Step one: Acknowledgment and Identification
Most of the time, the fear rattling the firmaments of our stressed brain isn’t even a real threat. It doesn’t even qualify for a fight or flight response. Yet, our notorious subconscious mind makes it its mission to fill up our thought balloon with negatively played-out scenarios. These fragments of our imaginations are often nothing but a boiling pot of pointless assumptions. We get very creative within our thought cycle and enjoy playing random scenarios in the head, so much so that we lose the track of what is actually on our plate. A seasoned employee getting a “golden handshake” forcing an early retirement feels depressed in so many ways. Whereas, in reality, all he is essentially offered is the successful completion of decades of service. I use this as an example because scenarios like these clearly lack the realization of the actual fear by the affected individual. We love the sense of self-pity and pamper ourselves whereas our first step in any moment of distress and anxiety should always be to identify the culprit emotion and ascertain its reality. In most cases, Logic easily conquers Fear.
Step Two: Re-engineering and Re-programing
Anxiety and Stress are mostly triggered by us trying to stay within our heads. We need to think outside the box, and the box in this case is literally our very own head. If I tell you not to imagine Donald Trump wearing a fancy Indian Saree, the first thing your subconscious mind will do is imagine him in the shiniest Banarsi Saree. In fact, you will most likely imagine him with a nose piercing as well, or at least I did. There is a simple process to rewire these default settings. Anxious feelings can lead to catastrophic predictions and it’s a vicious cycle. In order to combat such thoughts, one must identify and replace exaggerated, negative thoughts with more realistic statements. A retiree with a mid-age crisis thinks, “I’m going to be useless and be a burden on everyone else”. What he really should do is to take a moment to be appreciative and reconsider his self-analysis, something more to the tune of, “I have decades of worthwhile achievements. It’s time for a fresh face to experience being in my shoes while I look to be a better and more relaxed version of myself.”
Step Three: A Mathematical approach towards Problem-Solving
In layman’s terms, stressful thoughts are much like simple purchases from a credit card, which, if left unattended, become mountains of compound interest and debt. The good thing, in cases of anxiety and stress, is that the only debt collectors are our own self and our own thoughts. All we need to do is to make the due emotional payments on time. Simply by separating the things we can control from the things we can’t, we can easily and rather mathematically focus our efforts on addressing the problems we actually have some control over.
If the emotional purchase is a thought like, “My organization has been ungrateful for my sacrifices”, a simple payback could be counting tons and tons of other blessings you have in life. Health, kids, 5 Senses – the entire hierarchy of Maslow’s pyramid of needs. If the worry is along the line of “I am being unproductive”, a simple solution would be to look at your day as a project. Plan your activities, Develop a timeline, Monitor progress; much like you would do for a project in your workplace. Think along the lines of managing your workforce with vigor and leadership. In this case, you are the workforce – lead yourself to success i.e. inner peace. In line with principles of design thinking, think about how to turn worrisome thoughts into productive behavior. It’s a simple transaction.
Step Four: Symptomatic Treatment
It is commonly noted by medical experts that anxiety can lead to uninvited physical symptoms — increased heart rate, dry mouth, sweaty palms, upset stomach. One may have trouble sleeping or difficulty sitting still. An overall state of feeling low and defeated. Similar to the paradox of “perpetual motion”, these physical symptoms feed our anxious feelings, which, in return make anxiety even worse and hence an excruciating cycle starts. It prompts panic attacks to become panic syndromes and simple stress turns into Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Like we defeat anxiety with mindfulness, we must beat the physical toll with reciprocating physical actions. One must take steps to calm the body; go for a jog, do yoga, practice deep breathing, or do arts and other creative endeavors. Calming the body can be key to calming the mind.
Step Five: The Modern-day Cliché of Mindfulness
It’s the talk of the town in psychological circles, much like crypto is in the realms of Information Technology. The sad part is, most of us fail to grasp the gist of the concepts of mindfulness. For wandering minds like ours, it is as simple as “Making an effort to stop worrying about something we said or did yesterday, or fretting about something we are going to do tomorrow, by simply staying in the Present”. A very helpful practice of mindfulness is to become completely in tune with what is going on around us right now. Being mindful calms anxious thoughts and reduces the stress response of the body, both logically and biologically. Remember the good old saying of a bird in the hand (in the present moment) is way better than two in the bush, (in a hypothetical scenario). Try using this: Having “X” with me right now is way better than having “Y” in an imagined reality. Note that “Y” comes with its own baggage and struggles. Even if “X” is a beast of its own, it is tamed and trained while “Y” is uncharted territory; It could be a mirage or a delusion as well. Now replace “X” with a blessing and “Y” with a wish list. This is a basic exercise that elevates the mood and morale alike.
Step Six: The Shining New Toy Syndrome
People tend to create negative connotations with this syndrome but I believe it can be quite helpful during times of feeling dejected and defeated. Consider the excitement of getting into a new relationship, establishing a new business, visiting a new country. What’s common in all of these ventures is that they all have the boost of New Relationship Energy (NRE). I call it the Shiny New Toy Syndrome (SNT). When disappointment and stress dwell within a professional environment, be creative. Think of starting a new project, developing a new product, meeting new professionals, mentoring someone deserving, helping a fallen soldier stand up, lending professional help. All creative endeavors help add value and purpose to your life. Start something from scratch, learn a new skill, develop a new trait, be a little random and think outside the box. A fresh start is always refreshing as long as you are willing to learn along the journey.
Step Seven: Parousia – The Second Coming
My last and most important source of inspiration has been the blessing of having two lives. The second one started the day I realized that I only have one. I committed to making it worthwhile. The thought alone that “It’s me, I am here” and by the grace of heavens above, Alhumdolillah, alive and well, brings an eternal grin on my face. Let’s cherish that and move on. All of the above steps are of course easier said than done, yet the belief in the process alone calms the nerves and helps one reset.
Trust me when I tell you, it only gets better from here