The Anxiety and Depression Association of America states, “Stress is the response to a perceived threat.” Anxiety, or fear of the future, is a stress response. Sometimes the fear is rational, and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes the fear is about something that could happen in just three minutes (like stepping onto a stage and making a presentation) or 30 years later (having money to retire).
It is important to understand that anxiety serves a purpose. It protects us against harm. In 1977, psychologist RolloMay wrote: “We no longer are prey to mastodons and tigers, but to the damage to our self-esteem, the ostracism of our group, or the threat to lose out in the competitive struggle.
Anxiety is the most prevalent mental illness in the United States. It affects more than 40 million adults every year. According to data from the National Institute of Mental Health, about 30% of Americans have experienced clinical anxiety at one point or another. According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), 284 million Americans had anxiety disorders in 2017. This makes it the most common mental disorder globally. Recent workplace data from Mind Share Partners SAP and Qualtrics suggest widespread anxiety: Nearly 37% reported symptoms in the last year. The pandemic will increase these numbers.
It’s good news that those of us with a history of anxiety have been made for this moment. Data show anxious people use different brain regions to process threats. When danger is present, we react quickly. We might also feel more comfortable with uncomfortable emotions. When channeled positively, anxiety can inspire us to be more productive, creative, and resourceful. It can create new relationships and break down barriers.
Why anxiety has been called the “Shadow of Intelligence.”
David Barlow founded Boston University’s Center for Anxiety & Related Disorders.
Anxiety isn’t a waste of time. The anxiety that keeps us awake at night in an economic crisis may be what helps us find a way to keep our businesses running. Unchecked anxiety can distract us, sap our energy and cause us to make bad decisions. We must partner with anxiety, as it is our powerful enemy.
You can be a leader even if you suffer from an anxiety disorder. It’s important to face your anxiety at some point. It’s not easy, but it will improve your leadership skills and change your life.
Let’s start today in this particularly anxious moment. First, you need to learn how to recognize your anxiety. This includes how it appears and feels. The second stage involves taking steps to manage anxiety both in everyday life and during challenging times. The third stage involves making wise decisions and leading others during anxious times. The fourth stage is building a long-term support system to help you deal with your anxiety.
You Can Accept Your Emotions by Acknowledging Them
Leaders often use coping strategies to overcome stress, fatigue, and fear. It’s better to succeed due to your feelings than succeed despite your emotions. Accepting your anxiety is important, even if it seems uncomfortable or counterintuitive.
Label what you’re feeling.
Angela Neal Barnett, a psychologist and expert on anxiety in African Americans who wrote Calm Your Nerves, strongly believes you should be honest with yourself. You can start to deal with a feeling by naming it. For example, you could say to yourself: “I am anxious.” You can understand how anxiety affects your decision-making and behavior and learn what triggers it. This will help you manage it.
Acknowledging your Anxiety – Especially If You’re an “Only” High Achieving Person
Angela Neal Barnett, Professor of Psychology, Kent State University
Adapted From The Achieving Anxious Podcast Episode ” Anxiety at Being the ‘Only”
Yann Legendre: Portraits
You don’t have to tell anyone. You are the only one who needs to hear this. Spend some time introspecting. Allow yourself to feel the fear and anxiety. Imagine the worst-case scenario in your mind. Let your imagination run wild. Cry. Grieve. But don’t turn away. Alice Boyes is a former clinical psychologist and author of Anxiety Toolkit. She says that the more you fight your anxiety, it will fight back.
Research on emotional intelligence has shown over the years that people with a better understanding of their feelings are happier, have stronger relationships, have a higher level of job satisfaction and performance, can synthesize different opinions, and reduce conflict. All of those qualities make people more effective leaders.
You can call it “unease” or “temporary uncertainty” if the word anxiety makes you uncomfortable. You can call it “unease,” “temporary insecurity,” or give it an absurd name. I imagine my anxiety as a character that travels with me. She has no name or face, but I can tell when she is present.
Jerry Colonna is a leadership coach and CEO at Reboot. He says the best way to handle uncomfortable emotions is to embrace them. He advises us to think of our emotions and thoughts as trains that come in and out of the station. Watch them come and go without getting attached. Imagine saying, “Hello, anxiety.” You can use this technique to distance yourself from negative emotions.
How to let go of your pain
Jerry Colonna is a leadership coach and CEO at Reboot.
This article is adapted from The Achieving Anxious Podcast Episode ” Managing Stress and Uncertainty with Coronavirus.”
Yann Legendre: Portraits
It can be frustrating when you feel it’s impossible to eliminate your anxiety. Rebecca Harley, a Massachusetts General Hospital & Harvard Medical School psychiatrist, stresses that “the goal is not to make everything perfect in a magical way.” It is important to be able to ride the waves of stress. “Give yourself credit, even if you don’t feel better.”
You can then pinpoint when and why it occurs. Harley taught me how to do it. Take note of any physical symptoms you experience when feeling anxious. This is what Harley calls an “early warning system.”
Become Your Own (Non-Judgmental) Detective
Rebecca Harley, a psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School
Adapted From The Anxious Accomplisher Podcast Episode ” Mental health in the office: Difficult conversations.”
Your triggers may be very small. When you see someone else’s name in your inbox, you might feel frightened and notice that your stomach turns. Or, they could be larger. You might feel nauseated and unfocused if unemployment rates skyrocket even if you have a job.
Examine why you are upset by a particular interaction or situation. Colonna says that you may be reluctant to explore issues from your childhood. However, “unresolved” business from the past is still very relevant and present to how you lead. Colonna says it can be liberating to understand how old wounds influence your current behavior. After years of avoiding money and building up debt, I managed my finances proactively when I realized my constant worry about being broke was more a result of my childhood than my current financial situation. I broke a damaging cycle.
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You should also know how you respond when triggered. Carolyn Glass, a social worker, and therapist, suggests asking yourself: “How did I react to the anxiety at that time? Was the behavior helpful or not? Glass suggests that writing your fears down will help you to examine them. A journal is a good way to gain self-awareness. It helps you track your anxiety, when it occurs, what causes it, and how it affects you. Your tells don’t need to be negative behaviors. For example, you may interact more with family and friends during stressful periods. When I am anxious, I freeze and cook meals.
Most successful leaders respond to anxiety in one of three ways: by working harder, setting themselves and others up to an impossible standard, or trying to control something beyond their control. It’s easier for them to imagine focusing on only some projects or details at work, taking full responsibility, and always giving it their all. Boyes says that people who are anxious try to control themselves and be perfect. They have a Plan B and Plans C, D, and E. In many societies, these behaviors are rewarded. It’s a good work ethic, but perfectionism and excessive work can cause anxiety in you and others.