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4 Techniques to Eliminate Anxiety at Work with Your Hands

Executive Summary

Could you be responsible for your anxiety at work? The answer might be in your biology and about your physiology.

  • Business psychologist Dr. Sharon Melnick conducted a decade of research at Harvard Medical School and discovered that most people haven’t developed adequate stress resilience techniques.
  • Acupressure is a viable and free option for managing our response to anxiety at work. By pressing certain points of our hands with our fingers, we can balance our bodies and brains through our nervous system.
  • Our bodies release cortisol when we’re stressed. To cope with the daze that puts us in, we reach for junk food. Instead, try 4 acupressure techniques you can do at the office or at home.

Many of the stresses that we attribute to our emotional state— such as feeling anxious, having low self-regard, or being reactive—stem from our physiology. These so-called “false moods” occur because we lack the brain chemistry to support resilience to stress.

But there’s good news: these states can change quickly, as we change our physiology.

I asked Harvard integrative medicine specialist Sara Gottfried, MD, how we can avoid feeling as though we’ve failed if we don’t live up to Superwoman or Superman standards every minute of the day. She suggested a new mantra: “It’s my adrenals, it’s not me.” According to Gottfried, we need to stop blaming and pressuring ourselves and instead begin to “get curious about our biology.”

So, let’s follow the doctor’s orders. But before I guide you toward the biology you want to create to get on the Success Under Stress cycle, I want to share a few secret weapons for an immediate confidence boost and anxiety reduction. Part of grasping the reasons behind your anxiety at work and achieving Success Under Stress is gaining control over getting into—and staying in—a confident state, no matter what’s happening around you.

How Pressing Acupressure Points Heals Anxiety at Work

To understand the toolbox of exercises presented in this article, I asked Joseph Michael Levry, PhD, founder of Naam Yoga Therapies, to explain how pressing acupressure points on your hands can give you a beneficial result. He replied:

“Folding the fingers of the hands in different postures and holding them for specific periods causes a healing pressure to be applied on particular nerves.These hand and finger postures can generate various qualities such as fearlessness, confidence, power and peace in the practitioner, and can provide healing effects for various health problems. In the fingertips of every human being, there are many concentrated nerve root endings, which are free energy discharge points. By touching together the tips of the fingers or the fingertips to other parts of the hand, the ‘life force’ is redirected back into the body along veins, tendons, glands, sensory organs and back up to the brain, thus balancing basic elements of the body.”

In effect, you have access to an internal pharmacy.

Here are some practical tools you can use to defuse anxiety at work:

TECHNIQUE #1: The Panic Reset Button

If you, like so many people, become nervous before presenting or speaking in public, use the following acupressure point, which I call the “Panic Reset” button.

TECHNIQUE #1 The “Panic Reset” Hand Position: Touch your thumb to the knuckle on the side of your middle (third) finger. Then move your thumb back toward your palm, feeling for a “soft” spot or a slight indentation in between. Apply medium pressure there.

According to neuroscientist Sonia Sequeira, PhD, this spot touches a point . . . that correlates to a nerve that runs from the chest to the tip of the middle finger. The meridian is related to your heart area. When you apply pressure to that point it helps to regulate blood pressure and reduce anxiety.

TECHNIQUE #2: The Confidence Point

For a boost of confidence, try pressing the Confidence Point button. According to Sequeira: “You are applying pressure to a meridian that corresponds to a nerve related to the function of the large intestine, which has subtle energy related to having charisma and feeling powerful, or its opposite.” When you press this point it sends signals that reduce internal emotional commotion and induce a state that is subtly more confident. Place your hands in this position for as few as 30 seconds before you speak up in a presentation, or whenever you need a shot of confidence.

TECHNIQUE #2 The “Confidence Point” Hand Position: Use either hand to touch your thumb to the side of the index finger in between the first and second knuckles. Apply mild to moderate pressure.

TECHNIQUE #3: The Push-Away-Fear Breath

You can train your body to get rid of fear. Try this exercise, also from Naam Yoga. The vigorous exhale stimulates your PNS, helping to create calm. I’ve used this breath to dampen my claustrophobia so that I can live with less stress in New York City, where crowded subways and elevators are a part of life!

TECHNIQUE #3 “Push-Away-Fear Breath”

Breath: Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth vigorously, with an accentuated inhale and exhale. Each time you breathe out, forcefully push your hands away from you (like you are pushing away something you don’t want) and exhale through your mouth. Then breathe in through your nose and bring your hands back in a straight line toward your chest, with your elbows by your side. Then breathe out vigorously through your mouth, again pushing away your hands. Repeat.

Hand Position: Bring together the tips of the thumb and index finger and bring your hands up so they are in front of your chest facing away from you.

