Updated: Jan 5
Some of the most frequently asked questions lately have been about anxiety and motivation. In this note, I will share several techniques or instruments to tackle both, as recommended by psychiatrists, psychologists, and practised by me.
Before we jump into talking about instruments, we need to separate anxiety issues from clinical depression. Depression is a serious medical illness and it requires a specific intervention which includes medications and supervision by professional medical personnel. The phenomena of anxiety which we talk of in this article represent a psychological disadaptation, when your expectations of feeling in a particular way (content, satisfaction, happiness and joy) in given circumstances are not met. You simply don’t feel the way “you should feel” - you feel it.
What are your current anxieties about, in the year 2020?
What I've been hearing: I am worried about investment/income/job/business security (so-called fear of poverty), I am worried about getting old (fear of ageing, "This pandemic lockdown.. Nothing changes and life passes by uneventfully"), I am worried of being non needed (fear of loneliness).
Why your anxiety always impacts negatively your motivation?
This happens even when a person loves his or her job. The reason - a mounting constant (not temporal) stress factor. Interestingly enough the factor itself can be work-related or not related to it at all. Remember one thing: Motivation is born from and will live through action only. Action is energy. Anxiety tends to absorb vital energy and mental capacity you have for all physiological processes. As a result, a person suffering from anxiety don't have the energy to boost and maintain motivation. No motivation - no action - the person gets “reassuring evidence” that things are indeed very bad with him or the world, this boosts the level of anxiety even higher….
For those concerned about gaining motivation back, there are two steps:
Accept that you will never be able to feel motivated at level ten out of ten all the time, sometimes it will be 2 out of 10. And it is ok, give yourself a break, mentally, physically and emotionally.
Work with anxiety acute and the one hidden - read further. By addressing your anxiety you will increase the supply of energy for doing things and will see your motivation coming back again.
Instruments to manage anxiety
Why I call them instruments and not cures - throughout one life you will have multiple anxieties. And you will need to play and apply different instruments, there is no magic pill that will make you invincible from feeling frustrated and disproportionally concerned once and for good.
1. Surround yourself with people who do not have your specific kind of anxiety. This is effective and will certainly work if you are able to identify the source of your anxiety correctly (is it the uncertainty around COVID and health implications that you could be subjected to, or it is actually challenged in your personal life before lockdown or the fact that you haven’t done any substantial savings to ensure the security of your children future before the pandemic?). Find a person who doesn’t have your current anxiety, don't ask his advice but rather build the relationship, interact on all other subjects. This will reduce the heat of your own fears with time, nearly seamlessly.
2. Gain control where you can. Often there is little control you can gain over your circumstances, including Covid19 situation. While your mind continuously gets validation of your own helplessness. Flip the table. Gain control, "in the eyes" of your brain first. There are 2 ways:
Start with your body. We are not talking about losing excessive weight (unless it is actually your case). But EVERY person at any point of time can get more control over his body. This has many success criteria: weight, quality of body mass, quality of skin and level of vital physical energy. The change of body happens faster than a change of our mind settings - this will change the way your brain judges your ability to deal with circumstances, automatically reducing level of anxiety.
Start with your home. Keeping the house tidy, spotless and decluttered again challenges the way your brain sabotages your ability to manage circumstances. A trick to keep in mind, even when you have household support pick on something that you will be rearranging and be in charge yourself (your wardrobe, your home office desk etc) - you need to have the ownership of the change.
In both examples above you need to do something physically, changing the appearance of the physical world around you to negate the "anxiety games" of your mind. You need to own the result of the change.
3. Shorten your planning horizon, bring it as close to today as you can. In times when you really struggle with anxiety around an uncertain future. The farther the future you’d like to control or imagine - the harder it gets. Accordingly, bring the future closer to you. Make your planning horizon - 2-3 days. If it is Monday. Start thinking of weekend plans on.. Thursday earliest. Focus on acting at your very best one day at a time.
4. Punish yourself (your mind) for anxiety. As formulated by psychiatrists, anxiety is not about a real threat in your life, and your mind "knows" this. Because if it was a real threat then you would act. Think of a situation, when you realize there is a fire in the building - you don’t contemplate, sit and worry, you do something, to be precise you run. One of the renowned professors in his practice with clients suffering from anxiety around using planes and flying simply asks clients the next time they are disproportionately worried to punish themselves by leaving the plane before the takeoff. Yes losing money, encountering public embarrassment of running down the airstairs. Eventually, the mind realises how counterproductive the worry is and anxiety will fade after several repetitive actions.
5. This one is a bit controversial for me instrument, although also recommended by some specialists. Think outwards not inwards, or help another person with anxiety and this will help your own condition. I personally will be very cautious about implementing such a technique. Because if you yourself don’t have protective mechanisms, but having a high level of empathy you might call on yourself even more frustration.
To conclude, I will ask you to remember, that life is a complex phenomenon and sometimes it is a difficult thing to comprehend and explain, this is why it is completely fine (and sometimes good) to feel stressed. It is harmless and nearly inevitable to have anxiety from time to time and to have absolutely no motivation. As long as it is temporal. And as long as you continue acquiring and actively practising the instruments of tacking both.