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THAT ANXIETY REACHED historically high levels during the Covid pandemic is not surprising. The previously unknown virus aroused a mix of uncertainty, fear and lack of control that is the perfect brew to put people on edge. Yet, more than two years later, with the threat having receded and most of life returned to normal, anxiety remains elevated.

Today, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issue in the U.S., affecting one in three adults, according to data from the National Institute of Mental Health. The rates are even higher among business owners with one recent study from the University of California, San Francisco finding half of all entrepreneurs surveyed suffered from conditions such as anxiety and depression. The reasons likely have to do with the wide-ranging responsibilities business owners shoulder as well as their constant focus on the vagaries of the future.

Vision pros appear no different. According to INVISION’s Brain Squad of eyecare business owners and managers, when asked how often they get severely anxious about business-related matters, 9% said almost every day, 17% maybe once a week and 16% said a couple of times a month. That’s 42% of ECPs in decision-making positions reporting they experience severe anxiety on a monthly basis. Anxiety is a fact of life for many ECPs, one respondent shared: “Several years ago I went to the ER because I thought I was having a heart attack, come to find out it was a panic attack. From that time, I shifted the way I run my business, care for my team and care for my patients. It all starts with personal growth.” But the remaining 58% aren’t totally in the clear; 38% report feeling severely anxious a few times a year and only 20% cited they pretty much never experienced work-related severe anxiety. (Many of our Brain Squad respondents requested that they not be identified in relation to this issue, so throughout this story you will see un-named Brain Squad members quoted.)

From an evolutionary perspective, anxiety is easy to understand. It’s the emotion-fueled drive to know if a danger lurks around the bend. Compared to other animals, it gave humans a tremendous advantage. Of course, we no longer live on the savannah and when we leave home we can confidently assume we’ll return in one piece. Yet anxiety persists, a relentless fear-based planning scenario with no off-switch.

From a physiological standpoint, what happens when we get anxious, perhaps triggered by a thought that we may upset an employee with needed criticism, not have the money to meet payroll, or may blow a deadline, is that a structure in the brain called the amygdala — the seat of fear — gets fired up and releases stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, as well as glucose, into the bloodstream. Our heart, sweat glands and mental faculties all ramp up. We are now primed for a fight (or flight) for survival … which is happening entirely in our heads. It’s discomforting and exhausting.

Unlike other physiological sensations such as pain, hunger, or loneliness, that provoke specific responses — treat a wound, eat, or go find company — what’s odd and annoying about anxiety is that is that it doesn’t abate even when you take efforts to fend off the threat. It hangs around feeding on itself. And it’s not even very good at defining or predicting danger. Studies show that when we lack definite information, we make very poor judgments, and we do so in predictable ways. We’re notoriously terrible at assessing risk; we worry about all the wrong things. We rely on anecdotes rather than data. We fear events that bring vivid imagery to mind, such as shark or terrorist attacks, but not cheeseburgers and road accidents, though the latter are far more of a threat. (In studies, people are willing to spend more on travel insurance that would pay out $100,000 for death by terrorism than for insurance that would pay the same for death from any cause.). Compounding the torment is that our brains seem wired to resist uncertainty. (You have may heard of studies showing most people would rather receive a shock NOW that’s twice as painful as receiving a random shock in the next 24 hours).


For some people, those worries create a debilitating negative spiral that can take over their lives. (And if anxiety is inhibiting your ability to function, to work, sleep and do even simple things like go out of the house, we recommend you seek professional help.) But even people without such disorders, overthinking, ruminating and angst can limit our ability to enjoy life to the fullest while also limiting our professional growth.

The standard advice to deal with anxiety is to live more fully in the present — embrace the moment! Be here now! Bring calm to your mind. But that is fiendishly difficult to do, as anyone who has tried even the most basic mindfulness exercise can quickly attest.

There’s no running from anxiety. Suppressing doesn’t work; medication only masks the problem by providing temporary relief. And trying to control the future not only temps fate but seems to reinforce a focus on the future that makes anxiety worse. It’s our constant efforts to eliminate the negative that cause us to feel anxious, insecure and unhappy in the first place.

What to do? There’s no quick fix. It’s a fight you can’t win. In short, dealing with anxiety essentially involves learning to bend and roll with life’s punches and applying a heavy dose of reframing.