Duration: Start doing this exercise for one minute and work your way up to three minutes. It may make you feel a little lightheaded the first few times; just stop if it feels uncomfortable.

TECHNIQUE #4: Problem-Solving Position

To build your own confidence and prove yourself in your own mind, you must build your self-trust and consult your intuition to solve problems.

Here is a hand position you can use to activate your brain’s problem-solving center. It draws focus to a point on your forehead that corresponds to the approximate location of your pineal gland, which is at the intersection of your left and right hemisphere and provides access to “whole brain thinking.” Some spiritual and physical yoga traditions refer to this as the “third eye,” the seat of intuition and wisdom.

In this position you’re symbolically connecting the centers that are involved with intuition (right hand) and “gut instincts” (left hand). Now your head and your gut can “communicate” with each other!

What Happens to Your Body When You’re Stressed

Up to 70% of people who are stressed out have some form of adrenal imbalance (referring to those walnut shaped adrenal glands that produce the hormones underlying your response to stress.)

Under chronic stress, our bodies go through three stages that form a deteriorating spectrum of adrenal imbalance and, then, depletion.

Stage One:

In the first stage, we muster up the extra energy to deal with stressors through an adrenaline release.

Stage Two:

After an initial shot of adrenaline, the adrenals pump out cortisol, which at first—and in short bursts —provides strength and stamina. But cortisol is like Goldilocks’ bowls of soup. Too little or too much of it causes us to become ill or catch infections and to suffer from a lack of attention or a feeling of being overwhelmed.

Do you often feel like you don’t have the same intensity of focus that you used to have? Your body is likely pumping out disproportionate levels of cortisol.

In this state, we reach for external remedies, such as caffeine or salty or sugary foods. We push ourselves even harder at exercise or, do the reverse, we stop exercising. This sets us up to feel chronically wired and tired.

Stage Three:

To describe the most advanced stage of adrenal imbalance, I turned to Marcelle Pick, RNC, MSN, OB/GYN Nurse Practitioner and Cofounder of the Women to Women’s healthcare clinic: “In the final Exhaustion phase,” she explained, “our adrenals are so compromised that they can’t produce enough of their stress hormones. Every little problem starts to seem like a major disaster, when your son spilling his milk or your boss giving you a disapproving look feels like the end of the world.”

We’ve all been there—from time to time. But if this is your normal state, your system may be in danger of adrenal burnout.

There are things all of us do to exacerbate this adrenal imbalance and cause anxiety at work without necessarily knowing it. “A high-sugar, low-protein diet can trigger stress reactions without our even realizing it,” according to best-selling author and nutritionist Julia Ross.

Ironically, over 70% of us eat the very worst junk foods in order to relieve our emotional stress.

Make Your Health a Priority

Everyone should get their stress hormone levels tested so they know where they fit on the adrenal depletion continuum (because you can’t necessarily tell from your “symptoms.”)

For example, if you’re fatigued, it may be due to either high or low cortisol (though with low cortisol you’ll feel weak and tired, while with high cortisol you’ll feel tired but irritable). According to Gottfried, “We tend to know our 401(k) numbers but not our cortisol levels” and urges us to “manage our neurohormonal dashboard as aggressively as a retirement plan.”

The bottom line is that you don’t have to feel worn down, anxious, or sick from stress. Instead of pushing through your signs of stress or low-grade feelings of anxiety, start with the strategies in this article to have more balance and less emotional stress while learning about your physiology.

Adapted with permission from Success Under Stress by Sharon Melnick, copyright Sharon Melnick.

Bring It Home

It was 4:30 p.m. on a Friday. I had two more tasks to complete before I could leave the office for the weekend. “Gabby, did you see my email from Tuesday,” my coworker asked from across the aisle. My heartbeat quickened.

“No,” I said. “What’s it about?”

“I need the copy for the e-course promotional videos before I leave for California on Sunday,” she said.

“Great, another thing on my plate,” I remember thinking. Well, I didn’t just think it. I said it, straight to my coworker’s face.

Not only did I now feel completely overloaded and like I had dropped the ball, but I was also acting out in uncharacteristic ways. This wasn’t how the leader I wanted to be would respond to a stressor of this magnitude.

There are many events that occur in the world which we can’t control, especially in the business environment. When we feel anxiety at work, it helps to have a set of tools we can turn to that eliminate the feelings stress brings. How do you handle changes beyond your control? Will you use any of the tools suggested by Dr. Sharon Melnick? If so, share your tips and experiences in the comments!

Dr. Sharon Melnick

As CEO of her firm Horizon Point Inc, Dr. Melnick is an internationally renowned speaker and trainer. Her trainings on Resilience in demanding times - delivered multiple times at organizations such as Procter and Gamble, Moodys, GE, Merck, and Coldwell Banker.

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