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Navigating The Storm – Managing Anxiety Amidst Economic Challenges And A Global Pandemic

Written by: Gillian Jones-Williams, Senior Level Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 
Executive Contributor Gillian Jones-Williams

In an era marked by economic uncertainties there is no denying that the world is, and has been, a worrying place for the last 3 years. We have encountered more uncertainty and sadness than some people have experienced in their whole lives and anxiety has come as an unwelcome companion for many, especially the younger generation navigating the professional landscape.


man sits on the couch while protecting against COVID-19

Increasingly, we are hearing from our clients that their employees are suffering from anxiety and stress. This is particularly prevalent in the younger generations, and it is not surprising – since they entered the workplace, they have experienced a Pandemic, an escalating economic crisis, the war in Ukraine, the devastating situation in the Middle East and a constant stream of harrowing news on top of the pressure to succeed. The climate is what we describe as VUCA – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous, which are all things that are hard to deal with. Volatile because the challenges are unexpected or unstable, with an unknown duration, Uncertain because there is often a lack of information and we are unaware of how things might play out, Complex because the situation has so many parts that are interconnected and there are many variables making it hard for anyone to predict what action to take, and Ambiguous because there are no precedents and therefore we are facing many ‘unknown unknowns’.


So how do we all cope in this type of climate? The answer is that many of us aren’t coping – and the impact on our mental health is extreme. Thankfully, for many years the issue of mental health has become a topic of discussion in the workplace and these open and frank discussions have been helpful for people to be able to discuss how they are feeling and the impact that stress has on us. However, this uncertainty can exacerbate stress, which can result in a feeling of not being in control, leading to increased alertness where we constantly search the news for some certainty and positivity. The instinctive reaction is to avoid the threat by worrying and when we cannot get the correct knowledge to help us, the nervousness and stress increase.


Anxiety can be caused by many things – biological reasons, negative thoughts, early life experiences, learning anxious behaviour from other people, difficult experiences, debt or experiences that worry and concern us. Our brains are also wired for negativity bias and our primitive programming is attuned to noticing danger and threats to protect us. Therefore our Amygdala encodes our memories with a negative bias to keep us safe which can lead to emotional hijacks. So, the first step in managing stress is to overcome our negativity bias. The negative thoughts are ‘sticky’ so the more we focus on them they grow, like a snowball attracting more and more snow and growing in size. So, we need many more positive thoughts to balance it out. This means we need to fill our brain with appreciative thoughts, looking for moments of beauty or kindness, noticing or commenting on the positive qualities and actions of other people and to regularly take a break during our day to focus on a feeling of calm.


There are many symptoms of stress and anxiety, the most obvious one is the feeling of nausea as the stomach closes down due to adrenalin. However, symptoms such as stomach ache, shortness in breath, headaches, pins and needles, palpitations, dry mouth, muscle pain, dizziness, pins and needles are just a few – it can manifest itself in different ways for different people.


Sadly, we also don’t help ourselves as we have a lot of unhelpful thinking, such as catastrophising, black and white reasoning, jumping to conclusions, over generalising and personalisation. But the most damaging thing is when we are focusing on too many areas that we have no control over. So, when we are feeling anxious we should ask ourselves, “is there anything I can do right now” and if there isn’t we have to learn to push it aside and focus on something we can control. It is hard but an important discipline to begin the process of calming ourselves.


There are many other things that we can do to reduce anxiety, and this begins with self-care – often when we are anxious, we self-medicate with alcohol, cigarettes, food or other addictive activities. This is actually counter intuitive as long term we end up feeling worse about ourselves and less in control which becomes a self-fulfilling prediction.


The dopamine trap


Particularly for the younger generation the link between dopamine and anxiety is something to be aware of – research has shown that there is a massive link between social interactions and increased anxiety. This is partially caused by the social validation loop; successful social interactions release neurotransmitters.


