Leadership Anxiety and Fear – is it crippling business?

article researched and written by Wayne Brown

Living with anxiety is like being followed by a voice. It knows all your insecurities and uses them against you. It gets to the point when it’s the loudest voice in the room. The only one you can hear.”

Healthyvoice.com

As stated in an article titled The Difference Between Fear and Anxiety and written by Sheryl Ankrom on March 21, 2020, “fear and anxiety often occur together but these terms are not interchangeable. Even though symptoms typically overlap, a person’s experience with these emotions differs based on their context. Fear relates to a known or understood threat, whereas anxiety follows from an unknown, expected, or poorly defined threat.”

What Is Anxiety? According to psychiatrists Sadock, Sadock, and Ruiz, anxiety is a diffuse, unpleasant, vague sense of apprehension.3 It’s often a response to an imprecise or unknown threat. For example, imagine you’re walking down a dark street. You may feel a little uneasy and perhaps you have a few butterflies in your stomach.

What Is Fear? Fear is an emotional response to a known or definite threat. If you’re walking down a dark street, for example, and someone points a gun at you and says, “This is a stickup,” then you’d likely experience a fear response. The danger is real, definite, and immediate. There’s a clear and present object of the fear.

How The Best Leaders Manage Their Anxiety… this is an article published by Lolly Daskal, the highly acclaimed Leadership coach in America. In this article, she states “I can tell you from my experience as a leadership coach that many leaders suffer from anxiety. If we’re being honest, everyone experiences anxiety to some degree. I make sure my coaching clients have the tools they need to manage their anxiety because left unchecked, it can do great damage to their decision-making ability and overall effectiveness.”

But aside from the support provided by experienced professionals, the question remains “how can” leaders deal with this seemingly commonplace mental health issue? To answer this question we should explore a little more about the causes and the various forms of anxiety.

As reported in a Mindtools article, there are many reasons why anxiety is on the rise. Although many of the physical threats our ancestors faced have been reduced or ruled out, more abstract threats have replaced them. These include worries about the economy or environment, and anxieties about our appearance, social standing, and professional success.

Many aspects of modern life could also be to blame. Research in the journal “Computers in Human Behavior” highlighted the damaging impact of social media use on anxiety, for example. And a study in the British Medical Journal drew a link between increased air pollution and raised anxiety.

There are six common types of anxiety identified. They are as follows:

  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Panic Disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Specific Phobias
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

While we are not professional therapists in this area, we are aware that no one cure works all the time for any disorder or every person. Finding the most effective treatment therefore often requires considerable trial and error. In our book SOLO executives, we introduce 5 very simple but effective strategies that will assist the executive or leader to overcome the challenges they face through Isolation, Anxiety, and Fatigue.

However the following are additional suggestions which may be of value.

  1. Start by trying to identify the source of the anxiety – there are numerous technics that the Leader can research for guidance on how to achieve this. A couple of methods however are the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. This tool allows you to analyze the sources of stress in your life. The other is to start keeping a stress diary Every day, write down the stresses that you experience, and record any anxious thoughts that you have. After a few days, read your diary and explore possible causes and triggers.
  2. Activities and exercising – regular exercise can help to reduce anxiety and build your tolerance for stress. Look for opportunities to fit exercise into your day in many ways, as even small amounts of exercise can have a positive effect on anxious thoughts and feelings.
  3. Get self-organization – a poor organization can be a serious source of stress and anxiety. If this is the case with you, you’ll likely benefit from learning good time-management skills.
  4. Your diet – you can often lessen your anxiety by reducing or avoiding certain foods and drinks. For example, consider limiting your intake of caffeine, alcohol, soda, energy drinks, and chocolate. Watching what you eat also means eating a healthy, balanced diet, not skipping meals, and staying hydrated throughout the day.
  5. Introduce relaxation breaks and techniques – such as deep breathing exercises to control your stress and anxiety. Deep breathing is especially effective for managing short-term anxiety. If you begin to feel anxious, try taking 10 or 20 slow, deep breaths to calm down. Breathe in as deeply as you can, hold the air in your lungs for several seconds, and let each breath out slowly. Other effective relaxation techniques include centering, meditation  and mindfulness 

So How To Stop Anxiety From Affecting Your Leadership?…

  • Work on your self-esteem – how we feel about ourselves is an important factor in how we tackle challenges, make important decisions, and interact with our colleagues.
  • Sarah Wilson, author of the book First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Journey Through Anxiety. suggests the following methods;
    • Limit your choices – decisions are especially draining for anxious people, who can be paralyzed by choice. “If you overtax the decision-making part of your brain, you can trigger anxiety.
    • Take a walk rather than freaking out the troops – if you can’t communicate to the troops with at least a veneer of calm, let someone else do the honors.
    • Rename your anxiety – anxiety is very similar to excitement, Wilson says. They both evoke the same biological response of arousal. 
    • Have an exit strategy – Wilson advises setting a trigger–for example, a specific level of financial security–that tells you when to sell or close down the business.
  • People work best when they are cool, calm, and collected. The more agitated or anxious you are, the less able you are to perform effectively. Neuroscientists call this an “amygdala hijack” because the portion of your brain that controls the fight-or-flight response takes control and overrules your higher brain functions.
    • Make the distinction between your thoughts, your feelings, the story you are creating around what is happening, and what is actually happening. Neuroscientists suggest that what you think determines what you feel, so by consciously choosing different thoughts you can rapidly change how you are feeling.
    • Refocus on what is happening at the moment to break through your heightened anxiety. Doing this can be as simple as spending three to five minutes carefully observing your immediate environment.
  • And as I state in my book – find a mentor, solicit feedback and advice, strengthen your collaboration, embark on a journey of lifelong learning and finally identify the right coach.

As stated above there is no cure-all approach and Leaders must first gain awareness of their situation before they can hope to treat it. Anyone suffering from the mental health challenge is well served to seek professional medical advice and treatment if needed. We hope that by sharing just a few of the above suggestions that it may bring relief to some.

 “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou

Additional Resources…

Videos:

Books:

Category: Psych 4 Execs

This is the second article in this series and touches on the global crisis of Anxiety among our business world and leaders.

NEXT UP: LEADERSHIP FATIGUE – TIREDNESS, BURN-OUT AND THEIR TRIGGERS

Until then, stay safe and healthy. Bye for now. Wayne