First, know that a life without challenge would be boring. Indeed, being alive means being alive to vexing situations. Abandon your need to establish complete security and you realize you never needed it in the first place.

Second, as the Stoics liked to say: the obstacle is the way. The path to growth is to do difficult things. That necessitates engaging with your anxieties and fears and getting used to them being around. That doesn’t, however, imply you need to become subservient to them. Rather, consider the writer Elizabeth Gilbert’s approach, which essentially involves treating anxiety like an annoying younger sibling. The trick isn’t to ignore fear or worry, or destroy it, and definitely not to obey it, but to make space for it. She uses the analogy of a road trip. “Fear always comes along for the ride, and that’s fine — but that doesn’t mean you need to let it anywhere near the steering wheel.”

In the following pages, we suggest ways for you to do that, as well as tips provided by our readers, mental health experts and psychology writers on actions to take when anxiety strikes, strategies to help you cope, and ways to build your resilience.



The onset of anxiety has been compared to a hijacking of your amygdala, that more primal part of your brain responsible for your fight-or-flight response. The key is thus to re-engage your thinking brain, convince it you are actually safe, and talk your mind down from the edge. And one of the best ways to do that is with deep breathing, which raises oxygen levels and helps expunge the carbon dioxide that builds up when you’re stressed. “Deep breathes are so helpful for me when it comes to anxiety,” shared a Brain Squad member out of New York. “I’ve been known to take a loud, deep breathe in public causing those around me to assume something is wrong. Nope, just me getting rid of a little stress.” The 4-7-8 method (inhale for four seconds, hold for seven and exhale for eight) — is probably the best known but box breathing (see here) — a method used by the Navy SEALS that also involves slow, controlled breathing — or the double inhale championed by popular podcaster Dr. Andrew Huberman (see here), are alternatives.

Overcome Your Anxiety with These 30 Tips to Kick

Play the 5-5-5 Game

Another way to halt ruminating about possible dire future events and get back to the present is to take stock of your immediate physical surroundings with a method known as the 5-5-5 game:

  • Look around and name five things you can see.
  • List five things you can hear.
  • Move five parts of your body you can feel (i.e. rotate your ankle, wiggle your ears, nod your head up and down).
  • Other physical interventions recommended as circuit-breakers for spiraling thoughts include taking a cold shower or dip in a pool, or sniffing lavender oil.

Listen to This Music

A little over a decade ago, British musicians teamed up with sound therapists to engineer a song specifically designed to calm the nervous system by lowering a person’s heart rate, blood pressure, and levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The 8-minute song, called WEIGHTLESSNESS (see here), was was found to reduce anxiety by up to 65%. “The song … contains a sustaining rhythm that starts at 60 beats per minute and gradually slows to around 50,” Lyz Cooper, founder of the British Academy of Sound Therapy, told INC. Magazine. “While listening, your heart rate gradually comes to match that beat.”

Overcome Your Anxiety with These 30 Tips to Kick

Name the Trap

According to Dan Harris, the broadcast journalist and author of TEN PERCENT HAPPIER, naming or labeling the thought patterns bedeviling you converts the vague threat they pose into something concrete you can deal with. “Just labeling it, just calling it out, and saying it out loud … It’s the visibility that is the kryptonite for the ego. That seeing it really de-fangs it, which is kind of amazing. And that can happen in a minute,” he said on a recent podcast. Identifying the thoughts and telling yourself “This is a panic attack”/“This is catastrophizing”/“This is mind reading”/“This is fortune-telling”/“This is black and white thinking” … allows you to regain power by realizing you’ve encountered it before — and survived. This storm will also pass. “There’s nothing I need to do.”

Overcome Your Anxiety with These 30 Tips to Kick

Divert Your Attention

A screaming baby, faced with a grownup making silly noises, will often fall silent; it can’t focus on being distressed and intrigued at the same time. Adults aren’t so different (ever tried playing Sudoku while ranting internally?). It has to do with our limited attentional bandwidth and why even minor acts of distraction — listening to music and focusing intently on the words, doing some basic math, focusing on the needs of others — can be very good ways to silence negative thoughts or buy time until emotions die down. “My most common strategy for dealing with anxiety is distraction,” confirmed an ECP out of Ohio. “I distract with music or talking about something else. Just long enough to calm myself down.” It’s important to distinguish healthy distraction from unhealthy avoidance, however. Binging on Netflix for 20 hours is more like unhealthy avoidance, when an issue obviously needs to be confronted.