And whilst we may know this, doom scrolling is not helping us. In this age, where we have constant connectivity and instant gratification, dopamine hits, which are designed to make us feel good become a double-edged sword. The thrill of a ‘like’ on a social media page, can lead to an incessant quest for validation and whilst the excitement can provide a momentary high, it eventually contributes to chronic stress and anxiety. In todays’ comparison culture, feelings of inadequacy become exacerbated creating a toxic cycle that impacts mental wellbeing.


Managing anxiety in the face of economic uncertainties and global conflicts can be challenging, but there are several strategies individuals can adopt to navigate these turbulent times. Here are some personal approaches to help manage anxiety:


Stay informed, but set limits


While staying informed about economic developments and global conflicts is essential, it's crucial to set limits on news consumption. Constant exposure to negative news can heighten anxiety levels. Designate specific times to catch up on news and focus on reliable sources to avoid misinformation.


Focus on what you can control


There are many things that we can control. How we think, how we choose to act, who is in our life, how we treat ourselves, our happiness, our ambition and our priorities. But there is a lot that we can’t control, the past, the future, other people’s perceptions of us, and other people’s actions, to name a few. However, we need to acknowledge that we can’t control these elements and instead of dwelling on them we need to concentrate on actions we can take in our personal and professional life.


Practice mindfulness and being present


Mindfulness practices, such as meditation and deep breathing exercises, can make a massive difference if you incorporate them into your daily routine. When the outside noise starts to create anxiety, centring your mind, will reduce stress, and improve overall well-being.


Maintain a healthy lifestyle


As boring as it is, one of the greatest things we can do to help our moods, anxiety and overall wellbeing, is to cut back on ultra processed food and, in particular, sugar, which can cause glucose spikes that exacerbate anxiety. Eating as cleanly as possible, taking any form of exercise and focusing on a good nighttime routine for maximum sleep will make a huge difference.


Pull on your supportive social network


Share your concerns with trusted friends, family members, or colleagues. Connecting with others will help you to feel less isolated. And don’t be afraid to talk to people at work, there are often many workplace resources to support you.


Have goals but don’t overload yourself


Goals will help to give you purpose and focus but break down larger tasks into smaller, more manageable goals to avoid overwhelm. Daunting challenges can feel overwhelming and breaking things down will allow you to make steady progress.


Limit social media exposure


Social media can contribute to anxiety, especially with constant updates on global conflicts. Consider limiting your time on social platforms and curating your feed to include positive and uplifting content.


Hobbies and relaxation activities


Dedicate time to activities you enjoy and that help you relax. Whether it's reading, painting, listening to music, or spending time in nature, engaging in hobbies can provide a welcome distraction from anxieties.


In summary, as we navigate these challenging times, we need to prioritise well-being and be alert to the toll that adversity can take on our own mental health and that of others. Remember, it’s okay to ask for help and talk to others, being honest and vulnerable is a big part of building our resilience. Noticing early symptoms and taking action or encouraging others to talk will help everyone to be equipped with the tools to manage anxiety and continue to grow and develop.


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Gillian Jones-Williams Brainz Magazine
 

Gillian Jones-Williams, Senior Level Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Gillian Managing Director of Emerge Development Consultancy which she founded 28 years ago. She is a Master Executive Coach working with many CEOs and managing Directors globally. She is also an international speaker and in 2020 was named by f: Entrepreneur as one of the leading UK Female Entrepreneurs in the I also campaign. This year she has been nominated as a finalist for Leader of the Year by the Women’s Business Club,


Gillian founded the RISE Women’s Development Programme which is delivered both in the UK and the Middle East, and Saudi and is her absolute passion.

She is also the co-author of How to Create a Coaching Culture, 50 Top Tools for Coaching, and the author of Locked Down but Not Out which is a diary of the first 3 months of the pandemic to raise money for the bereaved families of the NHS workers who died during COVID-19.

If you want to know more about our training and development solutions or our Managing Anxiety programmes, please do contact us. For more information contact us on 01329 820580 or via info@emergeuk.com.


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