• Andrew

Anxiety - Thoughts for the New Year

Updated: Nov 25, 2019

As we move into the new year, you might be setting goals about getting things done, having fun, getting organized, losing weight, or spending time with friends. Some people are inspired by their New Year’s goals. Their goals provide just enough motivation to make important lifestyle changes.

But for others, moving into the New Year seems overwhelming. Resolutions and expectations – especially if you’re already falling short of what you had hoped for – create anxiety.

Anxiety can motivate.

Anxiety can help you get work done on time and make thoughtful decisions. It can help you pay your bills, clean the kitchen, give a presentation or take a test. Anxiety helps you get started and make things happen – especially things you don’t really want to do.

Without intensity, life would feel flat. Important tasks wouldn’t seem urgent. People with little energy or intensity often feel depressed or disconnected with life.

But too much anxiety is exhausting.

Peak performers know how to find the “sweet spot”

Peak performers - like athletes know about the “sweet spot”. They know how to motivate themselves to do their best. They also know how to tell when they’ve reached their peak, and how to keep their energy from turning into anxiety.

In 1908, Harvard Psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson proposed that performance and “arousal” (their term for anxiety) are related. The more aroused you are, the better you perform – to a point. After that point, you become anxious and don’t perform as well.

A little anxiety motivates, but too much gets in your way.

Research shows that we need some anxiety to feel energized and motivated – and to warn us when there’s a problem. But too much leaves us feeling overwhelmed and frazzled, like there’s danger around every corner.

Finding peak performance

There are many ways to move from anxiety to peak performance. You can find a way that works for you by following these research-based principles:

1. Be positive. A common New Year’s resolution is to “be less anxious.” A more positive goal might be to “stay calm” or “enjoy my mornings.”

2. Be specific. Research shows that change is more likely when you focus on one particular part of a problem rather than something more general. If you’re trying to create a calm morning, you might start your morning 10 minutes of meditation. If you’re trying to stay calm in a conversation, you might take 2 full breaths before responding.

3. Start small. Break down your goal by thinking about a particular situation or time of day. For example your goal might be, “Step outside and breathe the fresh air first thing every morning” or “When I hear a request, take three deep breaths before responding”.

We do need anxiety – but just enough to stay safe, motivated, and do our best. A little anxiety is a good thing. Too much is overwhelming. Learning how to enjoy the moments – or turn down the intensity – are the keys to doing well and feeling good in the new year.

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