Managing the Anxiety of Starting Something New

Whether it’s starting a new job, a new relationship or moving to a new place, starting something new can be anxiety provoking. In fact, it pushes you to step into the unknown and break the routine, familiarity, and repetition, which can threaten your safety. Stepping into the unknown is a great territory for the mind to wander and create all sorts of scenarios, because in fact, anything is possible. Your mind might be telling you that your boss will not like you, you will get fired, and you will end up jobless. The next thing you know, you are living on the streets before you even start your job. The thing is, when your brain creates scenarios, your body will respond as if the threat is actually happening. It cannot distinguish real or imagined, and the fear might lead you to not take the new job even if you cannot stand your current one. In fact, even if you do not like the current job, you already know what to expect, and there is even familiarity despising it. It can feel safer and more comfortable than stepping into the unknown. However, the fear of the unknown could keep you stuck in doing something that no longer suits you.

Noticing the Feeling 

The first thing that you can do is notice what you are feeling when thinking of starting something new. Tune into the physical sensation of your body. Does it feel tight, pressure, heavy, or warm? Where does it stop and where does it begin? Just notice what is happening inside of your body. Noticing what is happening can help you understand your body’s response to the situation, without judging it. Basically, it is what it is. It also helps return to the present and notice the response to the situation that you are experiencing. If noticing your body’s sensation is too intense, see if you can bring your awareness to the edges of the sensation, where there is a less intense physical response. You could also put your feet on the ground and notice the sensation there until you feel ready to return to the more intense sensation in your body. After you spent some time with the more intense physical response, see if you can notice a spot in your body that feels calm or safe. It might be in your extremity, or maybe you notice the support of your chair on your back. When you find that spot, see if you can connect to the physical sensation in your body in the same way that you did for the stronger emotion. Really tune into the descriptor of your body’s sensation where it feels calm or safe. Is it soft, warm or open? Instead of telling yourself to calm down, this will show your body that you are safe in the present moment. It also helps you notice that while you may feel intense anxiety in some parts of your body, other parts might be experiencing something different. When your body feels anxious, thinking your way out might not be enough to calm your body if it perceives a threat. Instead, this will show your nervous system that you are actually safe in the present moment. You can keep alternate back and forth between the comfortable areas in your body, to the more painful experience in your body. It is important to first start with settling the body, before moving into the thoughts, as fear and anxiety can shut down the thinking part of the brain.

Become Curious

Another technique that you can add to your inner toolbox is being curious with your emotion. You can start by asking yourself, what is the emotion that you are experiencing?  Is it fear? Anxiety? Panic? Worry? Just notice what comes up. If noticing the emotion brings up a strong reaction in your body, you can go back to the previous step of just noticing the physical sensation. If you are able to stay with the emotion, you could ask it what it is trying to tell you. Listening to the emotion will help you understand yourself and acknowledge the emotion that brings messages that are often dismissed. Take the time to pay attention. When you have received the message, you can ask it what it would need from you? Maybe it is support, a kind word, a caring attention, or maybe it simply needed to be heard. Once you understand what it needs, see if you can bring that to yourself. If, for example, it is support that you need, you may want to imagine, hear, sense or feel the supportive part of you come in and bringing that support. As you do, notice what happens in your body. While you may not be able to change the situation, this will help change your response to a situation, and help build a greater understanding about yourself. It can also help you attend to your need and bring a healthy inner relationship.

Working with your Thoughts

While working with emotion and body may or may not bring relief, you can also work with your thoughts. In fact, your mind, body and emotions are not separate from each other, but they all work in response to one another. Therefore, when listening to the emotion, you may have noticed hurtful messages coming from your thoughts, such as “you will fail, you are not good enough, no one will like you”, etc. The emotional response to the situation can trigger such thoughts, which in turn, actually increase the painful experience. Therefore, it will first be important to notice what your thoughts are telling you. Remember that your thoughts are just that, thoughts, and that while they might be convincing, they might not be entirely true. Observing and noticing your thoughts will help create distance from them and help you return to the present. Often, fears and anxieties are based on the “what ifs” of the future, so bringing yourself to the present can ease anxiety. Once you identify your thoughts, you can analyse whether they are true. While anything is possible, you can start by assessing the likelihood that a fearful thought about the future is going to happen. You can also look into your past and see if what you are telling yourself has happened, how often, and whether it’s likely that it will happen again. However, if you know that there is a high likelihood what your thoughts are telling you will happen again, ask yourself how you got through it before. More specifically, what was helpful at that time? If this were to happen again how would you like to respond to it? This could help you get through it again. And, maybe this is not something that you want to go through again, which is also fine.

However, if you found that the likelihood of what your thoughts are telling you will most likely not happen, you can remind yourself of that fact. You can also ask yourself, “If the worst case scenario were to happen, would I be okay with it”? How would I want to deal with it? This might help you see that even if it did occur, you will be okay. Seeing that what your mind is telling yourself is most likely not going to happen can challenge it and help you see that you will most likely be okay. After looking at the evidence, you might try to reframe what you are telling yourself. You can do so by thanking the message that you receive, and then you can create a phrase that remind you that you will be okay. For example, you could say something like, “Thank you for watching out for me. But I will be able to manage what comes, I am safe, and I know that I am likable”. Whatever you want to create is just fine. If you notice that the message was hurtful, you can think of what you would like someone to tell you, and say it to yourself. Make sure to tune back into your body to see if something shifted. Sometimes, intentionally changing the internal message can shift the internal experience.