Channel Your Anxiety

Jennifer Nietz - Director of Operations


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I have grown up with anxiety my entire life; the fear of uncertainty is what it stems from. I like stability and things to happen in a predictable manner.   I find that anxiety is often a term – or rather, a condition – that brings a lot of negativity with it.

I have often been told to just relax, that everything will be okay.  I am here today, though, to tell you the approach that I find is better to deal with this anxiety in the workplace. If you deal with or are around those that deal with anxiety, I recommend never telling them to “just relax” – instead, give them another project or outlet to take that nervous energy and produce something wonderful.

I read an article this week in Forbes that really spoke to me and this topic.  It speaks about how leaders use their anxiety to thrive in times of uncertainty.  The article is written by Margie Warrell and titled “Seven Ways Leaders Thrive Amid Anxiety in Uncertain Times.”  She states that “a lack of [certainty] tends to trigger anxiety that drives people to resist anything that may further threaten the status quo…regardless of the cost.”  Here’s the difference: as Warrell writes, “Good leaders not only work to dial down fear but to tap the passion, ingenuity and innovation it too often stifles.”

The uncertainty and anxiety that affect us, if not channeled to do something else, will result in people clinging on to anything that provides any sense of certainty. They will resist ALL change, including change for the better.

I agree with Warrell as she further goes on to say that “Disruption to the state quo may produce anxiety, but it also creates opportunity.” There are different ways to utilize one’s anxiety to enact positive change.

How?  Warrell advises that we:

  1. Keep people focused on the mission. Good leaders communicate a compelling vision. Overcommunicate the tasks at hand.  When you do this, your team knows exactly what they need to do and how their work contributes to that overall mission, thus reducing anxiety.
  2. Dial down the anxiety-meter. This is hard, isn’t it?  Groups develop “emotional norms,” and if leaders project that emotion, then the group will follow.  As a leader, set the tone for what the norm in your organization is.  Dial up optimism and have a “we’ll figure it out” mindset.
  3. Acknowledge unspoken concerns. Don’t just ignore what is causing stress of those around you.  Warrell writes, “Tuning into and acknowledging the concerns and anxieties of those around them – legitimate and otherwise – reassures people that they’re not alone and that the people they work for have got their back.”
  4. Shrink the holes in the psychological safety net. She points out how “Leaders must continually embolden people to ‘lean toward risk’ rather than away from it.”  When security feels threatened, people lack confidence in their ability to predict what lies ahead or how it will impact them.  If you focus on what could go wrong, you enlarge the holes in people’s safety net.
  5. Reward bravery. With more exposure to uncomfortable situations, the more people will become accustomed to – and comfortable with  – said situations. Once you encourage them, and they do, reward it! Rewards should be immediate.
  6. Encourage decisiveness. Increasing the time it takes to decide only makes the uncertainty more uncertain. Keep that in mind when you are posed with a decision.
  7. Lay your reputation on the line. Warrell writes, “Consider where you need to lead with greater courage and move through your own fears and anxiety to disrupt old thinking, generate new ideas, and set your organization up to compete in the world we’ll be living in ten years from now.”

Well, this was little more intense than my usual posting; I hope it sparked a little pep talk inside of you and that this is something you can reference often.  Looking forward to a year of forward thinking, risk taking, and decisiveness!

Questions or comments? Please contact Jennifer Nietz at jnietz@teamCOACT.com