Leaders Don’t Ignore their own Anxiety


Anxiety surprises us by arriving unexpectedly. Perhaps you are put on a significant project, or your new boss hovers too much – maybe team members bring their angst to you or a major customer isn’t happy. All the things that make your job exciting and interesting can also become overwhelming. Don’t just ignore your anxiety and hope it will go away. Here are some ways a leader can stay on track and weather the period of distress.

  • Write it down – especially helpful if your anxious thoughts are interrupting sleep. Use a pen and paper – somehow this physical act interrupts your brain’s looping rumination. Once you list all your concerns, set the note aside and tell yourself you will deal with it later. Some of my clients say their unconscious brain works on the issues while they sleep. Others say that the list seems less overwhelming when viewed the next day. Many never go back to it.
  • Sort your issues. During the day, list everything you are grappling with and then sort by themes. Which are relational issues? Which are process or method issues? Which are resource – including time – issues? The act of sorting can give you a more objective view and often removes emotional tugs long enough to apply a more analytical problem-solving approach.
  • Get another perspective. Take your list and go talk with someone you trust. Your boss may not be the best person to start with, as it’s not always politically safe to admit you are overwhelmed. Showing your anxiety to your team may make them anxious too – and it might undermine their confidence in your leadership. Instead, speak with a trusted mentor, a friend, a peer or a coach. For serious anxiety that lasts, don’t hesitate to get some professional medical help.
  • Check your lifestyle habits, to see if you are escalating your anxiety. Do you read the news “to stay informed” but find lately you are dwelling on non-work-related but horrific news? Do you love your large morning coffee or afternoon chocolate (or other stimulants) but then don’t notice your racing pulse? Do you have small children whose recent illness has impacted your own sleep? Self-care is especially important when our work demands increase. Find ways to restore your balance.
  • Try meditation. Research-based evidence shows even a few minutes a day of focused breathing can relieve stress. You don’t need to have a spiritual experience to benefit. Try sitting quietly and counting your breaths as you inhale and exhale deeply into your belly. Make the exhale a little longer than the inhale. In just 10 minutes a day you may see benefits of concentration and a feeling of being more grounded.
  • Incorporate play. When we get busy at work and home, we sometimes forget the pleasure of play. “I love my work” doesn’t preclude you from having other interests. Listening to music – whether you dance or not – if very relaxing and takes us out of our current situations. Movies, books, physical activity are great stress-reducers. Literally playing with children can also counter-balance the weight of adult life.

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