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30 Ways Print Pros Can Overcome Anxiety

Elevate your mental health with these coping strategies, including several from your peers.




ANXIETY DISORDERS ARE the most common mental health issues in the US. According to data from the National Institute of Mental Health, they affect one in three adults. The rates are even higher among business owners, with one recent study from the University of California, San Francisco finding half of surveyed entrepreneurs suffered from conditions such as anxiety and depression. The reasons likely relate to their wide-ranging responsibilities and constant focus on the vagaries of the future.

According to Big Picture‘s recent Brain Squad survey, wide-format print pros are no exception. When asked how often they get severely anxious about business-related matters, 8 percent of respondents said once a day, 11 percent said once a week, and 33 percent said a couple of times a month. That’s 52 percent of wide-format printers in decision-making positions reporting they experience severe anxiety monthly.

Anxiety is a fact of life for many of you. Kristin Lanzarone of WrapStar Pro shares: “I was under pressure when I had to relocate my business under a tight time frame, which was extremely difficult to do at a time (between 2020 and 2021) when there was little to no inventory available for me to find a new shop space. This high level of anxiety gave me ulcers that were not fun to navigate while managing my business and looking for a new space.”

The remaining 48 percent aren’t totally in the clear. Of that figure, 33 percent report feeling severely anxious a few times a year. Only 15 percent indicated they pretty much never experienced work-related severe anxiety.

From an evolutionary perspective, anxiety is easy to understand. An emotion-fueled drive to know whether danger lurks around the bend was tremendously advantageous for early humans. When we get anxious, a structure in the brain called the amygdala – the seat of fear – releases stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, as well as glucose, into the bloodstream. The heart, sweat glands, and mental faculties all ramp up. We’re now primed for a fight (or flight) for survival.

However, when the triggers of these changes are more likely to be worries about blown deadlines than encountering predators, anxiety can become unnecessarily discomforting and exhausting. Additionally, anxiety is unlike other physiological sensations that provoke specific responses – eating in response to hunger, finding company in response to loneliness – in that it doesn’t abate when you make efforts to fend off the threat. It hangs around feeding on itself.

Even worse, it’s not even very good at defining or predicting danger. Studies show when we lack definite information, we make very poor judgments, and we do so in predictable ways. We’re notoriously terrible at assessing risk; we worry about all the wrong things. We rely on anecdotes rather than data. We fear events that bring to mind vivid imagery, such as shark or terrorist attacks, but not the far greater threats posed by cheeseburgers and road accidents. (In studies, people are willing to spend more on travel insurance that would pay out $100,000 for death by terrorism than for insurance that would pay the same for death from any cause.) Compounding the torment is that our brains seem wired to resist uncertainty. (Studies show most people would rather receive a shock now that’s twice as painful as receiving a random shock in the next 24 hours.)

For some people, anxiety creates a debilitating negative spiral that can take over their lives. (If anxiety is inhibiting your ability to function – to work, to sleep, and to do even simple things like go out of the house – we recommend you seek professional help.) However, even for people without such disorders, overthinking, ruminating, and angst can limit the ability to enjoy life and stunt professional growth.

The standard advice to deal with anxiety is to live more fully in the present – embrace the moment! Be here now! Bring calm to your mind. However, anyone who has tried even the most basic mindfulness exercise can attest this is fiendishly difficult.

There’s no running from anxiety. Suppressing it doesn’t work; medication only masks the problem by providing temporary relief. Trying to control the future not only tempts fate, but also makes anxiety worse by reinforcing focus on what is yet to come. Our constant efforts to eliminate the negative are what cause us to feel anxious, insecure, and unhappy in the first place.

JDA Creative Color’s Jim Dittmer’s motto is “Happiness is a skill,” and like any skill, he says “it takes daily, diligent, and rigorous practice. During times of anxiety and stress, that practice really provides its rewards. Anxiety has no positive effects … the sooner you can beat it back, the more quickly normality returns.”

