Anxiety is perfectly normal emotion, and actually vital to our emotional health. It’s something everyone deals with since the human body evolved to produce this sensation when fear arises. For example, when we see a snake, fear and anxiety keep us from coming closer to something potentially dangerous. While it has a primal purpose, this trait adapted by extending into our professional lives as work anxiety.
Business owners, executives, and leaders face a significant amount of anxiety because the feeling serves as a motivator. “We need to always have something to be afraid of, otherwise we become complacent,” explains John Tsilimparis, author of Retrain Your Anxious Brain, in an interview with Entrepreneur.com.
It’s okay to experience anxious feelings from time to time. Nevertheless, generalized anxiety can result in serious repercussions including uncontrollable emotions, depression, panic attacks, binge eating, dependence on drugs and alcohol, poor decision making, self-esteem issues, lack of sleep, stomach ulcers, and shortness of breath.
Anxiety doesn’t have to negatively affect a high performer’s ability to guide and take care of their team. In this article, learn six ways to keep your workplace anxiety in check. These methods help leaders show up at work aware of their stressors and in control of their emotions. As a result, the coping mechanisms listed limit the impact that anxiety and stress have on a person’s life and the lives of those around them.
Step One – Let Go of Control
Working in and not on the business becomes a huge source of anxiety for entrepreneurs and business owners because it shifts their attention away from the parts of the business they need to focus on. This happens when people can’t let go of control or try to wear all the hats in the company. Strategizing and concentrating on fulfilling the organization’s purpose is a business owner’s job. Controlling everything limits the time available for developing strategy and moving the company forward.
To reduce work stress and anxiety at work caused by trying to control everything, use delegation. Delegating work frees up the time leaders have for working on high-value tasks. Plus, it contributes to the overall success of the business. In fact, a 2014 study conducted by Gallup found entrepreneurs with high delegation skills grew their companies faster and generated more revenue than those with low delegation skills.
When delegating work:
- Write down all tasks regularly needing attention on a weekly basis.
- Next, prioritize the importance of each job.
- Consider others (current employees or potential hires) who could take over these duties based on their skill set and role.
- Talk employees through the delegation process. This means having a conversation about workload, whether or not a task is something they can take on, and what successfully completing this work looks like. Never delegate a task without first discussing it with the person taking it on.
Step Two – Reframe Problems into Solutions
Remember, problems are the predecessors of innovation. While challenges can incite anxiety at work sometimes, try viewing them as opportunities. This helps leaders better their companies by creating a work culture where employees get excited about problem solving. One of the best ways for doing this is through the reframing process. It helps maintain a positive mindset while handling the issues causing stress and job anxiety.
The 4-Step Reframing Process with Examples
Step 1: Put the problem into words by writing it down.
“Our last product launch didn’t produce the results we were hoping for.”
Step 2: Formulate the issue into a question.
“What can we do to improve future launches of new products?”
Step 3: Reframe the question.
“How can we improve our customer experience during product launches?”
Step 4: Discredit limitations during brainstorming sessions.
“Private jets aren’t just for the wealthy elite.” In this case, a charter company might create a model for innovative ways of flying. During brainstorming sessions, work with the team and challenge the status quo of the industry.
Reframing creates an environment of innovation. During this process, encourage employees to think outside the box, give them room to experiment, and provide support as they try their ideas. When problem-solving becomes a part of team culture, leaders bear less stress and job anxiety when issues arise.
Step Three – Pinpoint the Source of Fear
Being a business owner, executive, or company leader can bring deep-seated fears to light. This type of anxiety about work typically revolves around the fear of failure or letting others down. Nevertheless, leading from a place of fear can destroy a business. It prevents innovation, adaptation, and future success because fear lacks trust: trust in oneself and those on their teams.
While experiencing fear is normal, it becomes an issue when it starts ruling decisions and behaviors. “Fear is just a state of mind and not something that you have to carry with you all the time like luggage. Like all emotions, fear comes and goes…the choice you have is whether to cling onto it,” writes Carlos Saba for Medium.
To move past workplace fear, answer these questions:
- What are the top three fears felt at work?
- What triggers bring these fears to the surface?
- Which coping strategies are in place for addressing these fears when they occur?
