You have a big report due at work. It’s on a topic you’re familiar with, but you don’t feel confident presenting in front of your colleagues and boss. Every time you sit down to work on the presentation, you freeze and decide to do something else.
Does this sound familiar? You know that putting it off will not make it go away, but it’s easier to do something you enjoy and ignore the report.
I get it. Writers are notorious for delaying the time in front of the blank screen or notepad. We will check email, scroll social media, reorganize our desks, and do anything except sit down to write.
My students often hit their walls the week before a comprehensive exam. They come to my office worried about their performance. Sleep has teased them for about two weeks, and nothing has worked to seduce their eyelids to close for more than a couple of hours.
With sleep deprivation, it’s hard to concentrate.
Whether you’re working in your profession or studying for the next exam, the approach to gaining a better handle on anxiety is similar. Here are four steps in no particular order to help you gain more control of your life.
1. You have to prioritize healthy habits. Begin with improving what you eat and then add more movement to your life. A well-balanced diet and an exercise routine will lead to better rest at night.
2. Stop procrastination and start preparing. Instead of sitting down to complete the report, try working on one specific portion. Start by typing your name. I advise medical students to study for twenty minutes and then take a break. Reducing large tasks into manageable pieces can help ease the burden.
3. Pray, meditate, or practice yoga. With consistency, these critical three can serve as the spiritual and cognitive radars necessary for recognizing anxiety. They teach you to believe in a power higher than yourself, to control your breathing, and the importance of remaining present. An abundance of resources exists to help you begin praying, meditating, or practicing yoga.
4. Consider medicine. If the above three suggestions do not provide some relief, medication may be the best option for you. There’s no shame in getting yourself some help to control anxiety. Meet with a therapist for some assistance.
These four steps are not easy. Changing your diet and exercise routines, identifying work strategies, and starting a mindful practice, require discipline and accountability. Tell your friends or family about the improvements you want to make in your life. Then, ask them to join you.
You also have to internalize a “can do” belief system. Tell yourself, "I can do this. I may need some help, but I can do this _______." You may have to repeat this mantra to yourself every time before starting a difficult task.
If you continue to fail by not doing what you are supposed to, then maybe that's a sign to reassess your career or academic goals. I am not telling you to quit. But, perhaps, this is the time to pivot in alignment with a different option.
In life, our ability to choose is a gift. So accept the choices you've made and decide what's next. The unfinished report, writing task, or exam proves that more is possible for you.
Check out this additional resource I created for my students who struggle with anxiety.