So what to do? There’s no quick fix. It’s a fight you can’t win. Dealing with anxiety essentially involves rolling with life’s punches and applying a heavy dose of reframing.

First, understand a life without challenge would be boring. Life is full of vexing situations. Abandon your need to establish complete security, and you’ll realize you never needed it in the first place.

Second, as the Stoics liked to say: The obstacle is the way. The path to growth is to do difficult things. That necessitates engaging with and getting used to your anxieties and fears. However, you should not become subservient to them. Rather, consider the writer Elizabeth Gilbert’s approach, which essentially involves treating anxiety like an annoying younger sibling. The trick isn’t to ignore fear or worry, or to destroy it, and definitely not to obey it, but to make space for it. She uses the analogy of a road trip. “Fear always comes along for the ride, and that’s fine – but that doesn’t mean you need to let it anywhere near the steering wheel.”

In the following pages, we suggest ways for you to stay in control. Courtesy of our readers, mental health experts, and psychology writers, these tips include actions to take when anxiety strikes, coping strategies, and ways to build resilience.


Divert Your Attention

A screaming baby faced with a grownup making silly noises will often fall silent; it can’t focus on being distressed and intrigued at the same time. Adults aren’t so different. (Ever tried playing Sudoku while ranting internally?) With our limited attentional bandwidth, even minor acts of distraction – listening to music and focusing intently on the words, doing some basic math, focusing on the needs of others – can help silence negative thoughts or buy time until emotions die down. When Lanzarone was stressed about relocating her business, she says listening to calming music while soaking in a hot bath helped.

However, distinguishing healthy distraction from unhealthy avoidance is critical. Binging on Netflix for 20 hours when an issue obviously needs to be confronted is more like unhealthy avoidance.

Play the 5-5-5 Game

Another way to stop ruminating about the future and get back to the present is to take stock of your immediate physical surroundings. Try the 5-5-5 game:

  • Look around and name five things you can see.
  • List five things you can hear.
  • Move five parts of your body you can feel (i.e., rotate your ankle, wiggle your ears, or nod your head up and down).

Other physical interventions, such as taking a cold shower or sniffing lavender oil, also can act as circuit-breakers for spiraling thoughts.


The onset of anxiety has been compared to a hijacking of your amygdala, that primal part of your brain responsible for your fight-or-flight response. The key is thus to re-engage your thinking brain, convince it you are actually safe, and talk your mind down from the ledge. One of the best ways to do that is with deep breathing, which raises oxygen levels and helps expunge the carbon dioxide that builds up when you’re stressed.

The 4-7-8 method (inhale for four seconds, hold for seven and exhale for eight) is probably the best known strategy. Alternatives include box breathing – a method used by the Navy SEALS that also involves slow, controlled breathing – and the double inhale championed by popular podcaster Dr. Andrew Huberman.

Name the Trap

According to Dan Harris, the broadcast journalist and author of Ten Percent Happier, naming or labeling bedeviling thought patterns can convert a vague threat into something concrete you can address. “Just labeling it, just calling it out, and saying it out loud … It’s the visibility that is the kryptonite for the ego. That seeing it really de-fangs it, which is kind of amazing. And that can happen in a minute,” he said on a recent podcast.

Identify your thoughts. Telling yourself “This is a panic attack” (or it is catastrophizing, black-and-white thinking, or another cognitive distortion) enables you to regain power by realizing you’ve encountered it before – and survived. This storm will also pass. “There’s nothing I need to do.”

How Often Do You Get Severely Anxious About Business-Related Matters?

Talk the Self-Talk

Cognitive therapy’s main insight – that how we think about a situation determines how we feel, so we can feel better by addressing distorted thinking – is now a self-help mainstay. It’s hard to appreciate how revolutionary it was 50 years ago, when psychotherapy was fixated on unpacking subconscious drives. And yet, this well-understood message is easy to forget it when you are in the grip of anxiety.

