Stress and anxiety are a natural part of being human. They can even be useful. Stress can act as a motivator and anxiety can be a signal of danger and help us take stock of difficult situations.
To experience stress or anxiety is not necessarily something to be alarmed about, but when it becomes a consistent way of being and affects engagement in daily tasks, relationships and general wellbeing then it may be time to ask for help.
Change is a major culprit of stress and anxiety.
Even if you find change exciting, both stress and anxiety will still be present. A change in your job, even a small shift such as going part-time or moving departments, can act as a trigger. On a larger scale, making a complete change in career can cause havoc even before any actions have been taken. The mind works in such a way that we physically react to our thoughts, without anything actually even happening!
Career change begins in our head.
It’s in our head that we meet our main stumbling blocks. Anxiety can be a useful tool to enable us to assess risk and keep us safe. But more often than not, the risk factors are no longer about real survival (think sabor-toothed tiger) but the ‘what if’ scenarios that we create that keep us small. So, one of the biggest challenges in career change is how we cope with both the stress and anxiety which will inevitably turn up.
Here are five tips on how to stay focussed and calm in times of stress and worry:
Most of the time, we are only using around a third of our lung capacity.
As we get more stressed, our breathing becomes shallower. We take in less oxygenated air and expel less carbon dioxide, therefore decreasing the focus and function of the brain and body in general.
In moments of stress, we activate the sympathetic nervous system – our muscles contract and we revert to the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response. By slowing down our breath and taking longer, deeper breaths, we trigger the parasympathetic nervous system – known as ‘rest and digest’. This helps us to calm down, relax our body, become present and clear our mind.
Meditation is of course a great way to focus on the breath, but you don’t have to be a meditator, or even want to be one. You can focus on the breath at any point of the day, as you walk or sit at your desk. You could try a “3-minute breathing space” exercise, taken from MBSR – Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction – which can be done anywhere from the bus to the toilet cubicle. That’s just 180 seconds out of day to give yourself space and a time out.
WRITE IT DOWN
If you find that your mind is racing and your head feels fit to burst, writing things down can help.
Rather than having the same thoughts rolling back round in your mind, change the momentum and propel them forward and out onto paper. This clears space for more constructive thoughts and creativity. There are a number of ways that you can do this exercise. You can keep a journal by your bedside and empty your mind of your troubling thoughts before you go to sleep (better sleep will also contribute to lower stress levels).
You can also do this in the morning. The Artist’s Way is a book written by Julia Cameron, in which her main transformative tool is morning pages. As explained on her website, morning pages involve writing three pages of longhand first thing in the morning, to open up space for creative stimulation.
You could also keep a notebook with you at all times, so if you need to get something out of your head, just jot it down. You’ll probably find as you start to write more frequently, the same worries and topics will come up again and again…it is the ruminating nature of the mind!
THANK THE MIND
This is a technique from a type of behavioural therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).
We are generally our own worst critics. Each of us has a continual monologue running through our minds at every moment. Sometimes this narrative can be in the background and we don’t consciously notice it. At other times, it can be loud and clear, screaming insults at us and telling us we’re not good enough.
Thoughts can either be helpful or unhelpful. If they’re helpful, listen to them. Sometimes, seemingly unpleasant thoughts might just be useful to us i.e. stopping us from doing something that will put us in harm’s way. However, most of the time critical or worrisome thoughts fill our heads and are unhelpful. In which case, why engage with them? This is where thanking the mind comes in.
First we need to notice our thoughts. For example, we can notice that our inner critic is saying, “you’re not good enough to apply for that job”. Rather than get caught up in it, notice it, take a step back and see that this is just a thought – it’s not a fact. We can do this by saying something like “I’m having the thought that I’m not good enough”.
Once we’ve noticed the thought, we can acknowledge it by saying to ourselves “Thank you mind”. This allows us to disengage with the unhelpful thought and bring our attention to something of value. For a fuller explanation, you can watch a helpful YouTube video from Russell Harris, an ACT therapist and author of the book The Happiness Trap that tells you more about using this easy and accessible tool.
SHARE YOUR CONCERNS
Build yourself a support network.
Surround yourself with people who are supportive. Find friends or family members who you feel comfortable confiding in. Make sure they are people who are open-minded and not likely to squash your dreams – people can often project their own fears onto other people unknowingly. If you communicate your ideas about changing career to someone who is not a reliable ally, they may fill your mind with more doubt, rather than listen and encourage you.
Alternatively, you can find yourself professional help. A coach can provide a safe space to get clear on what is important to you, create possibilities that may have otherwise felt inaccessible, define goals and work with you to manage any personal blocks that will pop up along the way. If your anxiety or stress runs deep, it may be worth seeking help from a therapist or counsellor who can work with issues such as Generalised Anxiety Disorder.
Feeling stuck is enough to experience anxiety. The sense of being trapped and unable to move forward can feed into feelings of helplessness.
Taking action doesn’t have to mean some big gesture or move. It can just be a small change, like introducing the 3-minute breathing space into your life. Small steps add up. Doing something different no matter how small is still taking action. By not doing anything, you stay stuck in the same place, experiencing stress and anxiety and feeding into the loop you’re stuck in.
If you don’t know what direction to take, start by adding one of the previous four suggestions into your life and take it from there. That in itself is a new action towards change.
Is anxiety stopping you from moving forward in your career? Get in touch if you would like support to move through anxiety and make steps towards clarity around career change.
Hello! I’m Gemma!
I’m a Career Transition Coach & I’m here to help you get unstuck, find clarity around career change and take brave, actionable steps towards fulfilment and purpose. Find out more.