Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders in the United States, affecting around 40 million adults each year (1). While some anxiety is normal and even helpful, it can become a serious problem for those in leadership roles.
It’s not only the big decisions that can bring on anxiety in leaders; even the smallest tasks and challenges of running a business can bring on feelings of worry and stress. Fortunately, there are various strategies that any leader can use to manage anxiety and lead more effectively.
This article looks at the impact of anxiety on leadership and discusses various strategies that leaders can use to manage their anxiety.
Anxiety and Its Impact on Leadership
In a report from the Center for Creative Leadership, 88 percent of leaders reported that having a leadership role increased their stress levels (2). This is not surprising when you consider the demands that leaders face in a typical work week. With leadership comes a tremendous amount of responsibility and accountability for the wellbeing of others, as well as a significant amount of pressure to succeed and meet objectives. At the same time, leaders are expected to be confident and decisive in the face of uncertainty and challenging situations.
Anxiety can cause a range of symptoms, including sleep problems, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. Physical symptoms, such as a racing heart, rapid breathing, and muscle tension, are also common. Faced with these challenges, some leaders struggle to make sound decisions, procrastinate, avoid difficult situations, and focus on their own fears and worries instead of the needs of their team. All of these factors can lead to a vicious cycle where anxiety escalates, goals are not achieved, and business outcomes suffer.
While anxiety is typically a temporary state of mind, for some leaders, it can become a chronic problem that lasts for months or even years. Fortunately, there are many strategies that leaders can use to manage their anxiety and prevent it from impacting their ability to lead.
Strategies to Manage Anxiety as a Leader
If you’re struggling with anxiety, the following 10 tips will help you get it under control:
1. Acknowledge Your Anxieties
Recognizing your own anxiety helps you understand why it occurs and how it impacts your thinking and behavior. If you feel like your heart is racing, your stomach is in knots, and you can’t focus or think clearly, acknowledging these feelings is an important first step in managing your anxiety. You can then develop a plan to address the issue.
2. Identify the Causes of Your Anxiety
Various situations can trigger anxiety, including social situations, environmental factors, and unexpected events. The trick is to identify what makes you anxious and find ways to minimize your exposure to these triggers.
If, for example, your anxiety is triggered by meetings, you could try adapting the content and structure of meetings to reduce the impact they have on you. Another option is to try to schedule them for a time of the day when you’re more relaxed.
3. Realize Your Anxieties Are Temporary
Anxiety is usually caused by stress, so it’s not a permanent state of being, just a feeling that will pass. Think of it as a storm that you can ride out. If you do this, you’ll see your anxiety as a temporary and manageable problem, not a reflection of your abilities.
4. Organize Your Time
One way to manage anxiety is to organize your time so that you have a clear sense of what needs to be done and when. A daily plan gives you a sense of control, helping you focus on the present rather than worrying about things out of your control. Creating a schedule will also help you to stick to your goals and prevent burnout.
5. Pause Before You Act
Taking a step back and thinking things through before you act can help you avoid making decisions you might later regret. You have the power to choose how to respond to any given situation because there’s a space between feeling anxious and taking action. The simple act of pausing for a minute or two can significantly change how you’re feeling and your perception of the situation.
6. Focus on the Present and the Solutions You Can Solve
One of the most common causes of anxiety is thinking about the future, but sometimes the present deserves more attention. More often than not, you can’t know what will happen next week or next year, so worrying about it is pointless. Rather than trying to predict what will happen further down the line, deal with the issues you can solve today and focus on the bigger issues when you have more information or when you feel calmer. Accept the things you can’t change and focus on the things you can.
7. Identify Your Priorities
Making decisions is a vital part of leadership, but it’s not easy to get every call right when you’re juggling multiple tasks. To make your life easier, focus on the decisions that will have the biggest impact on your goals and the outcomes you want to achieve. When you identify your priorities, it’s easier to say no to things that will only add to your stress.
8. Take Care of Your Mental and Physical Health
Making space for recovery is crucial for your mental health. Taking the time to relax and destress can help you break out of negative thought patterns and approach the challenges you face with a clear head. Always set aside time to do what makes you feel good, whether it’s hobbies, exercise, meditation, spending time alone, or being with loved ones. Maintaining a regular sleeping pattern and eating a balanced and healthy diet are also key to good mental and physical health.
9. Be Confident in Your Abilities
When you doubt your abilities as a leader, it’s more difficult to make decisions and take action. This can lead to a spiral of anxiety that is difficult to break out of. One way to counter this is to remember your successes. Look back at the most challenging moments in your career and remember how you overcame them. This will help build your confidence and remind you that you have the ability to lead effectively, even in the face of adversity.
10. Build a Strong Support Network
Having a group of people that you can rely on for support is critical to your wellbeing as a leader. This means not only surrounding yourself with the right people but also being open and honest about your fears and insecurities. The group can include your friends, a business coach, a therapist, a group of fellow leaders, or a professional organization that provides peer support. By sharing your thoughts and feelings with others, you can break the cycle of anxiety.
Take Action to Conquer Your Fears and Anxieties as a Leader
Anxiety is a normal part of life, but it can be especially debilitating for leaders. The good news is that by using a combination of the above strategies, you can manage your anxiety and become a better leader. It’s important to learn these skills and to implement them in your daily life because, with time, you will improve not only your own mental health and wellbeing, but also the performance of your team.
If your anxieties are particularly severe, it’s important to seek professional help to manage your symptoms and deal with any underlying causes. This can be an important step toward becoming a better leader and taking control of your life. It’s nothing to be ashamed of – it’s actually a sign of strength and courage and shows that you care about your own wellbeing and the lives of those you lead.