“These irrational ‘automatic thoughts’ that anxiety arouses usually come in the form of absolutistic musts, shoulds, oughts, and other demands, such as ‘I must do well,’ ‘Others ought to treat me well,’ or ‘Things need to work out the way I want them to,’” notes psychology blogger Eric Barker, citing the work of the pioneering cognitive psychologist Albert Ellis. This allows you to play a game of “Find the Irrational Belief.” When confronted with anxious feelings, identify examples of absolutist thinking, then dispute that thinking. Next, turning those “musts” into realistic preferences can dial down the emotions. For example, “I must do well during this presentation or my life is over,” could become: “I’d like to do well, but it almost certainly won’t be that big of a deal if I don’t.”

Ask Questions

The unknown is the playground of anxiety. In this battle with irrational thoughts, having a battery of questions can help identify the unknown that is bedeviling you.

“When it comes to handling difficult matters, it’s about listening and asking open-ended questions,” Kristi Duvall of The BoxMaker says. “If I don’t ask questions, I’m writing my own story filled with assumptions that may lead to wasted time and energy.”

One of the best questions, courtesy of meditation teacher Sylvia Boorstein, is: Is this useful? Worrying about say, an upcoming client meeting can feel productive, like you’re doing something substantial about a potential problem. But in truth, you’re not. You’re likely ruminating – stuck in a loop, having the same thought over and over. This is particularly the case when it involves something over which you have no control, such as the weather or the stock market.

Whatever it is, come to terms with the fact it’s out of your control. “The things that are in your control, you can manage just fine,” Marcel Schwantes writes in Inc. Magazine. “So, do yourself and the people closest to you a favor: Take it easy, do one thing at a time, and then refocus again on what’s immediately in front of you.”

Pepper your amygdala with questions: “What’s the threat here? What am I actually afraid of? Have I heard this before?” Such questions fire off the prefrontal cortex, which can relieve the anxiety.

“Areas that cause the most anxiety are probably related to the feeling that I have no control of the scenario,” Rick Mandel of Mandel Graphic Solutions says. “When I can’t get a substrate delivered that had been promised or a printer is down, there’s an ultimate feeling of helplessness. I truly feel terrible if I cause my client to fail. I always feel like I can figure anything out, but when I can’t, ‘anxious’ is a very soft term I’d use. It’s the worst feeling in the world for me.”

Mindset is key for Derek Atchley of Atchley Graphics. As he puts it, it’s all about “knowing that life happens, nothing is always perfect, you can’t make everyone happy, and you can’t control what you can’t control,” as well as “having absolute and undeterred faith in yourself, your company, your staff, and your efforts.”

Listen to This Song

A little more than a decade ago, British musicians teamed up with sound therapists to engineer a song specifically designed to calm the nervous system by lowering heart rate, blood pressure, and levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The eight-minute song, called Weightlessness, was found to reduce anxiety by up to 65 percent. “The song … contains a sustaining rhythm that starts at 60 beats per minute and gradually slows to around 50,” Lyz Cooper, founder of the British Academy of Sound Therapy, told Inc. Magazine. “While listening, your heart rate gradually comes to match that beat.”

Write It Down

If you’re particularly prone to catastrophizing, health experts say it can help to get thoughts out of your head and down on paper. Dr. Martin Seligman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Tomorrowmind, recommends creating an Anxiety Balance Sheet to turn your mental state around. On a piece of paper, spend a few minutes filling in four columns titled: “What Do I Know,” “What Don’t I Know,” “What Can I Influence,” And “What Can’t I Influence.”

“About 80 percent of the people I’ve worked this through with are surprised that they have more items listed in columns one and three (the ‘good’ columns) than they do in columns two and four,” he told Time. “There’s some liberation in just outlining what’s making you crazy and realizing that there may be many balancing positives to those issues that are vexing you. In sum, just the act of unpacking your anxiety bag and knowing what’s inside can have a profound effect on reducing your fear of the future.”

Say An Affirmation

In the face of anxiety’s assault on our equanimity, clinging to short, somewhat positive statements can remind you that this mental storm is being caused by a transient and ultimately unimportant event. Examples include:

  • “It wasn’t that bad in the past.”
  • “It won’t last forever. This too shall pass.”
  • “This is going to be a good time… or a good story.”