Talk the Self-Talk

Cognitive therapy’s main insight — that how we THINK about a situation determines how we FEEL, so by addressing distorted thinking, we can feel better — is now such a self-help mainstay, it’s hard to appreciate how revolutionary it was 50 years ago, when psychotherapy was fixated on unpacking subconscious drives. Yet, as well as its message is now understood, it is still easy to forget it when you feel yourself in the grip of anxiety. “It can be tricky at first but these irrational ‘automatic thoughts’ that anxiety arouses usually come in the form of absolutistic musts, shoulds, oughts, and other demands such as ‘I must do well,’ ‘Others ought to treat me well,’ ‘Things need to work out the way I want them to,’” notes psychology blogger Eric Barker, citing the work of the pioneering cognitive psychologist Albert Ellis. This allows you to play a helpful game of “Find the Irrational Belief” when confronted with anxious feelings and then dispute it.

Next, turn those “musts” into realistic preferences. This thought: “I absolutely must do well during this presentation or my life is over,” can be converted into: “I’d like to do well but if I don’t it almost certainly won’t be that big a deal,” and the emotions will dial down.

Overcome Your Anxiety with These 30 Tips to Kick

Ask Questions

The unknown is the playground of anxiety. Take these wise words from a Brain Squad member in Ohio, “Running a business is like being married. It starts out super exciting, and as the years go by, you settle into a comfortableness, which can often result in taking your spouse for granted. This is not good in marriage, nor business. However, when you know how to maintain them, you can anticipate what the business or your spouse needs, and the anxiety caused by the unknown dissipates.” So in this battle with the irrational thoughts that tend to drive anxiety and identifying the “unknown” that is bedeviling you it helps to have a battery of questions to support you. One of the best, from meditation teacher Sylvia Boorstein, is: Is this useful? Worrying about say an upcoming client meeting can feel like you’re doing something substantial about a potential problem but in truth you’re not. You’re likely ruminating, stuck in a loop, having the same thought over and over. This is particularly the case when it involves something you have no control over — the weather, the stock market, the Senate run-off in Georgia. Come to terms with the fact that it’s out of your control. “The things that ARE in your control, you can manage just fine. So do yourself and the people closest to you a favor: Take it easy, do one thing at a time, and then refocus again on what’s immediately in front of you,” writes Marcel Schwantes in INC. Pepper your amygdala with questions: “What’s the threat here? What am I actually afraid of? Have I heard this before?” Such questions fire off the prefrontal cortex, which can relieve the anxiety.

Say an Affirmation

In the face of assault on our equanimity by anxiety, it can help to cling to short, somewhat positive statements, to remind yourself that this mental storm is being caused by a transient and ultimately unimportant event. Such as:

  • “It wasn’t that bad in the past.”
  • “It won’t last forever. This too shall pass.”
  • “This is going to be a good time… or a good story.”

An ECP in Georgia shared their three-part approach to tackling anxiety: “When I’m truly stressed a few things work well. For me: prayer works best. Next, the old adage

“Will this matter in five years,” helps. Last, refocusing on what’s important. If it’s not my faith, family or true friends, it’s likely a smaller issue/out of my control/going to be just fine.”

While an optical in Tennessee has their own mantra: “‘It’s just glasses.’ Yes, they are important, but it is not life and death. We do our best to keep all the balls in the air and make all the patients happy but sometimes things fall through the cracks. When this happens it’s time to make apologies to patients and show grace to the lab.”


Trust in Yourself

Trust that you have the physical and psychological resources to overcome this dreaded event that lies ahead or if something fails to go the way you want … just as you have so many times in the past. Talking of his propensity to fret about the unknown future, the writer Oliver Burkeman notes: “And of course the answer in every case — though apparently I need to keep relearning this lesson — is that we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. We’ll figure it out then, based on what’s actually happening then, drawing on the internal and external resources we’ll have access to then. After all, when you stop to think about it, there isn’t really much of an alternative. When else can you cross a bridge, except when you come to it?” As a Brain Squad out of Idaho puts it: “I have some survival skills under my belt — meaning, I’ve been ‘through the fire’ a few times in the industry and having come out just fine — makes me far less anxious when stressful work situations come up now. I know we can handle it, even if it hurts a bit.”

