Despite having a year under our belts of navigating working from home, the research shows that mental health issues like depression and anxiety are higher than ever.
Anxiety is an emotion, not a character flaw and shows up when you are too future-focused or your desire for control is too amplified.
In Chip Conley’s brilliant book, Emotional Equations, he defines anxiety as what you don’t know x what you can’t control.
Covid-19 feels like we are busy fixing the plane while flying it, and there are still many unknowns which doesn’t bode well for our already increasing anxiety levels.
The way to take your power back is to focus on what you can control, which begins with owning your headspace.
According to research conducted by the National Science Foundation, around 80% of our thoughts are negative — battling guilt, the inner critic and self-judgement.
We have around 12,000–60,000 thoughts daily, and the worst part is that these thoughts get recycled, and we have the same thoughts every day. Now, considering most of these thoughts are toxic, it’s a significant result.
Here are three mindset shifts you can adopt to move you from stress & overwhelm into calm confidence:
#1 There is no better moment than the one in front of me.
Time management is not just about scheduling your priorities, but equally identifying the tasks you should ignore. When you sit down to work on the proposal or presentation, your mind is wondering about the other five tasks you could work on too.
This mental tug-of-war results in distraction, multitasking and procrastination.
When you question yourself if it’s the best use of your time, remind yourself:
“There is no better moment than the one in front of me.”
Author Tim Grimes says it so beautifully:
“Everything is already perfect, whether you like it or not. You become at peace with the moment by recognizing that there’s nothing better than it. And you’ll feel and know this intimately because there’s a deep satisfaction when you’re just here now and not wanting anything else.”
Peace is to be found at this moment. It isn’t something we attain. When we go out looking for it, we miss the point. It isn’t meant to be sought out, at least in the way we traditionally believe. It’s what we allow ourselves to be”.
This mantra permits you to be in the present moment without trying to control or manipulate it. I find this mantra especially important in my non-work-related tasks or self-care activities.
The lack of boundaries between our work and personal time has resulted in guilt and fear when taking recovery time.
When you have the opportunity to relax with a book, chat with a friend or play a game with the kids, remind yourself that there is nothing better than this moment.
You can’t just think it; you need to consciously shut down the sabotaging conversation of the inner critic that tries to keep you from enjoying this time.
The way you do this is by interrupting the pattern with a powerful mantra or statement. If you don’t like my words, then choose one that resonates with you.
Even with every great intention of planning your self-care time, life can and will happen.
I wake up at 5 am to create space for meditation, yoga and journaling. This time works for me because my family is asleep, and I can give myself some undivided quality attention. Now this blissful hour doesn’t always go according to plan.
My daughter went through a phase when she woke up around 5:15 and there goes my sacred time. Instead of feeling resentful that this time has gone, I remind myself there is no better moment than being able to chat to her and play a good old game of dolls.
Dealing with an interruption is easier said than done, as we are all so starved for solitude, but the time will move on irrespective of how you choose to experience it.
How to build the contentment muscle:
Meditation and yoga is a great way to cultivate the mindset of contentment. Accept that you need to do nothing other than focus on your breath or the poses, even if it is for five minutes.
The frustration you feel on the mat that it’s boring or a waste of time is effective feedback. Notice how you are reacting to stillness and time on your own.
Practice staying for an extra minute past your comfort zone and then apply this attitude of contentment from the mat to all areas of your life.
I have built this muscle by trusting my process. I take an entire hour every morning for reflection and introspection through meditation, journaling and yoga. There are many mornings I am questioning if it’s the best use of my time when I could write or build a new workshop.
What I’ve learnt is that this process is part of my work; it gets me out of my head and my thinking mind. My best ideas come when I’m writing in my journal because I am relaxed and have made space for ideas to flow.
Ironically, I am more anxious without my practice, and I often have to remind myself that there is no better moment than the mat. And I am always grateful that I did.
#2 Life is happening for me, not to me.
Think back to a challenging time in your life. Perhaps you never got the job you wanted, you got retrenched or never got the house you were hoping for. It felt like the end of the world.
With the gift of hindsight, you could reflect and see the blessing in disguise. Did you land an even better job or meet someone unexpectedly? Only with reflection can you see how life happened for you.
What do you when you are in the dot?
