Article Summary: How Anxiety Traps Us, and How We Can Break Free

Summary of the HBR article "How Anxiety Traps Us, and How We Can Break Free" -

When anxious, we tend to get trapped in false or limited ways of thinking. These thought patterns create a debilitating negative spiral that can take over our lives by convincing us of impending doom and further exacerbating our sense of helplessness. 

Some traps and thought patterns:

>> Catastrophizing: Imagining the worst possible outcome. “I will get fired if the presentation has any glitches.”

>>  Mind reading: Imagining what others are thinking. “I know he doesn’t like working with me because he thinks I’m dumb.”

>> Fortune telling: Imagining what the future holds, but without data. “They will all hate me in the new group because I’m the only one who isn’t a physicist.”

>> Black-and-white thinking: Considering only two possible outcomes. “I’ll either hit a home run or get fired.”

>> Overgeneralizing: Painting all situations with a generalized outcome. “I presented to the CEO last year, and it didn’t go well. I never get things right or always fail when it comes to executive audiences.”

Some strategies to overcome anxiety:

1. Recognize physical cues of an impending attack and pause the pattern - consciously change your activities. Engage the thinking part of your brain, for instance, by doing math

2. Name the trap to regain power by realizing you’ve encountered it before — and survived.

3. Separate fears, uncertainties, and doubts (FUD) from verified fact - Create a two-column list to bring you back to reality

4. Compose three separate stories and ensure they’re very different from each other - Expanding the stories you tell yourself about a specific situation shows you there are multiple possibilities, many of them more positive than your initial hypothesis.

5. Walk your talk - If you find yourself saying, “I feel stuck,” “I don’t know what to do,” or “There’s no way out,” ask yourself, “If a colleague came to me with my predicament, what would I tell them?”

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Article Summary: How Anxiety Traps Us, and How We Can Break Free