Facing uncertainty and setbacks is destabilising, causing us anxiety and negative thought patterns. This happens to everyone at some point in their lives - here’s some tips on how to get yourself back on track.
When our best laid plans tumble down around us or we suddenly face what feels like a black hole which we must navigate; it’s helpful to reflect on our typical responses. Our brains are wired to scan for risk in order to keep us safe, and these signals are picked up by our risk antennae as anxiety, fear of exposure, fear of letting others down. I find knowing this comforting as it’s “not just me” but an instinctive response that everyone experiences.
Against such risks and fears, we are primed for fight, flight or freeze. What we actually want is calm, rational thought but our anxieties swamp the brain circuitry needed for complex planning, working memory and analytical thinking. It’s no wonder that this brain overload can damage our sense of self-esteem. If something has gone wrong, we tend to start with “I did that badly” and add “I judge myself harshly for failure” plus “I lost control” which is a sum that equals lower self-worth.
So how can you get yourself back on track, and ready to take positive action?
The first step is to notice the concern. Ask yourself this question: “Exactly what am I concerned about?”
Note down in writing an exact description of all your concerns.
The ask yourself the second question: “Can I do something about it?” This takes you into a simple decision tree.
If you answer “No” then you can give yourself permission to let this anxiety go and do something that will change the focus of your attention. Battling to control something that’s just not in your grasp is a sure-fire recipe for lowering your self-esteem. Your mind may well resist the letting go and keep trying to take you back into the anxiety – but the act of giving it your consideration and making a decision that it’s not within your energy right now gives your brain a legitimate reason to gradually dial down its attention.
If you answer “Yes” then you create an action plan: write down what you will do, when you will do it and how. If the timing is NOW then just do it! If it’s LATER, then schedule it in whatever format works best for you, for example, setting yourself a reminder or blocking out time in your diary.
Either way, you can now move onto letting go of the worry and changing the focus of your attention to constructive action. This helps build back your sense of self-efficacy and self-esteem: you are now putting yourself in a position to do something positive and manage your emotional overwhelm.
The simple act of noticing your feelings, taking yourself through these questions, and writing down your responses will help you to feel calmer and more stable. If you have a mentor or trusted colleague, you can ask them to help you through this powerful thought process – and voicing your fears and actions out loud is a great way to put things in perspective.
I have tried this many times and my notebook is dotted with scribbled decisions trees underneath my expressed anxiety. It always helps me to take those precious two steps forward into calm and control.