For years now, I've wondered what triggers are responsible for my anxiety attacks. I've hashed it out with therapists, talked about it with colleagues and friends, and spent many hours parsing it in my own head.

For anyone who struggled with chronic anxiety -- including the ever-pressured business set -- you know that fits of anxiety emerge at inopportune times. They derail meetings, focus sessions, presentations, conversations. They take mental energy away from building your business and strengthening relationships. They make fight or flight the norm instead of exception.

As you work to mitigate the effects of anxiety, consider this: Anxiety is not solely a trigger-based response. Yes, there are triggers that will set off a panic attack, but for some -- like me -- it is more a constant. 

I was shuffling through articles on anxiety recently, eager to find some new education on the subject, and stumbled across a Newsweek article that laid bare one woman's personal experience with anxiety. While her entire story was moving (and very relatable), I found this particular line striking:

Part of anxiety is believing that by thinking about something you will make it true.

This sparked a realization: The "triggers" I have long been hunting are not external, but internal. In other words, I create elaborate "what if" scenarios in my head which then trigger anxious responses.

The solution is not quite as easy as cutting out what if scenarios. But you can acknowledge your tendency to imagine the worst and methodically address the scenes you conjure. Here are a few ways to cut anxiety off at the pass that have worked well for me:

  • Identify a thesis or key fact/message of your what if, then compare that with facts you know about reality. You mind telling you "this might come to fruition" will likely be defused.
  • Engage in a physical activity. Cook something. Build something. The physical, tactile components will help ground you in the here and now.
  • Shake things up -- but not dramatically. I like to change settings for a while. Instead of working at home, for example, I'll spend an afternoon at a coffee shop. This change helps "reset" my mind so I can focus on work.
  • Commit to an intellectually-demanding task. Have a puzzle you need to solve? Or maybe a strategy you need to develop? This kind of work spends mental energy on something productive -- so it doesn't have the bandwidth for creating what-if scenarios.

Pressure is ever present and our to-do lists are often longer than we can manage. But in the world of business, it's key that you remain lucid and sharp so that you can address the many and varied needs of leadership. While I always recommend examining sources and manifestations of anxiety with a therapist, the above tactics may help in the near term. They certainly have for me.