Write It Down

If you’re particularly prone to catastrophizing, health experts say it can help to get the thoughts out of your head and down on paper. Dr. Martin Seligman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of TOMORROWMIND, recommends creating an Anxiety Balance Sheet to turn your mental state around. The method: On a piece of paper, create four columns titled: “What Do I Know”/ “What Don’t I Know” / “What Can I Influence” And “What Can’t I Influence.” Then spend a few minutes filling in the columns. “About 80% of the people I’ve worked this through with are surprised that they have more items listed in columns one and three (the “good” columns) than they do in columns two and four,” he told TIME. “There’s some liberation in just outlining what’s making you crazy and realizing that there may be many balancing positives to those issues that are vexing you. In sum, just the act of unpacking your anxiety bag and knowing what’s inside, can have a profound effect on reducing your fear of the future.”

Dwell on the Worst-Case Scenario

“Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ‘Is this the condition that I feared?’” The world is a far less turbulent place than when Seneca uttered that thought 2,000 years ago, but it has lost none of its saliency. Articulate your deepest fears in fine detail and you’ll likely find you can handle whatever eventuates. The blogger Tim Ferriss, who has probably done as much as anyone to re-popularize Stoic thinking, recounts on his blog how he used this approach to tame fears related to a major life decision: “A funny thing happened: as soon as I cut through the vague unease and ambiguous anxiety by defining my nightmare, the worst-case scenario, I wasn’t as worried about taking the trip. Suddenly, I started thinking of (ways) to get back on track if all hell struck at once. I could always take a temporary bartending job to pay the rent. I could sell some furniture and cut back on eating out. I could steal lunch money from the kindergarteners who passed by my apartment every morning. The options were many. I realized it wouldn’t be that hard to get back to where I was, let alone survive. None of these things would be fatal—not even close.”

Postpone Your Worries

Not prepared to stare your fears in the face? Schedule a meeting with them for later. “Try setting aside 20 minutes every day, let’s say at 4:30 PM, just for your worries. If you are fretting at 10:00 AM, jot down the reason and resolve to think it through later,” Dr. Robert L. Leahy, director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy, suggested to REAL SIMPLE. Safe in the knowledge, that your concerns will be addressed, you can get on with your life. And it may just turn out, the issue vexing you will take care of itself in the meantime. Psychotherapists call techniques such as postponement “metacognitive,” meaning that they make you aware of your habitual thought processes, and therefore are effective longer than, say, trying to assuage a particular worry by addressing its specific content, battling the related emotions, or even suppressing it.

Take Action … Any Action

Action is the enemy of anxiety. Someone no less self-assured than Jeff Bezos has talked about how this plays out in his business life: “I find that as soon as I can identify it, and make the first phone call, or send off the first email, it dramatically reduces the stress I feel.” Thus the advice when you feel yourself falling into rumination, is to DO something, anything! Yet the problem is anxiety also happens to be the enemy of action. When you’re feeling trapped by intrusive, repetitive worry it’s hard to raise the energy to do anything. The solution? Set the bar really low. It’s especially the case if your brand of anxiety comes with the taint of perfectionism. A Brain Squad member out of Tennessee shared said: “I am a time management person. Always ahead of schedule, to do list checked off and nothing messes with this more than a lack of employees. There were boxes of frames to be added to inventory piled around, stacks of reports, invoices, credits, returns awaiting sloppily at the far end of my desk, and me and the one other optician doing the job of five. What were we to do? We cannot make people apply for jobs. I had to step back and keep it in perspective. Our patients were well taken care of, the other optician and I know that we make a great team, and the rest can wait.”

Call a Friend

One of the cruel ironies of anxiety is that people often know the right responses when a friend or colleague is struggling with mental turmoil but can’t apply them when afflicted themselves. It is why health professionals recommend trying to add some distance to the problem, such as asking yourself what counsel you would offer a friend or a team member in a similar situation, or even talking to yourself in the third person. That’s what tennis great Ivan Lendl would do, as he explained via a post on “Say you’re nervous before a match, you admit it to yourself. You say, “Shit, Ivan is nervous today. But he’s going to snap out of it.’ You describe what you are feeling, and then you let go of it. And it’s over.” Or as this Texas ECP conceptualized, “I cope by reminding myself that all you can do, is all you can do. This works well in situations where you are trying to accomplish more than what you have time to do. I share this with staff who are feeling a lot of pressure to get things done.”