Trust In Yourself

Whether you’re dreading an upcoming event or worried about something not going the way you want, trust you have the physical and psychological resources to overcome, just as you have so many times in the past. Talking of his propensity to fret about the unknown future, the writer Oliver Burkeman notes: “And of course the answer in every case – though apparently I need to keep relearning this lesson – is that we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. We’ll figure it out then, based on what’s actually happening then, drawing on the internal and external resources we’ll have access to then. After all, when you stop to think about it, there isn’t really much of an alternative. When else can you cross a bridge, except when you come to it?”

Postpone Your Worries

Not prepared to stare your fears in the face? Schedule a meeting with them for later. “Try setting aside 20 minutes every day, let’s say at 4:30 p.m., just for your worries. If you are fretting at 10 p.m., jot down the reason and resolve to think it through later,” Dr. Robert L. Leahy, director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy, suggested to Real Simple. Safe in the knowledge that your concerns will be addressed, you can get on with your life. In the meantime, the issue vexing you might just take care of itself. Psychotherapists call techniques such as postponement “metacognitive,” meaning they make you aware of your habitual thought processes. As a result, they are effective longer than, say, trying to assuage a particular worry by addressing its specific content, battling the emotions it stirs, or even suppressing it.

Dwell on the Worst-Case Scenario

“Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ‘Is this the condition that I feared?’” The world is a far less turbulent place than when Seneca uttered that thought 2000 years ago, but his message has lost none of its saliency. Articulate your deepest fears in fine detail, and you’ll likely find you can handle whatever eventuates.

The blogger Tim Ferriss, who has probably done as much as anyone to re-popularize Stoic thinking, recounts how he used this approach to tame fears related to a major life decision: “A funny thing happened: as soon as I cut through the vague unease and ambiguous anxiety by defining my nightmare, the worst-case scenario, I wasn’t as worried about taking the trip. Suddenly, I started thinking of (ways) to get back on track if all hell struck at once. I could always take a temporary bartending job to pay the rent. I could sell some furniture and cut back on eating out. I could steal lunch money from the kindergarteners who passed by my apartment every morning. The options were many. I realized it wouldn’t be that hard to get back to where I was, let alone survive. None of these things would be fatal – not even close.”

Take Action … Any Action

Action is the enemy of anxiety. Someone no less self-assured than Jeff Bezos has talked about how this plays out in his business life: “I find that as soon as I can identify it, and make the first phone call, or send off the first email, it dramatically reduces the stress I feel.” Thus, the advice when you feel yourself falling into rumination is to do something, anything! The problem is anxiety also happens to be the enemy of action. When you’re feeling trapped by intrusive, repetitive worry, it’s hard to raise the energy to do anything. The solution? Set the bar really low, especially if your brand of anxiety comes with the taint of perfectionism.

One Brain Squad member says, “Taking action of some kind toward resolving the problem seems to work for me. If you are just stewing on it, the feeling doesn’t go away, but once steps are implemented, then the feeling of impending doom subsides within about three days. Seems to peak at 3 in the morning though, LOL.”

Call A Friend

One of the cruel ironies of anxiety is that people often know the right responses when a friend or colleague is struggling, but can’t apply the same remedies to their own mental turmoil. This is why health professionals recommend trying to add some distance to the problem, such as asking yourself what counsel you would offer a friend or a team member in a similar situation, or even talking to yourself in the third person. That’s what tennis great Ivan Lendl would do, as he explained via a post on “Say you’re nervous before a match, you admit it to yourself. You say, “Shit, Ivan is nervous today. But he’s going to snap out of it.’ You describe what you are feeling, and then you let go of it. And it’s over.”


