There’s no secret that 2020 so far has done a number on many people’s lives, especially their mental health, including me. The past few months have been a rollercoaster of emotions for me. My anxiety has been an all-time high, which is saying something since I’m already a pretty anxious person. Between having to navigate the global COVID-19 pandemic — which has upended my life financially and professionally — to contending with the ever-present issue of police brutality in America, it’s been difficult to catch my breath let alone remain focused and productive.
If you’ve been struggling with anxiety lately, you’re not alone.
Anxiety is so common that in any given year, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Despite everything going on in the world and our personal lives, we will make it through.We were destined to succeed and thrive so it’s time to rise to the occasion, no matter the obstacles in our path.
Working through tumultuous time can be tricky, but it’s not impossible. You may have to tailor your goals and workload to what you can handle at the moment considering all that’s going on. Over the years, I’ve figured out some helpful strategies to help me remain productive in times of high stress — like now.
These five methods help me tremendously when my anxiety is high and I’m feeling unmotivated. Hopefully they can help you, too!
1. Set Small Attainable Goals
Have you ever stared at your mile-long to-do list and broke down? I’ve been there, and it’s no fun. Instead of giving yourself a gazillion assignments to do every day, set, small attainable goals you can feasibly accomplish. Doing this is an instant confidence booster because you feel amazing at the end of the day when you see how much you’ve accomplished rather than bogged down and guilty that you haven’t finished everything on your agenda. And the more confidence you build over time, the better you’ll feel about tackling bigger, more ambitious projects you’ve been destined to achieve.
2. Learn to Challenge Your Thoughts
There’s no two ways around it, anxiety is a beast. It can be all-consuming. So much so, it hinders your ability to get work done. One way to cope with your negative emotions is to challenge them as they come up. Whenever I’m feeling hard on myself or feeling really down, I take a moment to check in with myself by talking through my emotions or writing my thoughts down. We all have negative thoughts from time to time, but instead of letting them linger or go unchallenged, try to balance every negative thought with a positive one. For example, when you start thinking you’re terrible at your job, remind yourself you’re an EleVen and you have everything within you to rise to the occasion. Or, remind yourself of a time someone complimented you on your work. By constantly challenging yourself, you’ll be able to conquer self-doubt.
3. Schedule in Downtime Regularly
Despite what our hustle culture tells you, you don’t need to optimize every waking hour of the day in order to be successful. Taking breaks regularly is vital for your wellbeing. Even the most successful EleVens amongst us like Venus Williams and Beyoncé take breaks in the form of vacations and self-care days in order to rejuvenate and reset. Save for super busy work seasons (hey, we all have them), make a habit of scheduling in downtime during your work week to look after yourself so as to avoid burnout. Additionally, every so often, set a day aside for self care. Take a bubble bath, go for a social distanced run, or veg out on the couch. You’re not a machine, so you shouldn’t treat your body like one. The more you look after yourself and your mental health, the better you’ll feel in the long run.
4. Be Open With Your Support Network
Having a support network of friends, family members, even a mental health professional you trust is crucial in dealing with mental distress. Don’t feel ashamed about reaching out to your loved ones or therapist when you’re feeling anxious, in need of some advice or need a listening ear. Speaking from personal experience, bottling up any feelings only makes your anxiety worse. When the going gets tough, reach out to someone you trust to speak about your feelings. Chatting with someone can put your thoughts and emotions into perspective and help you get some clarity on why you’re feeling the way you are. It’s also a great way to get advice and help with a situation that may be causing your anxiety, like a mean boss or co-worker that’s making work more stressful than it should be.
5. Try Some Breathing and Stretching Exercises
Sometimes without even noticing, when you’re feeling extremely anxious, you unknowingly hold your breath for long periods of time or hold your shoulders up high to my neck, creating tension in your body and sometimes, physical pain. To combat this, I find breathing and stretching often to be really helpful in reducing anxiety. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, deep breathing is a proven way to decrease stress. I love AskDoctorJo’s YouTube channel, as she has a variety of breathing and stretching exercises that are easy to follow and can help alleviate any stress or tension you’re feeling.
All in all, even if you follow these tips to a T, there are going to be days where, no matter what you do, nothing is helping and you’re not operating at your full capacity. That’s totally okay — you’re human after all. Give yourself permission to have off days. As long as you’re doing your best, that’s all that matters.
Written by: Shammara Lawrence