Understand the Triggers

According to some mental health literature, the 80/20 approach can also be applied to anxiety. Identify the 20% of issues or people that create 80% of your anxiety and seek ways to remove them from your life. If scrolling through social media leads to an unhealthy fixation on your appearance, avoid this specific trigger, Jodie Louise Russell, a doctoral student who studies the philosophy of rumination in depression and anxiety at the University of Edinburgh, told the NEW YORK TIMES. “Pay attention to situations that spike your anxiety — whether that’s getting feedback, writing important emails, being put on the spot, or starting the day with a messy desk. Keep a journal and look for patterns. When you know what makes you the most uneasy, you can better anticipate challenges and create a plan to deal with triggers.”


Social media can serve as a salutary distraction (funny YouTube videos have been shown to help people deal with anxious thoughts) or to provide some validation or comfort via interaction is with friends. But more often Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok — all of which are driven by algorithms designed to provoke emotional responses — will likely exacerbate negative feelings or just arouse guilt over wasted time. In his series of books on the theme of the benefits of doing “deep work” in an undistracted environment, Cal Newport, has made a strong case for unplugging or setting strict boundaries around your phone use (e.g. leave it In your entry way when you return home). If unplugging is unrealistic use the “mute,” “block,” “unfollow” or “not interested” functions to ensure that it least you are the one in control of the information flow.

Overcome Your Anxiety with These 30 Tips to Kick

In eyecare where a social media presence and staying on top of your reviews are just part of the job, take a word of advice from this ECP in Tennessee to keep these things in perspective, “Things used to bother me a lot more when I first opened my practice. I would obsess over any negative review or patient who was less than thrilled. Being 10 plus years into private practice ownership, I now accept that some people really want to be unhappy no matter what you do to help them. I know that for any down times, there will be good times that follow. It’s easier to see the big picture.”

Journal to Unwind

It can seem at times that writing exercises are prescribed as a way to deal with every mental condition — and if you hated doing homework in high school (or work with words for a living), it’s probably the last thing you want to do. But the psychological benefits of externalizing thoughts via journaling are well-established, and you may indeed find the results revolutionary. There is no one set of best practice — but setting some rough guidelines for regular practice can help: Promise to do it for six minutes, or for three pages, do it first thing in the morning, destroy after finishing, archive them …. Whatever rules you come up, it’s usually best to keep the exercise solo, your own private domain to work through the thoughts that may be eating your mind. “Writing allows us to witness our thoughts as separate entities, to get them out of your head. Many of us are living life as if our thoughts are reality. Write down all your thought stream, uncensored. Let them flow and watch them leave the mind,” says the clinical psychologist Nicole LePera, author of HOW TO DO THE WORK.

Mind Sweep

The organizational guru David Allen has built a vast international following with the idea that getting stuff out of your head and on to a to-do list is a path to mental calm and achievement. “Nothing changes when you write things down except how you engage with your issues: You can be objective and also be creative and intuitive. Your head is for having ideas, not holding ideas. Without exception, you will feel better,” he says. Allen’s GETTING THINGS DONE system starts with a “mind sweep,” meaning listing all the tasks and responsibilities that need tending to, and which typically takes a business owners six hours to complete. The second crucial principle is what Allen calls “next action” thinking — his version of the homily “A journey of a thousand miles …” but which also encompasses the problematic issue of prioritization. And finally his “weekly review” — an hour or so spent going over the list of all long-term projects and short-term next actions — which he says is a must to keep you on track.

If the very idea of an endless to-do list causes you angst, add a Kanban system that stores all your to-dos out of sight and out of mind, other than for the tiny handful that you’re working on right now.


The word “routine” can be a pejorative, but it can also be a mind saver. “Routines help reduce general feelings of anxiety and are often effective antidotes for those with more serious mental health disorders,” writes Charlotte Lieberman in the HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW. “Doing the same thing at regular intervals signals to our brains that we are safe. Call it a routine, a ritual, an anchor — whatever resonates,” she says.

Overcome Your Anxiety with These 30 Tips to Kick

Eliminate Stimulants

In THE ANATOMY OF ANXIETY, Dr. Ellen Vora uses the phrase “false anxiety” to encompass the agitated state that can arise from not enough sleep, forgetting to eat breakfast, or simply too much coffee. An elevated heart rate, shaking hands, quivering voice, the general jitters, could be a panic attack, or it could just be the result of six shots of caffeine. Be aware and cut back on your consumption if that’s you. And to those Brain Squad respondents who jokingly cited drinking as a coping mechanism… lovingly, that’s likely not helping either. Besides, who needs outside influences when we have sublimation? You can always channel this Colorado ECP: “I do better when I am anxious, it is more motivating than coffee!”