Understand the Triggers

According to some mental health literature, the 80/20 approach can also be applied to anxiety. Identify the 20 percent of issues or people that create 80 percent of your anxiety and seek ways to remove them from your life. If scrolling through social media leads to an unhealthy fixation on your appearance, avoid this specific trigger, Jodie Louise Russell, a doctoral student who studies the philosophy of rumination in depression and anxiety at the University of Edinburgh, told the New York Times. “Pay attention to situations that spike your anxiety – whether that’s getting feedback, writing important emails, being put on the spot, or starting the day with a messy desk. Keep a journal and look for patterns. When you know what makes you the most uneasy, you can better anticipate challenges and create a plan to deal with triggers.”


Social media can serve as a salutary distraction (funny YouTube videos have been shown to help people deal with anxious thoughts). It also can provide some validation or comfort via interaction with friends. But more often, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok – all of which are driven by algorithms designed to provoke emotional responses – will exacerbate negative feelings or just arouse guilt over wasted time. In his series of books on the benefits of doing “deep work” in an undistracted environment, Cal Newport makes a strong case for setting strict boundaries around your phone use (e.g., leave it in your entry way when you return home). If unplugging is unrealistic, use the “mute,” “block,” “unfollow,” “not interested,” or similar functions to ensure at least you are the one in control of the information flow.

That said, having a social media presence and staying on top of your reviews are just part of this industry. Wade Neff of Strategic Factory offers advice for helping keep things in perspective: “Give the brain something else to work on, like a good book, game night with the family, or a personal creative endeavor,” he says.

Journal to Unwind

If you hated doing homework in high school (or if you work with words for a living), a writing exercise is probably the last thing you want to do. However, the psychological benefits of externalizing thoughts via journaling are well-established, and you may find the results revolutionary. There is no one set of best practices, but setting some rough guidelines for regular practice can help. You might resolve to do it for six minutes or for three pages, to do it first thing in the morning, or to destroy or archive journal entries after finishing them.

Whatever your rules, it’s best to keep the exercise solo. Make it your own private domain to work through the thoughts that may be eating your mind. “Writing allows us to witness our thoughts as separate entities, to get them out of your head,” the clinical psychologist Nicole LePera, author of How to Do the Work, says. “Many of us are living life as if our thoughts are reality. Write down all your thought stream, uncensored. Let them flow and watch them leave the mind.”


The word “routine” can be a pejorative, but it can also be a mind saver. “Routines help reduce general feelings of anxiety and are often effective antidotes for those with more serious mental health disorders,” Charlotte Lieberman writes in the Harvard Business Review. “Doing the same thing at regular intervals signals to our brains that we are safe. Call it a routine, a ritual, an anchor – whatever resonates,” she says.

One Brain Squad member’s routine includes taking a long working lunch break at a local restaurant. “This gets me out of the office away from interruptions, and I can get a lot done on my laptop,” they say.

Learn From the Past

The problems you’re experiencing today seem fraught and important, but that’s mainly because you’re so narrowly focused on the present. This is the reasoning behind the old suggestion to ask yourself whether your worries will matter on your deathbed, or in a decade. But you can do better than look hopefully into the future – look at the past instead.

Try this exercise recommended by Burkeman: Every morning, make a brief note of what feels like your biggest problem. As the list accumulates, you can review earlier entries. “Guess how many months it took for my former worries to seem laughably overblown? Five days: that’s how many months,” he writes. “But that wasn’t the interesting part: what stood out was how many times reality bore no relationship to anything I’d anticipated. I’d worry about some event going badly, but instead of going badly or well, it’d be cancelled. I would worry about how I’d handle some crucial conversation, but by the time it

arrived, circumstances had changed, and it wasn’t crucial at all. My gut feelings weren’t so much overly negative as simply irrelevant.”

As Mark Twain so deftly put it 150 years ago: “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”

Generally speaking, are you more anxious now than when you entered the industry?

Mind Sweep

One Brain Squad member says writing down everything that needs to be done and prioritizing things helps them be less anxious about the work ahead.

The organizational guru David Allen has built a vast international following with essentially the same idea: that getting stuff out of your head and onto a to-do list is a path to mental calm and achievement. “Nothing changes when you write things down except how you engage with your issues: You can be objective and also be creative and intuitive. Your head is for having ideas, not holding ideas. Without exception, you will feel better,” he says.

