5 Science-backed strategies to keep fear and anxiety in check at work


Fear is a perfectly natural emotion that primarily serves as a self-preservation mechanism. It can also hinder our professional growth. Here are five science-backed strategies to help you keep fear and anxiety in check at work.
Here are five science-backed strategies to help you keep fear and anxiety in check at work. Image: Getty

Fear and anxiety can trap even the most talented individuals, preventing them from achieving their full potential. Fear prevents us from presenting outside-the-box ideas to decision-makers in our organisation, or hesitate to take on challenging new projects that would stretch our skills beyond our comfort level. By understanding and managing these emotions we have a chance to turn them into opportunities for growth and resilience.

Here are five tips to help you overcome fear and anxiety.

1. Understand and Embrace Your Fear

First and foremost, it’s crucial to understand that fear is not your enemy. It’s the brain’s natural response to perceived threats, designed to keep you alert and safe. In our modern lives, however, the threats we experience are often more abstract—like a high-stakes presentation or meeting a tight deadline—than the physical dangers our ancestors had to contend with. Recognizing the source of your fear is the first step toward managing it.

When you name your fears, you take away some of their power. Write them down, discuss them with a trusted friend, a mentor. or even say them out loud to yourself. This process of putting words to them can make your fears seem more manageable and less intimidating.

Research shows that labeling emotions can reduce their intensity. A study published in Psychological Science found that participants who put their feelings into words experienced decreased activity in the amygdala, indicating reduced emotional reactivity. This supports the idea that naming fears can help manage them.

2. Reframe Your Thoughts

The way you perceive a situation can significantly impact your emotional response. This is where the power of reframing comes into play. Instead of viewing a challenging situation as a threat, try to see it as an opportunity for growth.

For instance, if you’re anxious about giving a big presentation, remind yourself that this is a chance to showcase your creativity and knowledge while gaining experience in honing this critical skill. By shifting your focus from the possibility of failure to the potential for personal growth and success, however uncomfortable, you can reduce your anxiety and approach the situation with more confidence.

Cognitive reappraisal, a strategy of reframing thoughts, has been shown to effectively reduce anxiety. A meta-analysis published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found that cognitive reappraisal interventions significantly reduced anxiety symptoms across various populations.

3. Practice Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques

Mindfulness and relaxation techniques are powerful tools for managing anxiety. Being present in the moment and not letting your mind wander to potential future catastrophes can help you stay grounded.

Practices such as deep breathing, where you inhale for up to four seconds and then exhale for four to six seconds, meditation, or even mindful walking can help you stay present. These techniques can slow down your racing thoughts, lower your heart rate, and create a sense of calm. With regular practice you may find it easier to manage anxiety when it arises.

Being present in the moment and not letting your mind wander to potential future catastrophes can help alleviate anxiety. Image: Getty

Mindfulness-based interventions have been proven effective in reducing anxiety. A systematic review and meta-analysis published in the European Journal of Investigation in Health, Psychology and Education found that mindfulness-based stress reduction programs significantly decreased anxiety levels in various clinical populations.

4. Build a Support Network

Many of us feel an intrinsic need for social connection, but objective measures of social engagement show that we’ve been moving further apart over the past several decades. Isolation can exacerbate fear and anxiety. Building a strong support network of friends, family, and colleagues can provide you with a safety net of emotional support.

Share your fears and anxieties with your support network. Often, just talking about what you’re going through can relieve some of the burden. Additionally, your network can offer different perspectives, advice, or simply a listening ear, which alone can be incredibly reassuring.

Social support has been linked to lower levels of anxiety and improved mental health. A study in the Journal Behavior Therapy found that perceived social support was helpful in reducing anxiety symptoms, highlighting the importance of a strong support network.

5. Take Action

One of the most effective ways to combat fear and anxiety is to take proactive steps toward resolving the issues causing these emotions. Break down overwhelming tasks into smaller, manageable steps.

For example, if you’re anxious about a large project at work, create a detailed plan with specific, actionable tasks. Tackling these tasks one-by-one can help you feel more in control and less overwhelmed. Each small accomplishment is a victory and can build your confidence, making the larger challenge seem more achievable.

Breaking down tasks and taking action can reduce anxiety through a process called behavioural activation. Research published in Behaviour Research and Therapy demonstrated that behavioural activation interventions effectively reduced anxiety symptoms in adults with anxiety disorders.

Fear and anxiety are natural parts of the human experience. Embrace them, manage them wisely, and let them guide you toward personal and professional growth. By applying these science-backed strategies, you can turn these emotions into powerful allies on your journey to success.

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