Overcome Your Anxiety with These 30 Tips to Kick

Learn From the Past

The problems you’re experiencing today seem fraught and important, but that’s mainly because you’re so narrowly focused on the present. This is the reasoning behind the old suggestion to ask yourself if your worries will matter on your deathbed, or in a decade. But you can do better than look hopefully into the future — look at the past instead. Try this exercise, as recommended by Burkeman: Every morning, make a brief note of what feels like your biggest problem. As the list accumulates, you can review earlier entries. “Guess how many months it took for my former worries to seem laughably overblown? Five days: that’s how many months …” he writes. “But that wasn’t the interesting part: what stood out was how many times reality bore no relationship to anything I’d anticipated. I’d worry about some event going badly, but instead of going badly or well, it’d be cancelled. I would worry about how I’d handle some crucial conversation, but by the time it arrived, circumstances had changed, and it wasn’t crucial at all. My gut feelings weren’t so much overly negative as simply irrelevant.” As Mark Twain so deftly put it 150 years ago: “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” Or as a Brain Squad member in Georgia confirmed, “My first few years as a business owner and doctor were stressful, but, with time you notice rhythms and learn to trust your efforts. Focusing on having integrity is something you are in control of. The rest can’t be managed.”

Bathe in Nature

“Working outside is also helpful,” stated a Virginia ECP. “I try to get out of the office to think and get wise counsel from my spouse and friends in other businesses.” And there is research to support that. From 2004 to 2012, Japanese scientists spent $4 million studying the physiological impact of “forest bathing,” or spending time around trees. They found it reduces anxiety, boosts the immune system, and amplifies feelings of wellbeing. But you don’t need a forest. Time spent in any natural setting, parks, among animals (pets or wild) or near bodies of water can all relax the mind. For that matter, researchers at the University of Hyogo in Japan say that simply putting small plants on workers’ desks in an office “contributed to their psychological stress reduction regardless of their age or choice of plants.” The reason seems to be related to the way nature absorbs some of our attention in an undemanding way, giving us “cognitive quiet” and allowing our minds to relax as opposed to the relentless, aggressive demands on our attention made by much of the rest of the world, say U.S. academics Rachel and Stephen Kaplan.

Overcome Your Anxiety with These 30 Tips to Kick

Try Mindfulness

It’s almost a point of heresy to say you should expect something from meditation, but let’s put that to one side and consider its two key benefits when it comes to dealing with anxiety: In the immediate moment, meditation allows you to interrupt your thought patterns enough that you can break the cycle of anxiety. By focusing on some abstract element like your breath or a stone or a mantra it creates a pause between the stimulus and the response. At a more proficient level, meditation allows you to examine your thoughts more deeply. “And that self-awareness, that regular sort of systematized collision we’re engineering in meditation with the voice in your head, that is revolutionary because as soon as you start to see how chaotic your mind is, that’s the first step toward not being owned by it,” says Harris. In his book, THE UNTETHERED SOUL, Michael Singer likens the chatter in your head to a crazy roommate. Through meditation, Singer says, you eventually learn to see your thoughts as distinct from you and learn to tell that roommate to shut up, to start justifying his claims, or at some level you just learn dismiss them as a kind of paranoid rambling. And your colleagues are embracing it if this Michigan Brain Squad member can be considered a sample size of one: “I have started meditating and trying yoga and Pilates to relieve the stress and anxiety from the day to day of work and life to find more balance.”


Stay Healthy

Diet, rest and exercise. The science is clear: People who take care of themselves, are less prone to anxious thoughts. According to neuroscientists out of UC Berkeley (see here), when you don’t get enough sleep, your brain’s amygdala and insular cortex both light up in a pattern similar to the abnormal neural activity of people with anxiety disorders. Meanwhile, a large-scale study of almost 200,000 cross-country skiers (see here) found that being physically active halves the risk of developing clinical anxiety over time. The study, from Sweden, focused on skiing, but the researchers said almost any kind of aerobic activity likely helps protect us against excessive worry and dread.

