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A few weeks ago, I thought I had a panic attack. I was stuck in traffic, which is saying a lot since I live in a town of 20,000 people. Road construction and tourists clogged the roads, and I was annoyed. I was late to pick up my son from golf practice, and I was still reeling from the horrifying images of people hanging on to airplanes in Afghanistan. As the CEO of a fast-growing company, my to-do was weighing on me and pangs of guilt flooded me.
I really should be working instead of fighting traffic, I thought. I was also worried about my employees in Reno who were suffering from smoke inhalation due to catastrophic fires. I got home and told my husband we needed to buy a generator and a food-growing dome in preparation for the end of the world.
He replied, “That’s not a terrible idea, but you need to take some breaths and stop reading the news.”
As I sat at my desk trying to work, I felt disoriented and upset. My eyes and brain wouldn’t focus on the board meeting agenda I was trying to create.
“Okay,” I said to myself. “Enough is enough. I’ve got to get my thoughts and emotions under control. Being constantly agitated isn’t sustainable, nor is it healthy. What can I do right now to help myself?”
When feeling anxious, which is pretty much the norm for most of us, you teach the body that living in constant stress is okay. But we all know that constant stress isn’t okay; it wreaks havoc on our physical and mental health, damages relationships and makes us less effective at our jobs.
So what do you do to relieve anxiety when you are a busy executive or entrepreneur? Here is what I did.
1. Remove at least one controllable source of stress
First, I asked myself, “What’s one stressor I am in control of that I can remove right now?” I deleted all news apps from my phone and committed to quit reading the news for at least a month. I don’t watch TV, so it was all about creating more discipline around my phone-reading habits. Quitting the news has been the biggest game-changer to date. It’s incredible how much better I feel when I am not cramming my brain with doom and gloom over which I have zero control. If you are still reading or watching the news, go cold turkey for a few days and see what happens.
2. Move your body, outside
Second, I went for a walk and listened to relaxing, fun music that made me want to sing along. I tried to stay in the present moment, watching the clouds pass by in the sky, observing the birds and insects flittering about, and noticed the sun and breeze on my skin. I took big, deep breaths, exhaling loudly through my mouth, imagining stress escaping with each exhalation. The combination of moving my body, listening to music I love, being present in the fresh air and taking deep breaths calmed me quickly.
3. Pick two things you want to get done, do them and let the rest go
Third, I picked just two items off my to-do list, committing to get them done and saving the rest for the next day. After my walk, I felt more focused and completed the tasks. Then I smiled. I still accomplished two things while taking the pressure off of completing everything on my list, which was impossible anyway.
4. Get a good night’s sleep
Fourth, I committed to getting a good night’s sleep. After eating a healthy dinner, I took a bath, drank a mind-relaxing tea with ashwagandha instead of a glass of wine, listened to a guided mediation and turned the lights out by 9 p.m.
The next day, I felt better. I still wanted a growing dome, but I was good with forgoing the generator. I thought about looking at the news, but I realized it was just out of habit — something to do while waiting in line at the grocery store. I felt refreshed after sleeping for seven hours and working out in the morning. I picked up a book on meditation and natural healing, which has inspired me to let go of negative thought and emotion patterns and meditate more.
I still haven’t read the news; it’s going on three weeks, and I feel remarkably better. I meditate every day, read books instead of the news, and feel happier and more positive.
Simple doesn’t mean easy, but if you are successful for one day, you can build upon it and try it again the next day. Practicing is how you create new patterns and habits, and you might be surprised at how much better you start to feel.