2020 was the most successful year I’ve ever had in business, and equally the most stressful.
I experienced some major highs and major lows, including burnout. If you’ve never experienced burnout before, here’s how I describe it – losing all motivation and desire to do anything. It’s a state of exhaustion that’s induced by excess stress. Basically, your mind and body shut down because they’ve had enough. Game over.
There’s no doubt that the pandemic influenced this, but I actually experienced burnout in 2019 as well. So I cannot attribute my stress and burnout to COVID.
There is a larger factor in play here. There is something that traps us in a revolving state of anxiety and it’s quite simple –
It’s how much we take on.
Yep, that’s it. No fancy medical explanation or new hypothesis on what causes anxiety. It’s not caused by that new drug you’re taking or that change in diet. It’s not caused by COVID or politics. It’s simply a matter of how much we take on.
Don’t believe me? Let’s run through some scenarios –
When you watch the news and feel anxious, what are you doing?
You’re letting your mind take on new information. Then you’re reacting to how you feel from that information, which usually induces stress.
You would have never had that stress if you didn’t watch the news.
When you read a text or message and become anxious, what are you doing?
You’re letting your mind take on new social engagement. Now you’re telling yourself a story about what these little messages mean. “Is she upset with me? Did he mean to wait 4 hours before responding? What does that wink emoji really mean???” All this story-telling fills your mind with thoughts to process and you become stressed.
You would have never had that stress if you didn’t open that message.
When you experience business growth but somehow feel anxious, what are you doing?
You’re letting your mind take on new accountability. There are new projects and things needed, which you’re involved in. Now you have to take action and manage more things which spreads you thin and creates stress.
You would have never had that stress if you didn’t let the growth in.
When you think about COVID and feel anxious, what are you doing?
You’re letting your mind create new stories with open-ended questions. “What if I get it? What if my family gets it? Will we be okay?” You’ve just loaded your mind with new stress, which is hard to remove because you cannot easily answer these questions.
You would have never had that stress if you didn’t think these thoughts.
Starting to get the point?
Anxiety has a direct correlation with how much stress we’re managing.
From family and social relationships to business and media, our total anxiety encompasses all the things we take on. Or stated differently – all the things we’re currently processing and responsible for. It’s really that simple.
I often like to think of our minds as computers. The more you load into a computer and ask it to process, the harder it has to work. At some point a computer’s fan will come on to indicate that it’s reaching capacity and needs to cool off. And then eventually, a computer will shut down if you overwhelm it.
Our minds are no different. They can only manage so much stress before they shut down and experience burnout.
Managing Anxiety Today
The reality is that anxiety is currently at an all-time high. Yes, the pandemic has had a role in this. However, I think technology and our dependency on staying connected is far more responsible. We live in a world where information is flowing at unprecedented rates. Sometimes new information is harmless, but usually it’s just more to take on which creates inevitable stress.
It’s important to realize that our species didn’t live this way until recently. Rapid technological advancements within the last 30-40 years have changed our ways of communicating and exchanging information. So we’re certainly adapting in real-time and learning in the process.
But here’s the funny thing – we’re not exactly solving the problem. We’re trying to put a patch on it.
Here’s what I mean by that…
We’re throwing more drugs and therapists into the mix. Take this pill – it will make you feel better. Or go talk to Dr. Tom – he’s good at figuring this stuff out.
We’re running podcasts and LIVE webinars on how to meditate. Can you believe that? We have to remind ourselves and train each other that it’s okay [and helpful] to just sit with your thoughts. This is the majority of what our species spent their time on back in the day! “Mind-blowing” stuff that we’ve simply forgotten.
We’re growing businesses and tricking ourselves into thinking we aren’t anxious. For example, we build teams so we can systematize and delegate the work, which then gives our team members more to take on instead of us inheriting all the work. But does this really make us less anxious? For a select few of us perhaps. But I know A LOT more bald/exhausted CEOs than “free” business owners. That’s for sure. I’ve personally been guilty in this scenario, which has led to burnout on several occasions. It’s an easy trap for business owners to fall into.
My point is that we’re not really trying to reduce our anxiety, we’re trying to fix it or act like it’s not there. If we truly wanted to reduce it we would just take on less. Simple.
This applies to all walks of life.
Want more friends? Get ready for anxiety. Want more real-time news? Get ready for anxiety. Want a bigger business? Get ready for anxiety. It’s happy to come right in and make itself comfortable.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking the richest, smartest, most successful people don’t have anxiety. I can assure you most of them do. In fact, they probably have more than you. More money or social status is not going to cure your anxiety. It usually just makes it worse, because again, you’ve taken on more.
Very few of us are disciplined enough to take on more and not let it create anxiety.
What about good anxiety?
Now it’s important to accept that some amount of anxiety is inevitable. In other words, we cannot completely remove anxiety from our lives. We have to feel anxious about something, since there are things to do! And that’s perfectly okay.
There is actually good anxiety and forms of stress that force us to take action. Like giving a public speech or finally making a key decision. This is where we can learn and grow. We need some amount of anxiety in our life to progress.
However, the key is managing how much you take on.
Control your use of technology!
If there’s anything I’ve learned about managing anxiety, it’s that technology can be an accelerator. For example, one little email or text message can take you from a state of peace to pure stress within seconds. It’s that easy, and precisely why I rarely check my phone on nights or weekends. I don’t need the possibility of something disrupting my family time.
More importantly, I want complete control over my mind and what I allow to enter it. That’s how I control anxiety.
Here are some things I’ve found helpful:
- I leave my phone in another room most of the day. There’s no reason I need to be accessible all the time.
- I answer text messages once or twice per day. I don’t need a conversation constantly on my mind while I’m doing other things.
- I log into Facebook once or twice per week for a few minutes, usually to post stuff like this. Sometimes I honestly forget! I don’t benefit from filling my mind with other people’s activity, especially advertisers.
- I watch the news every couple weeks. I don’t need an update every 24 hours on societal changes.
This is just my way of managing anxiety, and I still have some! So don’t get it twisted. I’m not telling you what to do… I’m just helping you realize where it comes from and offering some ways to reduce it.
As you pay more attention to this, you can get better at realizing what kind of anxiety you’re experiencing and where it came from. You start asking important questions like, “What did I just take on and why?”
We’ll dig into the WHY we take things on in another post! 🙂
For now, I’d love some comments or feedback on this. Does this resonate with you? If not, where do you think your anxiety is coming from?
Ali is the creator of this site. He is a father, husband, serial entrepreneur, software engineer and last but not least - a relentless life learner. He adds Siracha to 90% of the food he consumes.
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