference could a couple of minutes of mindfulness meditation make to the amount of anxiety you feel on a daily basis?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
F. Zeidan, K. T. Martucci, R. A. Kraft, J. G. McHaffie, R. C. Coghill. Neural Correlates of Mindfulness Meditation-Related Anxiety Relief. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 2013; DOI: 10.1093/scan/nst041