The one thing that can paralyse performance

Do you ever feel sick with worry?
Have you ever been frozen by fear?
Does the thought of talking with your boss about problems you are experiencing with your work bring you out in a cold sweat?

If so, you have been experiencing anxiety.

Anxiety is normal.  We all experience anxiety in certain situations to a greater or lesser extent. It’s just that the what, the severity of and the how we respond, can be vastly different.

But excessive anxiety can lead to what are called anxiety disorders, a form of mental illness which can be devastating in their impact.

When the talk is about mental illness, many people think the main problem is depression. Depression is common and on track to become the leading cause of disability in the workplace. However it is anxiety disorders that are more prevalent.

Stats from Mindframe reveal:

  •  Approximately one in every five Australians will experience a mental illness in any given 12 months.
  •  Mental illnesses are the third leading cause of disability burden in Australia, accounting for an estimated 27% of the total years lost due to disability.
  •  About 4% of people will experience a major depressive episode in a 12-month period, with 5% of women and 3% of men affected.
  •   Approximately 14 % of Australians will be affected by an anxiety disorder in any 12-month period.

So what does this mean?
The implication is that for many of us, today’s modern way of life and work is causing an increasing amount of stress, which unless dealt with adequately, increases our risk for mental illness, including anxiety, depression and psychosis.

Disruption in the workplace from re-organisation, mergers and downsizing leads to brains having to adapt more frequently to change and uncertainty. These stressors cause the limbic system associated with the fight, fight and freeze response in the brain becoming hyper-stimulated and leads to increased levels of stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) being released from the adrenal glands. The physiological response leads to the associated symptoms we then experience as increased heart rate, breathing rate, sweaty palms and dilated pupils.

The impact of anxiety on cognition is reduced performance manifesting as poor coping skills, increased errors, inability to complete tasks, muddled thinking and emotional lability.

Fortunately there are a number of highly effective strategies to help manage the symptoms of anxiety.
Here are three:

1. Label the emotion. If it is fear associated with fear of failure, performance anxiety or social anxiety, saying how this emotion makes you “feel” reduces the limbic response. So call it for what it is, and say it out loud.

2. Do a reality check. It’s easy to catastrophise and see things as being far worse than they actually are when in a negative space. Are things really so terrible? Have you been in a similar situation before? If so, how did you manage last time? Remembering what helped previously and reframing your perceptions can be very powerful in reducing anxiety levels.

3. Approach the problem more mindfully. We spend a lot of time either future planning and thinking about all the “what ifs” or ruminating about what happened in the past. This leaves little time to be in the present moment. Being “present” calms the brain and by keeping the pre-frontal cortex engaged, provides you the means to stay solution- rather than problem-focused.

In any business or organisation, looking after the mental and physical health and well-being of every employee from CEO down, is essential for good organisational health. Having a healthy workplace is more efficient, more productive and a place people will want to work in.

A brain friendly work culture knows how to nurture and develop its mental capital.
Creating this culture begins by ensuring all brains are safe at work.

Do you work in a brain friendly workplace?
What policies and procedures does you organisation have in place to ensure stress levels are monitored and addressed appropriately?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Photo Credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/59269150@N08/13944975555/”>TablinumCarlson</a> via <a href=”http://compfight.com”>Compfight</a> <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/help/general/#147″>cc</a>

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