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Strategies for self-managing anxiety in a culture of overwhelm

Let go of anxiety by changing the narrative and letting go of things you can't control, Marlene Chism advises.

5 min read


Black male with elbow on knees, hands by mouth, thinking for Marlene Chism article on anxiety

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Marlene Chism

Our world is changing at such warp speed that half of us will need to reskill in the next five years, according to the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs report. “Newly emerging this year are skills in self-management such as active learning, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility,” the report says. With the exciting advances of technology, ChatGPT and artificial intelligence come the balancing act happening before our eyes: Burnout is on the rise, anxiety is the new normal, and retaining engaged employees is an ongoing challenge.   

Maybe the top skill needed today is protecting one’s own well-being. This post offers four strategies for self-managing in a work environment that has most of us overworked, overwhelmed and overstimulated. 

Strategy #1 | The Number Line

Consider the possibility that if you feel anxious, you may be way too far in the future mentally, and when you feel regret, you’re living in the past. How do you take control of the negativity that wants to live in regret and consternation? By using The Number Line technique. 

Visualize a number line starting at negative 10 and going to positive 10. The middle is zero, which represents the present moment. The farther to the left you go, the more you are living in the past. The farther to the right, the more you’re in the worry of the future. Far left and far right create anxiety.


Track your feelings of anxiety, fear or regret. Once you notice the feeling, determine where you are on the number line. For example, positive 8 means you’re way in the future. Bring yourself (your thought processes) back to zero, the present moment. Aim to stay between negative 2 and positive 2. 

Strategy #2 | Thank you for sharing 

When you’re feeling that you can’t get anything right, it’s likely due to negative self-talk, also known as the monkey mind. Most of us beat ourselves up on a daily basis. The monkey mind is a mismanaged narrative that has you believing you don’t have the smarts to keep up with technology, and that you’re going to get behind, and that you’re going to face some big failure. 

What I learned through narrative coaching is that your story is the source of your suffering. The reality of new technology and artificial intelligence is here to stay. The monkey mind can take hold, and if you aren’t aware that it’s just a bundle of thoughts, you can become overly anxious, anti-social or negative. 


When the worries come to the surface, notice, and say to yourself, “Thanks for sharing.” Pay attention to your actual conversations with others, and you’ll hear other people’s concerns as well as your own. When you notice the quiet voice that’s always in your mind, you can shift the direction by acknowledging the narrative without giving in to the anxiety. 

Strategy #3 | Cancel the need

Whether it’s politics, trying to change others or the advancement of artificial intelligence, most of us get worked up and overwhelmed when we try to control things we can’t control. Complaining about the rain never makes the sun come out; it only stresses other people. Conversations about how it shouldn’t be creates internal strain that affects your productivity and well-being. 

What if you didn’t need things to be any different than they are today — right now? Simply cancel the need to change anything. 


When you find yourself trying to control the uncontrollable, simply say, “I cancel the need to … ,” and then fill in the blank. For example, “I cancel the need to control the speed of change.” Or “I cancel the need for them to understand the decision I’m making.” 

When you let go of the burden of trying to change that which cannot be changed, you free your energy to focus on what you can control. 

Strategy #4 | The magic phrase 

Often the help and support we need from others never gets realized because of our own resistance to asking. Often we assume we know what the other person will say, so we avoid the risk of rejection by not asking. You can test for resistance by using the magic phrase “Would you be willing …?” Start by asking yourself, “Am I willing to ask even if I already know what they will say?”


The magic phrase “would you be willing …” allows you to test for someone else’s agreement or resistance to your request. The goal isn’t to always get your way, manipulate or win. Instead, the goal is to strengthen your ability to ask and to see where the movement might happen. 

This method also reduces your anxiety by strengthening your sense of self to accept when others say no, rather than assuming a no. If you ask someone if they are willing to do XYZ and they offer excuses and reasons, it means they are in a state of resistance, and the real barrier is three layers deep. Often , if you use the phrase, “Would you be willing … ,” the other person finds some way to meet you halfway. And since there’s no pressure, they can say no without risk. No matter what skills the future of work requires of you, the one skill that will always benefit you personally and professionally is to protect and enhance your well-being.

Marlene Chism is a consultant, speaker and the author of  “From Conflict to Courage: How To Stop Avoiding and Start Leading.” She is a recognized expert on the LinkedIn Global Learning platform. Connect with Chism via LinkedIn or at

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own. 


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