Allen’s Getting Things Done system starts with a “mind sweep:” listing all tasks and responsibilities. This typically takes a business owners about six hours to complete. The second crucial principle is what Allen calls “next action” thinking. This is his version of the homily “A journey of a thousand miles…,” but it also encompasses the problematic issue of prioritization. Finally, he says a “weekly review” – an hour or so spent going over the list of all long-term projects and short-term next actions – is a must to stay on track.

Kim Magraw of Vivid Sign would likely agree with this approach. He says, “plan, then plan then follow the plan. This includes extra design, production and install meetings.”

If the very idea of an endless to-do list causes you angst, add a Kanban system that stores all your to-dos (aside from the handful you’re working on right now) out of sight and out of mind.

“My anxiety usually stems from either an overload of responsibilities or the sudden addition of an unforeseen problem,” Dittmer says. “I allow myself to vent and complain for a little while to release some of the negative energy, then I start the problem-solving. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received from a mentor was, ‘Eat the big frogs first.’ Solve the big problems before the easy ones. Doing so lifts the biggest weights off your shoulders, which does the most for alleviating anxieties.”

For M3’s Rob Matthews, anxiety stems from the unknown. So, he leans on organization and communication. “Ensuring everyone is on the same page for jobs, scheduling, and production eases that stress,” he says. “Transitioning to new management software has made everything we do more transparent. When I’m being bombarded with requests from every angle it can get the best of me. I insist on receiving requests via email or our project management software (SquareCoil). Texts/calls/IMs all slip through the cracks. I use a reminder app for my to-do lists and live by that.”

Eliminate Stimulants

In The Anatomy of Anxiety, Dr. Ellen Vora uses the phrase “false anxiety” to encompass the agitated state that can arise from not enough sleep, forgetting to eat breakfast, or too much coffee. An elevated heart rate, shaking hands, quivering voice – the general jitters – could be a panic attack, or it could just be the result of six shots of caffeine. Be aware and cut back on your consumption. And to the Brain Squad respondents who jokingly cited drinking as a coping mechanism: with all due respect, that’s likely not helping either.

Bathe In Nature

From 2004 to 2012, Japanese scientists spent $4 million studying the physiological impact of “forest bathing,” or spending time around trees. They found it reduces anxiety, boosts the immune system, and amplifies feelings of wellbeing. But you don’t need a forest. Time spent in any natural setting, at parks, among animals (pets or wild), or near bodies of water can relax the mind. For that matter, researchers at the University of Hyogo in Japan say that simply putting small plants on workers’ desks “contributed to their psychological stress reduction regardless of their age or choice of plants.”

The reason seems to be related to the way nature absorbs some of our attention in an undemanding way. It gives us “cognitive quiet” and allowing our minds to relax as opposed to the relentless, aggressive demands on our attention made by much of the rest of the world, US academics Rachel and Stephen Kaplan say.

If you do allow staff to take mental health days, how many a year are they entitled to?

  • As many as they need. We have a generous PTO plan and are as flexible as possible while ensuring our clients are taken care of. My team does a great job navigating this with some standard rules they have all agreed upon to help. — Linda Fong, Fastsigns Oakland, Fastsigns Hayward
  • We don’t deny anyone a personal day. We don’t have mental health as a listing on personal days, but I do work with specific employee situations to provide the best solutions. — Carmen Rad, CR&A Custom
  • Our staff can use their PTO toward these types of days as well as other purposes. We always encourage the value of a mental day to clear the mind, recharge, and refocus. — Derek Atchley, Atchley Graphics
  • Our company is very small and very close, so we don’t have a limit. But because we all rely on each other to perform for the team, we operate on a trust and personal caring basis. If someone chronically missuses that trust, there would be an intervention. — Jim Dittmer, JDA Creative Color



Try Mindfulness

It’s almost a point of heresy to say you should expect something from meditation, but let’s put that to one side and consider its two key benefits for dealing with anxiety. First, meditation helps you interrupt your thought patterns and break the cycle of anxiety.

