I struggle with anxiety. I’ve wanted to write about how I cope with anxiety in my career for some time. The truth is, I was, and still am, concerned that talking about it could affect my friendship’s or career.
Recently, I’ve come to terms with the fact that it is a part of who I am and I needed to accept it. It occurred to me that there are probably plenty of creative people that deal with anxiety every day. So why not talk about it? Maybe I can help someone feel a little better about their situation.
Eight years ago this fall, I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder, social anxiety, O.C.D, and hypochondria.
It wasn’t a surprise to me. I have been living this way my whole life. Living in constant fear of tomorrow, while rolling back through conversations in my head.
I can’t remember who told me this, but someone (possibly my therapist) once told me my brain can work like a really old television set. You remember the ones with the dial that changes the channel? Consider that channel 2 is the past, channel 3 is the present, and channel 4 is the future. When I’m anxious, my thoughts constantly switch between channel 2 and channel 4.
Channel 2: Stuck in the past.
Channel number 2 is where I am constantly concerned about something I have said or something said to me. Sometimes I would find myself talking to a client where I am unable to focus on the present. I am much too busy replaying the conversation in my head. Replaying an anxious thought over and over. It becomes paralyzing.
Channel 4: Stuck in the future.
For me, channel number 4 is the most harmful of the two. It’s where my mind becomes a Tarantino movie. My future has already been crafted in my brain, and now I’ve got the rest of the movie (or panic attack) to worry about the outcome. In some cases, it seems impossible to escape this future.
Of course, the future created in my brain is not true. It’s the worst possible scenario. A common one for me is, “oh hey, you’ve probably got cancer now.” But, in the case of a client, I worry that I’ll be scolded, fired, and possibly sued. It sounds extreme, but it goes through my head whenever I’m going to see or hear from clients.
In either situation, it has the potential to affect work performance, and can take away from the reason that you are in this line of work. Which, for me, is designing. I am blessed that I am able to design for a living and in scenarios where I am anxious, I can find calm in that. To be effective in both design and in communication I need to be present. Which brings us to Channel 3.
Channel 3: Be Present.
This is where you need to live. You have the power to control your thoughts. It’s difficult, but not impossible. It takes time and there are tricks to help you along the way.
Write It Down.
One trick that’s worked really well for me has been to write it down. When you start to feel anxious about something, jot it down. Whether it was something that was said or something you’re feeling, write it down. It has helped me trick my brain into taking a break from the anxious thoughts. I know that I now have a physical copy of what’s causing the anxiety, and there is no chance I’ll forget it.
I’ve been in situations before, that by the time it was over, I had completely calmed down. I was then able to approach the thought calmly and logically. Eventually, it got to the point where 90% of the time, I didn’t even look at the notes again.
Confide in others.
If the thought still bothers you, send it to someone you trust. It can be difficult to keep it professional, but then again it doesn’t have to be someone you work with.
“In a meeting, I was told ___________OR I said ___________ . I replied ___________ OR they replied ___________. I feel a little unsure about this situation. Do you think I’ve handled this in the best way that I could have? Do you have any suggestions for how I can move forward?”
Surrounding yourself with trustworthy and supportive people is extremely important to the daily battle.
There are certainly many more methods out there, and others that have been successful for me. Though, it can be difficult to practice breathing exercises, prayer, meditation, or physical activity while at work.
It is helpful to remind yourself that the clients, or the people your working with, are just people. There will inevitably be conflict because they are people and relationships with people are messy. No matter the context.
You are skilled at what you do. You were hired to help them accomplish what is needed because you know what you are doing. I try to remind myself of that everyday. Though they are not always easy days, it’s important to never go it alone. Trust in others and be confident in yourself.