Anxious, nervous, worried, fretful. So many words to express a state of mind we all experience at one time or another. These days seem to be coming more often. The news, job stress, book banning, and personal issues all find their way into our brain and our internal conversation, only heightening those emotions.

We all have situations that make us nervous. Right now, I’m worried about my upcoming state library conference. I will be giving a presentation tomorrow just before lunch. Me, a conference junkie, and I haven’t been to one in two years. My thoughts are racing. Will I remember to pack everything I need for my overnight stay? What about my presentation? Have I prepared enough? Will it be well received?

Major or minor, these anxiety-producing situations take a toll and keep us from bringing our best to whatever is on our plates. We need tools to deal with the draining effects of anxiety. Marlene Chism has a plan for us in 7 Practical Ways to Reduce Anxiety in Difficult Times.

  1. Challenge Your Thoughts – Notice what you’re thinking and take time to ask yourself – is it true? Our thoughts can be our worst enemy – negative internal conversations where we’re highly self-critical. Or we catastrophize, seeing all possible outcomes in the worst possible light. We won’t ever stop those voices from popping up in our heads, but Chism suggests we note their presence and say, “Thanks for sharing,” then find a way to shift our attention.
  2. Stop Ruminating – You may have a repetitive strain of negative thoughts going on. Chism suggests finding a way to break that cycle before it becomes a habit. To do this, move to a more soothing thought. Instead of constantly thinking, “I’ll never get more budget money” meet that concern with a thought about going for a grant or creating a DonorsChoose campaign.
  3. Eliminate Blame – Chism says blame is about the past and makes you a victim. It keeps us away from taking responsibility and creating change. Recognize your choices and take back your power. Instead of continually seeing the administration as the cause of no new budget dollars, you can look for ways to make the library more visible so the administration is more likely to support your initiatives.
  4. Unplug from the Media – This is a reminder that, “Watching the news or engaging in social media non-stop is toxic to your health, takes up time and wastes precious energy…” Many of us are what’s known as “data responsive.” We can’t help but feel anxious and worried when we hear about the state of things, even if these are things we can’t help. Limiting exposure to this information decreases anxiety.
  5. Create Structure – Reliability and predictability decrease anxiety. Our structures began falling apart during the pandemic. Many of us are still putting new ones in place. Structure affects behavior and builds routines. Routines build habit. Habits build accomplishments. If you make time to recognize the accomplishments, you can quiet the negative thoughts.
  6. Get Organized – Build on the previous step by creating organization in your environment. This is good for home and work. Chism says, “There’s something about the physical activity of organizing that can help you clear your mind, whether at work or at home.” The author further suggests you organize your mental environment by putting all your concerns and worries down on paper and determining how you will deal with them and when you will do it. This will also help you notice some of the other steps – including negative thoughts, ruminating, and blame.
  7. Rekindle Relationships – The pandemic proved that humans are social animals and how much we thrive with connection. We wither when we don’t have contact with others. Yes, we see and work with people daily, but it’s our relationships that refresh us. Sometimes it’s a case of a “problem shared is a problem halved.” Other times, it’s putting your cares away for a time and allowing the freedom of just enjoying being with those you care about. Get coffee with friends. Share lunch with your volunteers. Make your relationships a priority.

Our anxieties won’t go away, but we can keep them under control. As for me, I’m focused on my priorities and to-do list for today and reminding myself that I’ve had many successful presentations in the past, and I can trust that I’m bringing something of value. Best of all, I will be seeing my friends and colleagues again.

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