Three weeks ago, I woke up at 1 a.m. with shortness of breath and a racing heart. As this episode escalated and the world around me closed in, my heart was pounding so hard I felt it would burst through my chest.
An EKG and treadmill test later, the heart was strong as ever and I had a clean bill of health. What had happened?
I had had a panic attack.
They are no picnic, I'll have you know. It was a sudden, unexpected, overwhelming surge of anxiety and fear that had been induced by stress, according to my physician.
Now I'm learning to face the demons of my anxiety through a heavy focus on making self-care a top priority. This includes seeing a terrific counselor who has given me coping skills to release more oxytocin (the "feel-good" or "love" hormone) in a body ravaged by the toxins of cortisol.
If anxiety is beating up on you right now to the point where it's hard to be productive at work, I offer you four helpful brain hacks.
1. Practice deep breathing.
The most commonly suggested way to manage anxiety is to calm the nervous system by using diaphragmatic breathing (deep breathing). Doing it for a few minutes sends the brain the message that you're not actually in any danger, and in return, it will kick your body into relaxation mode instead of fight-or-flight. If any part of your brain is sending signals that you're under threat (and in reality, you're not), kick the fear by gently talking yourself out of it. Convince that part of your brain sending you into fight-or-flight mode that you are just fine.
Journaling about your fears and worries helps you process how you really feel, which can be healing. Use a notebook and write these headings at the top of a page: 1) Situation; 2) Thoughts/What am I telling myself?; 3) How anxious do I feel? Jot down a short sentence about the situation and the date so you can monitor your progress. Most important, write down any thoughts you're having either in anticipation of or during a situation that causes anxiety. What are you telling yourself? Is it true, or does it come from irrational fear? In the third column, rank how you feel on a scale of one to 10, or write a few words to describe how you feel. Once you get clarity on the situation, you can look at what actions to take to move forward.
3. Let the sunlight in.
A study titled "Impact of Workplace Daylight Exposure on Sleep, Physical Activity, and Quality of Life" concluded that there is a strong relationship between workplace daylight exposure and a worker's sleep, activity, and even quality of life. Best of all? It also showed that employees have a greater interest in their work and represent more loyalty to their company. If your home office or workspace isn't infused with daylight and plenty of windows with views to the outside world, you may be taking on more stress and anxiety than usual. Natural daylight can act as a buffer against the negative impact of job stress and positively impact general well-being.
4. Just. Let. Go.
If you're the controlling type, this will be the hardest thing you'll ever do, but you must if you want to retain peace in your life: Accept that some things are beyond your control. Many times, your worries are a direct result of the fact that you're not in control of the people, things, and situations in your life or business. The things that are in your control, you can manage just fine. Relax, slow down, take one thing at a time, and then focus again on what's immediately in front of you. This will help to ease some of the discomforts you experience from your anxiety.