Don’t be such a worrywart, well-meaning career advice experts will tell you. They want you to worry less, or better yet not at all.
But that’s an impossibility. Despite all your best efforts to stay zen, there will be moments in your career where anxiety will strike and you’ll feel the heat of pressure. These thoughts are normal, and can even be motivating if you learn how to not let these anxieties overwhelm you.
Here’s the science of how to manage your inner worrywart and use it as a productive force for good.
1) Schedule worry time
Worrying about how you’re going to ace the interview can a productive mind exercise during the day, not the night before the big interview when you need to get sleep.
Instead of blaming and shaming yourself for having any anxiety at all — feelings that will only make you feel worse according to cognitive behavioral therapy principles — one study in Behavior Modification suggests redirecting these feelings and scheduling time during the day to do it. The researchers found that anxious participants who were told to focus their worries at a specific time and location over the day showed significant decreases in their overall anxiety and insomnia.
Researchers believe scheduling worry time works because it teaches you to identify what’s a worrisome thought in the first place. The act of reviewing your unpleasant thoughts shows you that these thoughts are just thoughts and not your permanent reality.
When you’re worrying at scheduled times, you’re breaking the association that your bedroom is where your worries hide at night, so you’re able to sleep more. And when you know you’re going to get worry time later in the day, you can focus on the present moment.
2) Write your worries down
One study found that one of the best ways to prepare for the stress in a high-pressure event is to write about it. A University of Chicago study found that worried students who were told to write about their worries and fears about an exam prior to taking it saw a boost in their test-taking performance.
In fact, people who journaled their worries overall got better grades on the test than those who didn’t.
“It might be counterintuitive, but it’s almost as if you empty the fears out of your mind,” University of Chicago professor, Sian Beilock, who led the writing test experiment, said. “You reassess that situation so that you’re not as likely to worry about those situations because you’ve slain that beast.”
The act of writing is useful because it gives your fears names, and puts them in perspective. Neuroscience research has found that labelling emotions helps us reduce the power these emotions have over us. Describing your emotions activates the prefrontal cortex in our brains, which in turn, reduces the arousal in the limbic system.
To sum up
To conquer your worries, in other words, you first have to acknowledge that you have worries. Once you learn how your anxiety operates, you’re able to break the paralyzing hold these thoughts have over you.