Our brains are wired for fear. Long ago, real, immediate dangers were a constant in the environment. Long ago, real, immediate dangers were a constant in the environment.
If our ancestors heard a sound in the bushes and shrugged it off, they could have been lunch for a prehistoric bear or a mountain lion. The human race might not have survived. So, our ancestors’ fear-based brains served them well. That was great in the “good old days,” but isn’t so great now.
Today, we deal with a tremendous amount of fear and anxiety related to the COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest. Let’s look at how to deal with these feelings.
All emotion comes from our thoughts, not directly from situations. COVID-19 and protesting do not in and of themselves create anxiety. What does that mean? Let me use myself as an example. When we were first quarantined, I thought, “Oh, now I have time to complete work and home projects.” Resulting feeling? Excitement. A couple of weeks later, I noticed I felt a bit depressed and unmotivated. I examined my thinking and realized that I was worried that quarantine would last forever (yes, my brain actually thought that), and that my family, work, and social life would never be the same. I worked on my own thinking to get back to feeling motivated. I’ll show you how.
I received many requests from people asking how to manage their increased anxiety. I did a Zoom coaching session with John (details have been changed to protect his identity) a Bay Area marketing consultant. John’s complaint of anxiety was similar to many others I heard.
John wrote the following: “The virus has really triggered my anxiety. How can I deal with it and live my life without the fears affecting my mind and emotional state?”
I started John’s coaching session discussing how our thoughts create our emotions. Then we jumped into John’s specific situation. I asked John what circumstance was related to his emotion, anxiety.
John said that he had been pursuing a potential client for a few weeks and had sent a contract to her the prior week. He had not heard back from her.
I asked John what thoughts he had prior to feeling anxious. John had to slow down to sort through his mind chatter (which we all have). He realized that he thought, “She is not going to hire me.” John’s thinking then spiraled into worry about his career, that his marketing skills weren’t good, and he would lose his business. John’s anxiety worsened into panic: he had lots of pressure in his chest, shallow breathing, and difficulty concentrating.
Were John’s thoughts realistic? Did John have evidence that the client wasn’t going to sign on with him? No, he said, no evidence. The fact that the prospect hadn’t returned a signed contract did not mean that she wasn’t going to hire John. And what action did John take when he felt this anxiety? He avoided his work: he stopped reaching out to potential clients and had a difficult time concentrating on the work he did have.
Then John and I discussed how he wanted to feel, his desired emotion. He said he wanted to feel relaxed, centered, and confident. He did not want to worry about this one prospect becoming a client. What did he need to think to feel this way? The realistic replacement thought John chose was: “I got this. Whether this client signs on or not, I have a proven track record as a successful marketing consultant.” With John’s renewed and realistic belief in himself and his abilities, he was motivated and excited to focus on his work.
Seven Steps to Manage Your Mind
Situation: These are facts. This statement would hold up in a court of law.
Thought: What thought do you have about the situation?
Realistic: Is there evidence that this thought is true? If yes, you need to feel your emotions.
If no, continue:
Emotion: What unpleasant feeling is that thought causing?
Action: What do you do when you have these thoughts and feelings?
Desired emotion: How do you want to feel?
Realistic replacement thought: What thought will lead to the desired emotion and consequent action.
Use this process to manage your brain. You can transform unrealistic, limiting beliefs to thoughts that serve you and help you create the life that you want. Manage your mind and your brain can be your superpower.