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Managing Your Own Anxiety for Effective Leadership

Managing personal anxiety is critical to effective leadership. Anxiety affects us physically, emotionally and spiritually. It affects the way we think and act.

A holistic approach, incorporating techniques and strategies for multiple aspects of life, provides a more sustained effect than a single focus approach.

Some of the ways to reduce personal anxiety are basic self-care strategies, others are specific to dealing with systemic anxiety. Choose one or two from each category, or focus on techniques that will provide a balance to the things you already do to deal with anxiety.

Physical

  • Take some deep breaths. It’s simple, basic and momentary, but it’s a good start to dealing with anxiety because deep breaths can relax you physically and mentally.
  • Meditate.
  • Take a walk.
  • Exercise.
  • Eat a healthy meal and resist “junk” food.
  • Take a warm bath.
  • Drink plenty of water and other non-alcoholic beverages.
  • Take a break with a cup of coffee or tea.
  • Allow yourself to go to bed on time in order to sleep or at least rest even if you feel keyed up.

Emotional

  • Talk to friends or colleagues, but do this in a way that avoids triangling (meaning talking about someone else instead of addressing problems directly with the person who provokes your anxiety). Sometimes it helps to talk to a friend who is not part of the system that is giving you trouble.
  • Meet with a therapist or spiritual director.
  • Write about your feelings and experiences in a journal. Insure that the journal will remain confidential.
  • Play or listen to music that expresses your feelings.
  • Express your anxiety by drawing or painting.

Spiritual

Spiritual responses depend on your values and beliefs. I like to do everything I can to improve a situation, then place the issue in God’s hands when I go home. Some days I have to keep repeating this process of giving my problems to God because I have a tendency to want to take things back into my own hands.

  • Prayer. Ask God for guidance and support.
  • The Serenity prayer was written to help people dealing with addiction, but it also works well for anxiety. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”
  • Read scripture from your tradition.
  • Meditate.
  • Attend religious services or study groups.
  • Engage in a service project.

Cognitive

  • Know the patterns of systemic anxiety and name them as you see them taking place. A rational analysis can counteract anxiety. See “Eleven Characteristics of an Anxious Leader” for more details.
  • When you notice yourself falling into one of the patterns of systemic anxiety, identify three alternative responses that you could try.
  • Try an alternate response, then reflect on how it worked for you and those around you.
  • Notice negative thought patterns and reassure yourself or reframe to a positive thought. For example, if you find yourself saying, “I can’t handle this” or “Something terrible is going to happen”, try reminding yourself of a time when you did get through a stressful situation, then say, “I have the skills to handle this” or “I’ll be o.k., no matter how this turns out”.
  • Be clear about which things are your responsibility and which are someone else’s.

Behavioral

  • Set aside time to do things that relax you. Don’t work long hours without regularly scheduled breaks and days off.
  • Follow up on your cognitive work by trying new behaviors.
  • Notice when you are feeling reactive to what someone says or does, then consciously try not to engage in a reactive behavior such as responding with an agitated tone of voice, criticizing the person, talking about why your perspective is much better, etc.
  • Find ways to relax before you go to bed, so you are more likely to get a good night’s sleep. For example, stop working at least a half hour before going to bed, don’t talk to a partner about finances, schedules or relationship issues in bed, turn off all of the lights.

Finally, mindfulness in the midst of crisis is a technique that uses awareness of physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and behavioral realms when facing a stressful situation. The article on Sept. 9 will address this technique.

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