How do I… overcome decision-related anxiety

How do I… overcome decision-related anxiety

Working in the high pressure alternative finance industry, Rajiv Nathwani is no stranger to making decisions that have the potential to cause stress. He tells BQ how he’s overcome the worst of it.

While a small amount of stress can be a powerful incentive, I’m highly aware that sustained exposure can lead to an inability to work and long-term mental health issues such as anxiety. For business leaders, whose position necessitates efficient and effective decision making, this can be debilitating. But the good news is that it can be overcome.

Prevention is the best cure

We’ve all experienced being told to relax our shoulders and suddenly noticing that we had been tensing them. This is a prime example of how many of us carry around the tell-tell signs of stress without even realising they’re there. As a result, stress typically only becomes conscious once we reach breaking point, for instance in response to making a pressurised decision. This can have disastrous business and personal repercussions that leave us feeling exhausted, distracted and demoralised.  

The best way to tackle decision-related anxiety is to recognise the existence of stress before it develops. Yoga and other forms of exercise that put an emphasis on bringing your awareness back into your body enable you to identify where you’re carrying stress and then let it go. This will empower you to make strong decisions each day, unencumbered by the pressure of the choices you made yesterday. Similarly, the breathing skills you learn will equip you with the ability to physically override the manifestations of stress before you reach panic point. 

If yoga isn’t for you, it isn’t the end of the world. Instead, take the time to investigate and practice alternative coping mechanisms and find out which works for you. Equipping yourself with these ahead of time, and regularly practising them, will condition them into being second nature in response to stress, meaning you will be able to keep calm and continue to make measured, timely decisions.

Don’t set the bar too high

It’s natural to want to achieve the best results possible for yourself and your business. However, creating impossibly high standards is the prime way to set yourself up for a fall when you are unable to reach them. This will generate significant amounts of stress, reducing your ability to cope with making highly-pressured decisions, and will negatively impact your overall efficacy.

Reject the idea that doing the best for you is a cliché, and dedicate time to taking stock of your achievements. This will build up your confidence, outweighing an unhelpful focus on what you view to be your failures, and giving you the positivity to make decisions with conviction.

Dig it out root and stem

Experiencing anxiety for the first time, for example in response to making a difficult decision, can be an overwhelming event. Often it takes you by surprise and leaves you confused and intimidated by your inability to understand why you feel that way or control it. Psychotherapy teaches you how to identify the causes of your anxiety, meaning you can prevent it from standing in the way of clear, considered decisions. The first step in achieving this is identifying your core beliefs.

Core beliefs are a set of positive and negative rules that you have unconsciously created for yourself and use to dictate your responses to everything you experience in your daily lives. Whether you realise it or not, during an anxious episode, you will connect the feelings and thoughts you are experiencing with those evoked by your negative core beliefs. Then, following the episode, you will use what you have experienced and felt as evidence for the validity of the negative core belief that caused your anxiety.

Because of this, it’s essential that after an anxious episode you consider what it has lead you to think about yourself and what this belief may be rooted in. After doing so, write a list of evidence to the contrary. By moving the cause of your stress from the unconscious to the conscious you will give yourself the opportunity to rationalise against and ultimately overcome it.

Whether you have experienced anxiety or not, understanding how to minimise the impact of stress on your mental and physical health will empower you to be a more efficient, effective and confident decision maker. Taking the time to discover coping mechanisms you find calming in advance of experiencing stress, setting reasonable goals and congratulating yourself for your achievements, and rationalising against negative beliefs about yourself are all invaluable ways to start this journey.

Rajiv Nathwani is the founder and director of Quivira Capital.