There’s not many people who don’t feel anxiety in their professional lives from time to time. Whether it’s public speaking, the pressure to meet an important deadline, or going for a promotion, our careers offer us plenty of opportunity to feel stressed and nervous. But what if this isn’t an occasional occurrence, but something so frequent and intense that it can be difficult to work at all? In this case, anxiety can be debilitating, and become a barrier between you and achieving your goals. If you want to get ahead, but are finding that anxiety has become a hurdle, how can you stop anxiety affecting your career?
Don’t limit your ambitions.
If you are very ambitious, you are likely to place high expectations on yourself. Wanting to succeed often translates to perfectionism, and a high awareness of what others think of you. This isn’t a negative in itself, but it can make you more anxious as you take small failures and perceived set-backs more seriously than others might. Furthermore, being very ambitious makes anxiety all the more frustrating. Being beset by a panic attack before a vital meeting, pitch or event can really make you doubt your abilities, and beat yourself up over missed opportunities.
This all being said, suffering with anxiety is no reason to curtail your ambitions. The first step in making sure anxiety doesn’t hold you back is ensuring that it doesn’t knock your confidence so much that you start believing that you won’t achieve your goals. While you will have to take your anxiety into consideration and make the necessary allowances, there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t realize your career dreams.
Be kind to yourself.
Even though there’s no need to limit your ambitions, on a day-to-day basis you will need to cut yourself some slack. Small things can make all the difference when enacting good self-care. For example, if you have a huge deadline coming up, make sure you don’t arrange anything too onerous around that date, meaning you have plenty of time to relax outside of work. Or if you’re required to speak publicly and feel horribly nervous about it, make sure you arrange something to look forward to in the immediate aftermath, like a meal with all your friends – or a even splash out with a few days away.
Taking up a habit that relaxes you is another way to look after yourself and stay happy and healthy. Meditation is profoundly relaxing, and in terms of your career has also been linked to an increase in productivity, creativity and focus, making it very useful for ambitious individuals who struggle with anxiety. You can also reject unnecessary stress (for example by cutting out any extra responsibilities that aren’t vital – if you don’t enjoy them, don’t do them) and make more time for the things you love. Working until 9 pm every evening for months is more likely to lead to burnout than career success, so setting clear boundaries between work and leisure time is a must.
Let others be kind to you.
Bottling up your feelings, especially when you are overwhelmed, fearful and stressed out, can place an unbearable strain on your peace of mind. It can be uncomfortable to explain your situation to friends, bosses and colleagues, but it’s entirely up to you who you let know about your anxiety. You are far from alone, and people may just surprise you by sharing their own experiences. Also, employers are becoming ever more understanding. Giving people the chance to help you out will provide you with some vital support, and remove the worry that the people you work with assume you lack commitment.
Question your fears.
When you need to put your worries in perspective, you should question your fears and see if they stand up to scrutiny. One of the features of anxiety is the predilection to catastrophize. Perhaps if a piece of work isn’t going as well as you’d hoped, you feel it will never be right and your boss will hate it. Then their opinion of you will be damaged, and you’ll never get a promotion, or even worse you’ll lose your job, and once that happens you won’t find another, and so on until you find yourself in a miserable spiral.
By questioning this narrative, you can see that your panic is unjustified. Think about the times that you’ve felt like this before and nothing really bad happened. Ask whether it’s really likely that you’ll do a terrible job when you’ve proved yourself capable so many times before, or that dropping the ball on this occasion will actually impact your employer so much that they consider firing you. Question whether, in the larger scheme of things, if this is actually so important that it could change the trajectory of your life.
It can be difficult to think this way when you are panicking, so keeping a worry diary, or talking over your concerns with a supportive friend, may be the best way to gain this perspective. Dealing with anxiety while trying to get ahead in your career will create challenges for you, but by making sure you don’t let work take over your life and give yourself the care you need, you will rise up the career ladder without sacrificing your health or happiness.