Picture this: You’re making a turkey sandwich for lunch and suddenly your mind is back in a work meeting you just had. Your manager was on the call and made what felt like a passive aggressive comment about how you cut out work early last week. You hadn’t shared the “why” behind your early departure because you were taking your mom to cancer treatment and you weren’t about to open that pandora’s box and tell your manager about it.
Now, as you’re making your sandwich, you are overwhelmed by so.much.anger towards your manager and rapid-fire thoughts about how many times you’ve left work early (not many), if you ever gave a reason (maybe once or twice?), whether those reasons were legit (they seemed to you like they were at the time), if you were reasonable in your requests (ditto), and what would ever prompt your manager to make this comment???
Are you really THAT bad of an employee? Does no one else ever take days off or leave work early? Can’t your manager be more understanding? Will you get written up or fired over this? Is your manager going to be *really* watching you now?
Before you know it, you are a hundred thoughts in and officially at the bottom of the rabbit hole. It’s a stressful place to be in and one that you probably wish you could jump out of and onto safer ground ASAP.
SO, what do you do? How do you stop the rapid-fire train of thoughts that seem to be holding you hostage??!
Here are 4 steps to take to stop that rabbit hole deep dive and get you back to your calm and collected self.
Note: We ALL have these moments and experiences, so you are absolutely NOT alone in going down the rabbit hole. No one, I repeat no one, is calm and collected all the time.
#1 Notice the rabbit hole.
Often times, we are deep down in the rabbit hole before we even realize that we have started to fall down it. The act of catching yourself in the anxiety spiral is a mindfulness. Another way of putting it, mindfulness is the awareness of what’s happening in the present.
Now, how do you do this? Practice, practice, practice.
It’s not an overnight process, but the awareness really comes from practicing catching yourself mid-spiral and saying WAIT, HOLD UP.
#2 Soothe your body.
When you feel anxious, your body goes into fight or flight mode. It’s all charged up and you may feel rapid heart rate, sweating, or jittery (just to name a few).
When the body is revved up, you can’t think clearly. Now is NOT the time to reason with yourself and try to talk yourself out of the lies you’re telling yourself about your work ethic.
Now is the time to get your body back to baseline.
How to do that? There are many ways. Take deep breaths. Get outside for a walk. Take a shower. Get some sun on your face. Listen to your favorite song. Dance. Exercise.
Any of these things can be a reset for the body and get you out of fight or flight mode.
#3 Create a plan for when those thoughts come up next time.
This is called “coping ahead.” It’s like when you prepare for a big work meeting ahead of time. This is the same thing, but for your anxiety-spirals.
We all feel less scared and overwhelmed when we have a plan. Planning reduces the fear and overwhelm in these situations.
So what would this plan look like?
Step 1: Catch yourself as soon as you can when the thoughts start to creep up. Refer back to #1.
Step 2: Know your go-to coping strategies, aka what’s worked for you from #2?
Step 3: Label and validate your feelings. That looks like saying, “I feel really frustrated with my manager right now. I feel unheard by her and angry that it seemed like was judging me. It makes sense that I would feel this way because she is making assumptions about me, my life, and my work ethic. It feels unfair because it IS unfair.
Step 4: Move on to #4 on this post.
#4 Identify how you can feel empowered and in control.
At the root of anxiety is often fear. Fear of things that we can’t control. Fear of what will happen next. Fear of the unknown. Fear of something bad happening. Fear of not being able to handle what might happen.
This is a biological response to protect you from real, physical danger. Unfortunately, it also alerts you to situations where you might not be in physical danger, but could lead to an outcome that might be unpleasant. And your mind and body don’t want that! Their goal is to keep you safe, but that leads to over-identifying danger. The mind and body are constantly scanning for threats, sending up flares left and right.
If you pay attention to every flare sent off, YOU WILL BE EXHAUSTED.
The trick is to get comfortable with the alarm going off and then being able to say, wait a minute, is this something that I need to respond to or is my body over-identifying danger?
Then, identify and focus on what’s in your control. Where can you find and lean into your power in a situation?
Take the work example: Feeling empowered to you might mean that you address the comment with your manager. Or feeling empowered might feel like talking about the situation with a trusted co-worker. Or feeling empowered might look like updating your resume in case you want or need to make a job change.
YOU get to choose what makes YOU feel empowered.
Making a decision for how to take action will support ending the rumination because fear is not running the show anymore. You’ve created a game plan for how to handle it which in turn creates a sense of safety and security in a situation which originally felt uncertain and confusing.
Reminder: anxiety is part of the human experience. There is nothing wrong with you for feeling anxious. We ALL do at times. But you also have the power to take control of your perspective, mindset, circumstances, and actions. In most situations, we can’t change all of these things, so the key is identifying where you CAN take control and how you can FEEL empowered.
And then, practice again and again!