Focusing on some abstract element, like your breath or a mantra, creates a pause between the stimulus and the response. Second, more proficient meditation can allow you to examine your thoughts more deeply. “That self-awareness, that regular sort of systematized collision we’re engineering in meditation with the voice in your head, that is revolutionary because as soon as you start to see how chaotic your mind is, that’s the first step toward not being owned by it,” Harris says.

In his book, The Untethered Soul, Michael Singer likens the chatter in your head to a crazy roommate. Through meditation, Singer says, you eventually learn to see your thoughts as distinct from yourself. You learn to tell that roommate to shut up, to start justifying his claims, or to dismiss them as a kind of paranoid rambling.


Build Social Connections

Humans evolved to be social creatures, yet much in modern society – from the way our cities are structured to the myth of individualism to social media – is eroding the bonds between us at the cost of our mental health. Reasserting the primacy of human connection in your life – by being deliberate in creating new friendships, or by socializing with family and colleagues outside the home or workplace – can thus be vital to not just boosting mood, but also having someone to talk to when you’re assailed by anxiety. As the author and anxiety therapist Mike Shel puts it: “Until a person feels understood, all the information in the world, all the data, all the scientific understanding of the process and coping strategies are for naught. A person needs to feel that someone gets what they are struggling with.”

Stay Healthy

Diet, rest, and exercise. The science is clear: People who take care of themselves are less prone to anxious thoughts. According to neuroscientists at UC Berkeley, when you don’t get enough sleep, your amygdala and insular cortex both light up in a pattern similar to the abnormal neural activity of people with anxiety disorders.

“We recently had a large project for a major entertainment venue,” Neff says. “Sometimes with big projects like these, your brain spends so much time thinking about them during the day that your subconscious continues to process them at night. Unfortunately, sometimes that means sleep gets affected, and when sleep is affected, it’s hard to be at your best during the day.”

Meanwhile, a large-scale study of almost 200,000 cross-country skiers found that being physically active halves the risk of developing clinical anxiety over time. The study, from Sweden, focused on skiing, but the researchers said almost any kind of aerobic activity likely helps protect us against excessive worry and dread.

“[Do you] ever have that ‘perfect storm’ day as a business owner, where literally everything that could go sideways could, but all the pressures don’t give you a respite? It’s that anxiety level that makes it very hard to function in any capacity,” Atchley says. “I respond by getting away from the office and taking a walk with my dogs. (They come to work with me every day.)”


Exposure therapy is the full realization of a tip mentioned earlier – testing to see if your thoughts are valid – but rather than a mind game, it involves physically confronting your fears. If someone gets anxious around spiders, this method would entail putting them in increasingly close proximity to spiders until they learn much of their fear is unfounded. For social anxiety, it might involve something as simple as going up to 10 people and asking for the time. Such a regimen allows you to see nothing bad really happens and much of your imaginings are irrational. Habituate yourself to fear, and it loses its power and control over you, Barker says. He calls such habituation the “gold standard” therapy for dealing with triggered anxieties.


Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE) are designed to help release deeply held physical and emotional tension stored in the body. Advocates say TRE helps to release this tension and restore balance and wellbeing, improving an individual’s ability to cope with stress and reducing anxiety. TRE might seem a little kooky, but the evidence is robust. If not much is working to reduce your anxiety, you might want to give it a try. Watch an eight-minute introductory video here:

Reframe Anxiety

Tech entrepreneur Naval Ravikant has wondered publicly if he would have been as successful if he “wasn’t as anxious, because anxiety comes from fear and it’s also a motivator. It makes you get off your butt.” It’s an interesting view and a reminder that true mental health comes from recognizing and accepting the complete spectrum of emotions.

