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5 ways to make your anxiety work for you rather than against you

5 ways to make your anxiety work for you rather than against you

Remember that anxiety is, at its root, always simply about our thoughts. Anxiety is a fear of something that might happen in the future. Have you ever been worried about things that haven’t happened yet? That’s anxiety right  there. It is normal to sometimes feel concern about future events, so make your anxiety work for you rather than against you.

Use your anxiety to identify positive changes you need to make.

No one likes feeling stressed or anxious. Always remember that anxiety is simply one of nature’s signposts for change. You may feel that racing heart beating, feel a bit breathless or a dull feeling in your tummy. These anxiety symptoms will be because your mind is concerned about something and your mind wants you to find a solution. In ancient times anxiety was normally about an immanent danger. For our ancestors the solution was often to either stand and fight or get out of there and flee. Today we still have an anxiety response to events that feel worrying.

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In today’s hectic world, our fears are more about work, family or personal issues than any imminent danger. Consider what is really worrying you and then create a plan of action to deal with the source of stress. If you are anxious about an exam or work presentation, sit down and thoroughly prepare. Remember that anxiety is lowered when you know clearly how to cope with the stressful situation.

Use your anxiety to identify what is important to you.

Have you ever got annoyed about something that you don’t care about? That was a trick question, of course! We only feel concern about those people or events that we actually care about. If you didn’t love someone, you wouldn’t worry about their safety. If you didn’t want that new job then you wouldn’t get nervous for the interview. If you feel guilty since you aren’t motivated to do an activity or project, perhaps don’t use that as a stick with which to beat yourself up. Your lack of concern isn’t always laziness. If the activity really was meaningful for you, then you would indeed be motivated to act. Here your lack of anxiety may in fact point to this activity not being as important as you perhaps originally thought it to be.

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Look after your well being when under stress.

It is common to want to press ahead and put life on hold until you have dealt with the anxiety producing situation or source of stress. Don’t allow stress to prevent you looking after yourself. We all need to eat healthily, have ways to relax and ways to get gentle exercise. Don’t tell yourself that it is okay to neglect your health and well being. In fact the opposite is the case. It is really exactly during those times when you feel higher levels of stress or anxiety, that exercise and relaxation are very important. Don’t put looking after your well being on hold.

Use anxiety as an opportunity for self growth.

Sometimes we find it hard to accept events to be simply as they are. This leads to feelings of stress and anxiety. Decide what you can control and what you can change. Let go of what is holding you back from just accepting things as they truly are. Sitting in traffic can feel stressful until you discover the liberating feeling of just allowing things to be just as they are. You can’t control the weather, the traffic, other people’s behaviour or the outcome of many events. Allow stress and anxiety to be reminders to let go of wanting to always be in control. Take a flexible approach since, let’s be honest, though you may feel like you are doing something, often getting stressed will have absolutely no effect on the outcome. Work hard to make the changes that are needed but don’t allow events to govern how you feel inside. Practices such as Mindfulness, help you stay flexible in thought, whilst still being focused on what needs to be achieved.

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Anxiety is not your enemy.

It is okay to sometimes feel stressed and it’s okay to be worried about aspects of life. See your emotions as guides to help you make positive changes. Healthy responses to anxiety and stress are about listening to your thoughts and hearing the messages from your body. If you feel worry, consider what to do. No one likes feeling worried or anxious. However don’t ignore these feelings or suppress them.

Do you ever use an unhealthy or addictive behavior pattern to avoid feeling anxious or worried? Smoking, drinking too much alcohol, drug use, zoning out in front of the television, staring at your smartphone or your tablet, are all examples of behaviors often used to avoid dealing with feelings such as anxiety. Are you ever busy just to be busy or overeat when feeling stressed? Notice any common unhealthy behavior habits. Sometimes we can get addicted to things which initially feel positive such as going to gym or exercise. Do you ever overexercise as a way to feel better about feeling anxious? Notice any habits which seem to have gotten a little unhealthy. This pattern may be there to help you avoid thinking about a fear or concern that needs attention. Find ways to relax that leave your mind relaxed and body calm.

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(Of course we are talking here about reasonable level of anxiety. If you are feeling a constant feeling of anxiety without any clear cause seek the advice of suitable professional such as your GP.)

Featured photo credit: irl-looking-at-the-sea-through-sunglasses via picjumbo.com

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

3. Move Your Body

A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

4. Connect With Another Person

Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

5. Use Your Imagination

When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

Final Thoughts

Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

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Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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