Build Social Connections

Humans have evolved to be social creatures and yet much in modern society — from the way our cities are structured, to the myth of individualism, to social media — is eroding the bonds between us at the cost of our mental health. Reasserting the primacy of human connection in your life — by being deliberate in creating new friendships, socializing with the family and colleagues outside the home or workplace — can thus be vital to dealing with anxiety, not just by boosting mood, but having someone to talk to when assailed by anxiety. As the author and anxiety therapist Mike Shel puts it: “Until a person feels understood, all the information in the world, all the data, all the scientific understanding of the process and coping strategies are for naught. A person needs to feel that someone gets what they are struggling with.”


Exposure therapy is the full realization of a tip mentioned earlier — testing to see if your thoughts are valid. Only rather than a mind game it involves physically confronting your fears. If someone gets very anxious around spiders, the method would be to put them in closer and closer proximity to spiders until they learn much of their fear is unfounded. For social anxiety, it might involve something as simple as going up to 10 people and asking for the time. Such a regimen allows you to see nothing bad really happens and much of your imaginings are irrational. Habituate yourself to fear and it loses its power and control over you, notes Barker, calling such habituation the “gold standard” therapy for dealing with triggered anxieties.


Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE) are a self-help technique designed to help release deeply held physical and emotional tension stored in the body. Advocates say TRE helps to release this tension and restore balance and wellbeing, improving an individual’s ability to cope with stress and reducing anxiety. Yes, it seems a little kooky, but the evidence is robust, and if not much is working to reduce your anxiety, you may want to give it a try. You can watch an 8-minute introductory video here.


Show Yourself Some Compassion

Business coach Jerry Colonna says there are three basic risks that we’re all trying to manage: love, safety, and belonging. It’s the existential fear that these needs could be threatened that is at the root of so much anxiety, he says. “I know for myself that the fear of disappointing others is a threat to my belonging. I’m not going to be in my family anymore. My children won’t love me. My partners won’t love me. I will be unsafe. I will be bereft. I’ll be alone in the woods, fending for myself …” And so goes the catastrophizing spiral. The key to dealing with such irrational thinking is self-compassion and accepting the fullness of ourselves’ he argues in his book REBOOT: LEADERSHIP AND THE ART OF GROWING UP: “‘I am enough and I’m doing the best that I can.’ And if I can say that to myself every day in one form or another, that can be helpful.” To help bring your mind around to such a perspective, he recommends journaling (regularly using “I am enough” as a prompt) and metta meditation, aka “loving-kindness meditation.” Yes, it sounds woo-woo, as Colonna acknowledges himself, but when it comes to anxiety we are often our own our worst enemy given the primary source of our negative thoughts is ultimately ourselves. One Tennessee Brain Squad member recalls: “There was a big disconnect between the staff and management. I would read leadership books, articles, etc. every night to try to find a solution. I would lay awake at night thinking what could be done to make things better. But I finally realized all I could control was me and how I reacted to things. I cannot control how others react and behave.” So try it yourself and cut yourself some slack. Then try a low dose of metta meditation. You may find it transformative.

Reframe Anxiety

Tech entrepreneur Naval Ravikant has wondered publicly if he would have been as successful if he “wasn’t as anxious, because anxiety comes from fear and it’s also a motivator. It makes you get off your butt.” It’s an interesting view and a reminder that true mental health comes from recognizing and accepting the complete spectrum of emotions. Indeed, when we feel bad, the answer isn’t to stifle those emotions or berate ourselves. “Rather, we need to understand what they’re for,” Dr. Emiliana Simon-Thomas, science director at Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center told TIME, arguing we should relate to unpleasant emotions in a way “that’s more restorative —more growth- and learning-oriented.” Perhaps such feelings are signal that we’re following the wrong path with our business or relationships, or distress at the state of the world and a sense we should take action. Instead of trying to erase this sensation, we should embrace it, she says, and view anxiety as a tool and an ally.

Get Used to Being Uncomfortable

None of this is to say anxiety will feel any better. It’s evolutionary roots as a warning system mean it will always feel at least uncomfortable. Anxiety becomes maladaptive when it paralyzes. The answer is thus to appreciate that we humans are “anti-fragile’” — we strengthen and grow when challenged. When we know what’s required and can marshal the resources to cope with them, scary things become challenges rather than threats. In the words of the late psychologist Susan Jeffers, “feel the fear and do it anyway.”



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