Dealing with Covid and all its challenges — there isn’t enough of a path ahead to have perspective at this stage. Instead of feeling like life is against you, adopt the mantra that life is happening for you.
Even if it isn’t clear yet, remind yourself that growth comes from challenge. How have you changed because of the situation? Has it brought you closer to your family? Has it given you more time with the kids? Have you reinvented your business or found a fresh way of doing things?
I’m not saying it’s easy, but believing that life is happening for you will grow your resilience because you can find meaning and purpose in the tough times. You grow when times are hard, not when things are easy going.
Redirect your thinking with a better question such as “What is this here to teach me? How can I grow from this? My favourite question in these situations is from personal development expert Tony Robbins:
“How can I now appreciate this as a gift?”
How can you cultivate this attitude?
The way to practice this attitude is to cease labelling experiences. Imagine someone cut you off in traffic; you would be outraged and cursing the driver. Now imagine you found out that the reason for this reckless driving was because this person was rushing to the hospital because their child was in a car accident.
Immediately you are empathising with the person and wishing them a safe drive and good wishes. Without context, you cannot place a label on something.
Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night at 1 am? Your default is probably frustration and anxiety because you are worried that you need to be up in a few hours and have a huge presentation.
You then toss and turn and obsess on how exhausted you will be and have visions of it being a complete failure.
How about the next time that happens, say ‘how curious’? You can’t change the fact that you are awake, but you can choose to take some slow deep breaths and relax until you fall asleep again.
It’s easier said than done, but it is a far better choice and will leave you calmer.
Don’t be so quick to label a situation because it isn’t meeting your expected version of reality.
This is not inhibiting feelings but holding back judgement and merely allowing it to unfold instead of racing to the worst-case scenario, which hardly ever comes to fruition.
#3 This is on the way, not in the way.
Your working hours are no longer solely dedicated to your work, but come with a range of personal responsibilities too.
When work and life were geographically separated, you wouldn’t think twice about helping the kids with homework after your workday was done. You would even have a sense of pride about getting home slightly earlier to play a game with them.
Now you may face a homework request at 11 am or have to help an ageing parent in the middle of the day. Rather than viewing this as an interruption and getting yourself worked up, tell yourself that it is not in the way but on the way.
You cannot always control the interruptions, but you are in charge of how you show up to them. Choose to see these moments as an extension of your day rather than a disturbance.
How to cultivate this attitude?
When you feel your frustration growing, interrupt it with gratitude. Replace the phrase ‘I have to’ with ‘I get to’.
I get to take the kids to school; I get to have coffee with my partner in the middle of a workday. I know your world is hectic, and these interruptions cause you great anxiety, but you can’t change them. Rather than facing them with resentment, embrace them with gratitude.
Going back to my daughter’s example, she walked onto my yoga mat at 5:15 and insisted we colour in. I made a conscious choice to remind myself this is on the way, not in the way. I can look back on these moments with contentment and gratitude for the quality time with her.
Changing your language is not false-positive thinking; it shifts you away from the lens of lack and instead focuses on what you have.
In a nutshell, accept that your non-work-related tasks are essential. They are part of your life, not a barrier to getting to the actual stuff.
They are the actual stuff.
Make self-awareness your default.
There are many ways you can tackle anxiety, but the starting point is self-awareness. It is the ability to notice the signals from your body and your spiralling thoughts.
Anxiety is there to shine a spotlight that you are trying to control every aspect of your world or project a worst-case scenario of the future and bring it back to the present.
Failure to notice the spotlight will take you further down the stress rabbit hole; once you are aware of it, you can choose how you want to show up to it.
One morning, my gate jammed as I about to take the kids to school. It took about ten minutes to put it on manual, which meant we would arrive a few minutes late. My son has learnt the value of punctuality and was so worried about arriving late and what his teacher would say.
Rather than get stressed about it, I reframed the situation and asked myself a better question:
How can I make this a teachable moment?
I explained to him how we cannot always control everything, and the gate being jammed was beyond our control. But we could send his teacher a message and let her know to expect him late. More than that, we had to accept the situation, and nothing would happen if he arrived late.
We didn’t rush to the gate when we arrived at his school. I stayed calm, and so did my son because he could see I wasn’t phased.
This simple situation was a great lesson for both of us and a reminder that sometimes all you can do at the moment is take a breath and accept the situation.
Here’s to showing up to the moment,