The following is an excerpt from Own Your Anxiety: 99 Ways to Channel Your Secret Edge by Julian Brass.
You’ve probably had times like this: crazy busy weeks when anxiety rises in you and takes over. Or maybe you get anxious as you rush to a meeting? You breathe faster, your pace quickens, you’re in one-track-thinking mode. I remember my exact thoughts in such moments, because I’ve been there many times: Forget everything. Forget everyone. I don’t mean that, but I just need to get to my destination on time. So move, please move out of my way! Okay, thanks. (I mean it in the nicest way possible, of course.)
Maybe your inner dialogue isn’t exactly like mine, but you get the idea. We’re in fight-or-flight mode as we rush around. I noticed this becoming a habit and decided to do something about it. Instead of panicking as usual—worrying about time and being late and what people would think of me for being late—I took a moment to reflect more deeply on what was really going on that was making me so anxious. That’s when it hit me. The meetings weren’t causing me stress; my schedule was driving me cray cray.
“Okay,” I said. “Now you’re being honest about the real problem. What’s the solution?” I had no idea! But I decided to record my meetings and commitments for the next few weeks. In one column, I listed the commitments that were important, necessary, or unavoidable. In another, I listed the optional events, which I could decline, reschedule, or replace with a phone call.
I realized that at least half of my meetings weren’t necessary. Part of me must have known that from the outset. My anxiety was my own internal alarm system trying to wake me up to the truth.
Anxiety was telling me that my schedule would be more open, and I could be more present and get more solid work done if I didn’t pack in so many unnecessary commitments.
There’s a cascade effect when we overbook ourselves. Before my “schedule smarter” epiphany, I slept four or five hours a night and stayed awake during the day by drinking lots of caffeine and taking cold showers. I was so exhausted and anxious all the time that I was speed-walking, speed-driving, and speedily getting angry at every impediment in my way. Sometimes I was in such a rush that I put bad food in my body, basically inhaling it rather than enjoying it.
What the heck is the point? Is it worth this mild form of hysteria to get to meetings? To make it to three commitments on one Saturday night? This opens up a bigger question: What is the point of your life? If it’s to maximize every moment in pursuit of wealth creation or to make a massive change for a cause you believe in, and you’re willing to give up your health and happiness for it, then sure, go for it. But if you don’t really want this, then design your life so that it serves you beautifully.
By making simple but significant changes to your schedule you can break these bad habits. It’s totally doable and will probably reduce your anxiety. Hey, it’s worth a try, so here are your schedule smarter guidelines:
Allow plenty of travel time. Plan for at least thirty to sixty minutes before and between meetings. This will give you a chance to enjoy getting to your destination and to fully digest everything covered during the meeting. Afterward, you’ll have time to offer that extra bit of love or attention and to log potential big ideas instead of letting them just fade away.
Get comfortable saying no. Imagine you don’t take a meeting or accept an invitation. What’s the worst thing that will happen? Do you really think you’ll remember ten years from now? Always ask yourself, “How important is this to my life?” And remember: It’s okay to say no. Your time is valuable, and so is your mental health.
Put it off, mindfully. What if you put off a commitment until a day that’s quieter? We often live in such an aroused state that we forget this is even possible, but it is.
Don’t be a “Meeting Superhero.” The only thing you’ll ever get by having perfect attendance at meetings is anxiety. When you stop trying to be a valiant Meeting Superhero, you’ll be able to embrace, and even enjoy, the meetings you do attend.
When you aren’t overextended, you can be present in every moment. You can be excited. Life becomes sweeter when you focus on enjoying the journey to and from your commitments. The walk, the subway or bus ride, the drive—these can be pleasurable, if you consciously attempt to spot the beautiful. Observe the life all around you, whether it shows up in nature or in other human beings doing their thing. Mindfully breathe the air. It’s pretty hard to be anxious when you’re doing all that!
These tweaks ensure we manage our anxiety. Truth is, since executing my own guidelines, I’m still as busy as ever, but I’m busy living according to my own priorities—and high on that list is maintaining a peaceful lifestyle while simultaneously being productive.
Live with strategic intention. It’s the best way to own your anxiety.
JULIAN BRASS is the founder and former CEO of award-winning Canadian media company Notable.ca (Notable Life), a front-running online brand dedicated to driven young professionals. His first battle with anxiety-fueled his passion to embrace his mental health challenges rather than hide behind it. As an international keynote speaker, workshop facilitator, coach, teacher, and healer, he aims to leave every person he connects with ready to own not just anxiety, but to truly own their lives. Learn more about Brass on his website.
Own Your Anxiety will be released on September 17 through Page Two Books, and is available for pre-sale on Amazon and through other major booksellers.
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