Anxiety is a completely normal emotion that we can learn to leverage to help us during uncertain situations and is especially crucial as a leader. The pictures we make in our heads and the thoughts we have contribute to the level and intensity of anxiety that we are feeling. Being a leader is setting an example to those that you lead, and though it is great leadership to show vulnerability, it is also crucial to demonstrate coping strategies. Anxiety is literally nothing more than something you are worried about in the near or distant future. People cope with anxiety in different ways. Some people freeze.
They become like a deer in the headlights. They cannot think of what to say so they freeze and shed no nonverbal cues at all. The opposite can happen to other leaders experiencing anxiety. Some get louder. It is as if they want to cover up their anxiety with lots of drama and activity. They become babblers; they can’t stop talking. They are really fidgety and anxious and may pace the room back and forth or fidget with their hair, jewellery etc.
Here are 5 solid tips to help you with anxiety as a leader:
Label the anxiety and understand the nature of it
Labelling the anxiety and accepting what you feel instantly disarms it to some extent. Detach from it by saying it’s the anxiety and not YOUR anxiety. Don’t own it. It’s just a passing feeling for a period of time- it’s fluid, not fixed.
Body Action Techniques
Box breathing- breathe in slowly for 4 seconds, hold it for 4 seconds and then breathe out slowly for 4 seconds. Box breathing is effective because sometimes a part of our brain called the amygdala gets hijacked and sends oxygen to other parts of the body to prepare for flight, fright or freeze mode (all anxiety responses) so to encourage the oxygen to go back to the more rational pre-frontal cortex, careful breathing is important.
Palm Therapy– is a simple technique done with the hands to relieve anxiety. It gets the two sides of your brain working as a whole state brain and therefore calmer. You can push your palms together and release or also wrap one hand around the index finger of the other. There are also many other palm techniques.
Sitting upright -with your hands as if you are hugging yourself, stroke the opposite side arms, repeatedly slowly saying: “I am calm and I am safe”.
A place where you feel safe and at ease. It is good to prepare this image before you get into an anxious state again. You can choose any place: your lounge, a beach, a picnic with your children. Look at the details using all your senses: the shimmering waterfall, the emerald, green canopy, the song of the birds. Or visualise the anxious situation but visualise yourself coping with the anxiety, the meeting or presentation is better than you ever imagined. Visualise your success! Talk to your brain in the first person. Be there already experiencing that success!
Ambiguity is the enemy of anxiety, so it is important to be as prepared for meetings, presentations, etc as much as possible by allowing yourself enough time and staying organised. But forgive yourself if you have done your best to prepare but something spontaneous happens, be honest with your team and say you may need more time to go over this due to this not being anticipated or allow yourself to improvise.
Challenge your anxiety
Count down from 3,2,1 and then ask yourself ‘Actually, what if it all works out?” Sometimes we feel that our worries are true and will lead to reality, but this always isn’t the case. Our primal brain, more specifically our amygdala, is always looking for the negative, the dangers that can threaten us because we needed that so much in the primal days to avoid being killed. Sometimes it helps to take a moment to bring ourselves back to the other side of the coin of the situation. It may be all right and it may even be better than the best outcome we can imagine!
Know how you recharge and how your team recharge
Recharging is key to eliminating anxiety and looking at things from another perspective. Sometimes we get stuck in a bubble of despair. Do you recharge by socialising and venting your worries or do your recharge by alone time away from the chaos? It is crucial for a leader, who is experiencing anxiety, to give time to their needs and recharge for their team to reset and eliminate as much anxiety as possible. In NLP terms this also ‘breaks state’ which allows for a healthier perspective to flow, rather than being stuck in an anxiety rut.