Note: This post also ran in The Huffington Post Healthy Living section on 1/25/16. You can view that post by clicking here.
Dealing with anxiety and functioning in the world can be very challenging – especially when it comes to work. I have missed out on a lot of opportunities in my life, both personally and professionally, due to my struggles with anxiety.
For me, nothing triggers my anxiety quite like having to sit in a room full of people. I feel trapped, under a microscope, unable to escape.
Just knowing a meeting was coming up would cause me to start to worry. I found myself starting to panic hours and even days before a meeting.
Once the meeting began, I would do everything I could to hide. My mind told me that standing out was a bad thing. I didn’t want anyone to see me, hear me or notice me. I was afraid I would say the wrong thing, so I thought it best to say nothing.
My anxiety spiked during meetings because there was too much time to sit and think. As people with anxiety know all to well, the more time we have to think, the more time we have to worry.
During meetings my mind raced making it difficult to focus on what was being said. I’d realize I was lost in my own negative, worrisome thoughts and then suddenly… panic.
“What if someone asks me a question about what everyone was just talking about?”
“What if I say something someone already said?”
“What if I get so nervous I have a panic attack, start sweating and have to leave the room?”
It’s hard to get ahead professionally if you don’t do something to make yourself stand out. But when you suffer from anxiety standing out is the last thing you want to do.
Then I discovered one small trick that helped me both manage my anxiety and stand out at work.
Take notes with a pen and paper.
It sounds so simple but trust me, it works.
I found that my mind would race with worrisome, anxious thoughts every time it wasn’t engaged with an activity. During meetings when other people were talking, my mind became free to wander. I couldn’t control it because I didn’t know how. The more it wandered the more I worried. And the more I tried to make it stop wandering the more I focused on the negative, worrisome thoughts I was having.
But when I took out a pen and paper and started writing down notes, my mind became focused on what I was hearing and writing. The act of physically writing connected me to that physical moment and gave my mind something to do other than worry.
Why does this work so well? It works because your brain can’t actually do two things at the same time.
Many people believe they are great at multitasking. But what they are really doing is jumping back and forth between two different things very, very fast. The mind can’t actually do two things at once.
When your mind is engaged in a physical activity such as writing it becomes focused on that activity. This removes the space for it to wander and worry. When that space is removed, the anxiety naturally passes.
This also gave me the added benefit of stand out at work in a positive way.
I was now able to better focus on what was being discussed. I left meetings with great notes and a deeper understanding of what we talked about. And if someone had a question about what was covered, I had the answers.
I was now seen as engaged and focused at work. Having good notes to refer back to made me more productive. I knew what needed to get done and did it with more accuracy and efficiency than ever before.
By simply taking notes I increased my productivity and decreased my anxiety. It made going to meetings less stressful and helped me reduce my anxiety in a productive way.
So the next time you have a meeting or discussion that is causing you to feel anxious, try taking notes with pen and paper.
Then please come back and share in the comment section how it worked for you. I’d love to hear your results!