I’m a self confessed worrier. Usually when you worry it’s because you care so much about the outcome. Worrying can be good to make you be very purposeful in your actions, but it can also bridle your success. By constantly worrying, it can forestall you from making decisions and getting ahead.
I’m by no means an expert on dealing with anxiety and worry, but I wanted to share some strategies that have worked for me – particularly in dealing with work worries. I also encourage you to get help when you are stressed, whether from a friend or a counsellor. Sometimes just talking out a problem helps you minimise and make it less confronting.
Identify the cause
The first step to dealing with whatever it is you’re worrying about, is to identify the cause of the worry. This requires a lot of self reflection, and for me personally it actually requires what I would describe as ‘active thinking’.
In this case, don’t let your mind wander – target it exactly at whatever your worries are. For instance, are you worrying about a meeting or are you worried about ruining a particular part of a presentation? Get specific and identify what specifically is keeping you up at night. Making the worry specific will also make it smaller and easier to deal with.
Worst case scenario
One way that I sometimes do this is to think about the worst case scenario. And keep in mind this should be the REAL worst case scenario, not one that involves your house catching on fire in the middle of a presentation.
For instance, if I have a meeting with a new customer and I’m really stressed about making a good impression, I try to think about what would happen if it doesn’t go well. What would be the outcome if I totally bombed the meeting – knowing what my own skill set and typical performance looks like.
If I totally bombed a meeting, it might mean that the customer doesn’t want to work with me again, or I might have to ask for help from my boss to rebuild the relationship. I ask myself if I can handle that when it happens. The answer is always yes! If the worst for some reason does happen, I can handle that outcome and learn from it.
This makes the worst case scenario much less scary because you’re not as afraid of it happening.
What is the likely scenario?
Once you’ve thought about the worst case scenario, then think about the likely scenario. You know in yourself what your regular performance is like, and most of the time it will be acceptable or above expectations. Even better, think about the best case scenario! Always finish on a high with your self talk to set yourself up for that outcome.
Another piece of advice you would have typically heard is accept what you can’t control. A really simple example of this is ageing. It might be easy for a 27 year old to say, but I’ve never worried about getting older or looking older because there is literally nothing you can do about that. Unless you plan to invent a time machine, you can’t change the passage of time – so why worry about it?
In the context of work, there will always be things that you can’t control. Accept that and work on the things you can control.
Do one thing every day that scares you
The final piece of advice I’ll give you is to do the things that scare you and make you worry. The biggest challenges always lead to the biggest successes. Playing it safe will not get you further in your career.
Think about actors. Just before they step onto a stage, they can get stage fright. They have to make the choice to take that first big step and start performing or they have to turn around and give up. If you’re not a performer, those first big steps won’t be as dramatic, but they might be just as terrifying. I encourage you to step onto the stage, give it your all and get ready for the applause.