In an article for Forbes, Rita Coco from Coco Consulting also recommends trying this technique: “Write the word “fear” and list what is evoking this fear…Next, write the word “faith” across from fear. For each word under fear, list actions you could take to draw on the faith you have in yourself to address these fears. Today, take on one action.”
Step Four – Reconnect with Purpose
During stressful times in business, leaders might feel disconnected from their companies. Lack of motivation for showing up and making a positive impact may occur during bouts of anxiety at work. When these feelings arise, this is the perfect time to concentrate on reconnecting to one’s purpose. This reignites passion and helps put the focus of leadership back on the guiding vision and mission of the company.
The best way to get back in touch with purpose is to tap into your “why” again. In Start with Why, Simon Sinek explains, “Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. By WHY I mean your purpose, cause, or belief—WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care? . . . We are drawn to leaders and organizations that are good at communicating what they believe. Their ability to make us feel like we belong, to make us feel special, safe, and not alone is part of what gives them the ability to inspire us.”
Write down the answers to the questions Sinek poses. Then revisit your company’s vision, mission statement, and values. Rewrite or refine these if necessary. Next, list five ways of leading from a place of greater purpose. Keep this list visible. Remember, there’s purpose behind all work—tie it in with the “why” of the organization.
Step Five – Make Self-Care a Habit
When working under stress or experiencing job anxiety, practicing self-care is a must. Putting personal care on hold can result in a wide range of negative impacts on oneself and others. People might experience “increases in anxiety, distractibility, anger, and fatigue” in addition to “decreases in sleep, relationship satisfaction, self-esteem, empathy, and compassion,” explains Dr. Shainna Ali for Psychology Today. None of these are healthy qualities of an effective leader. Making space for self-care increases a person’s emotional capacity for guiding and positively influencing others.
A few ways to incorporate self-care into daily routines include:
- Listing gratitude and progress in a daily journal.
- Relaxing mind and body to focus on the present moment through practices like yoga or mindfulness.
- Listening to a guided meditation or utilizing deep breathwork techniques that calm the nervous system.
- Keeping the body healthy, strong, and energized through daily workouts.
- Preparing healthy meals and snacks to take to work.
- Taking regular breaks during the day to recharge.
- Giving yourself the permission to take up hobbies for your mental health.
Prevent work burnout by giving the mind, body, and spirit the space it needs for recovering from rigorous work. People who take care of themselves are more capable of taking care of others. As Tony Schwartz, founder of The Energy Project, tells The New York Times, “Human beings aren’t designed to expend energy continuously. Rather, we’re meant to pulse between spending and recovering energy.”
Step Six – Reach Out for Support
By nature, human beings are a social species, but one coping mechanism people use when they are anxious and stressed is self-isolation. Although anxiety about work might cause feelings of wanting to be alone, instead try reaching out to friends, family, and mentors. Support networks provide new perspectives, encouragement, motivation, and emotional relief. Feeling more supported might also include professional help. Consider hiring a professional business coach for high-level support and guidance. Additionally, mental health counseling can help with addressing and coping with fear, stress, and workplace anxiety.
“In stressful times, more than peaceful ones, we ache to be seen, heard, and acknowledged in the midst of all this isolation,” says leadership strategist Christine Comaford for Forbes. Connecting with others and feeling supported helps counterbalance some of the negative emotions caused by stress. Receiving support provides the healing human connection every person needs. In addition, it teaches people in leadership roles how to show up for others in need of support.
Keep Pushing Forward
Experiencing work anxiety is common among high-level performers, but it doesn’t have to take over a person’s life. Letting go of control, delegating work, reframing problems, and identifying fears all help limit anxiety’s power. In addition to these strategies, reconnecting with purpose, practicing self-care, and reaching out for support helps those who lead cope with daily stressors.
“Ultimately, anxiety comes with the job of being a leader. The process of managing it can make you stronger, more empathetic, and more effective. It just might be bumpy along the way. So remember to treat yourself with compassion,” says Morra Aarons-Mele in an article for Harvard Business Review.
When feeling overwhelmed and worried, take time to breathe and reset. Find space for practicing coping mechanisms and manage anxiety at work as best as possible. In turn, let those on your team do the same. Fostering a team culture of care and support is one of the best ways to stop the negative impact anxiety creates in the workplace.
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