Indeed, when we feel bad, the answer isn’t to stifle those emotions or berate ourselves. “Rather, we need to understand what they’re for,” Dr. Emiliana Simon-Thomas, science director at Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center told Time, arguing we should relate to unpleasant emotions in a way “that’s more restorative – more growth- and learning oriented.” Perhaps such feelings are signal that we’re following the wrong path with our business or relationships, or we are distressed about the state of the world. Instead of trying to erase this sensation, we should embrace it, she says, and view anxiety as a tool and an ally.

Show Yourself Some Compassion

One Brain Squad member says, “I always get the most anxiety about decisions that have a direct impact on people. I still haven’t found a great way to separate my feelings and empathy toward team members when making business decisions.”

Business coach Jerry Colonna says we’re all trying to manage three basic risks: to love, to safety, and to belonging. The existential fear that these needs could be threatened is often at the root of anxiety, he says. “I know for myself that the fear of disappointing others is a threat to my belonging. I’m not going to be in my family anymore. My children won’t love me. My partners won’t love me. I will be unsafe. I will be bereft. I’ll be alone in the woods, fending for myself …” And so goes the catastrophizing spiral.

The key to dealing with such irrational thinking is self-compassion and accepting the fullness of ourselves. In his book, Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up, Colonna writes: “‘I am enough and I’m doing the best that I can.’ And if I can say that to myself every day in one form or another, that can be helpful.”

To help bring your mind around to such a perspective, he recommends journaling (regularly using “I am enough” as a prompt) and metta meditation, aka “loving-kindness meditation.” Yes, it sounds woo-woo, as Colonna acknowledges himself, but when it comes to anxiety, we are often our own our worst enemies because the primary source of our negative thinking is ultimately ourselves.


Get Used to Being Uncomfortable

None of this is to say anxiety will feel any better. With evolutionary roots as a warning system, it will always feel at least uncomfortable. Anxiety becomes maladaptive when it paralyzes. The answer is thus to appreciate that we humans are “anti-fragile” – we strengthen and grow when challenged. When we know what’s required and can marshal the resources to cope with them, scary things become challenges rather than threats. In the words of the late psychologist Susan Jeffers, “feel the fear and do it anyway.”

Brain Squad members share personal stories of anxiety and how they cope.

  • Having an installer between your product and the client’s satisfaction can be our most difficult, and potentially expensive, issue. If they screw up a job, it’s on us to convince the client it wasn’t the product, as they will always blame the manufacturer if they don’t do a great job. — Jon Sherman, Flavor Paper
  • Usually, anxiety is due to ridiculous timelines. Mostly, I find this to be the case on construction projects where general contractors have no idea about when graphics and sign installers should or can get into the space. When it’s low-bid work, their treatment of subs is often pretty poor and can create a level of stress that should, from time to time, not be tolerated. When the heat is on, that’s when I find it best to get even more serious with my diet, exercise, and sleep routines. Meditating would probably work, but that’s never been my thing. I can tell you that an extra beer or three will improve the situation for a few hours, but, no doubt, not the next morning or in the long run. — Jim White Go Graphix
  • Some installs can be difficult — making sure production is good three times over, verifying print sizes, repacking the van with all the tools needed, plus more. My usual solution is to try and over-plan (by) adding bleed, reviewing files, proofing in-house, and making sure every install tool is packed. — Kim Magraw, Vivid Sign
  • Wearing too many hats. The sensation of being overwhelmed was common for me. This occurs so much less now, as I’ve built a great team and have delegated many of my responsibilities. — Anonymous
  • I needed to hire new people and let go of some good people who could not keep up, and it caused some turmoil. I had to step back and look at it from a different angle. — Anonymous
  • Anxiety usually builds when I am not honoring a good work/life balance. Usually, I have to step away and find ways to unwind and relax before facing the issue again. In my business, there is never a situation where I cannot step away to get my head straight before moving forward. Nobody lives or dies based on what I print or don’t print or an installation problem. Everything can be figured out. I come up with solutions to issues with a clear mind, and so I have to really honor having time away from the business in order to be at my best for the business. — Anonymous
  • Just start chipping away at whatever brings you anxiety. Test and prep if possible. Control what you can and give it your best effort. — Jason Roberts, Futura Color



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