Anxiety is often seen as a negative emotion, something to be avoided at all costs. However, anxiety can also have benefits like motivating us and keeping us alert. In some cases, anxiety can even save our lives. If we are about to walk into a dangerous situation, our anxiety may help us to think twice and avoid potential harm. Although it is important to manage our anxiety levels, it’s also important to remember that anxiety is not always a bad thing.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe. People with anxiety may avoid certain situations out of fear, and they may experience physical symptoms such as a racing heart or sweating.
When faced with an anxious situation, some people may feel so overwhelmed and powerless they become afraid of these anticipatory emotions. This can lead to a vicious cycle in which the person avoids dealing with their anxiety, which worsens the problem.
It is possible to break free from this cycle by learning to accept and manage anxiety. Anxiety can actually be your secret to success. One of the first steps to overcoming anxiety is to change our perception of it.
Anxiety is a natural emotion that has been preserved throughout our evolution to keep us safe. It is important to learn how to interpret and respond calmly to this feeling. The intention is not to harm us but to ensure we are okay.
Rather than viewing anxiety as an enemy we need to battle or avoid, we can remind ourselves that its purpose is to protect us from danger. Anxiety is a reaction to stress and it actually influences the part of the brain responsible for action. If leaders can channel this emotion, it can help them focus on actions while helping team members stay grounded via empathy, creating new bonds.
Anxiety is an inner alarm signal that lets us know when we need to be aware of something. However, similar to a pup that raises havoc every time the postman drops off the mail, our inner warning system often becomes too sensitive and is set off by the slightest triggers, even if they don’t pose any threat.
We might interpret a frown line on our CEO’s forehead as a sign that we’re one step away from being fired. Or we may believe our spouse’s purchase of a new pair of sunglasses means we are doomed to financial ruin. Similar to a rescue dog that has been mistreated and, whenever there is a loud noise, barks or cowers in the corner with its tail between its legs, our anxiety will be more on alert if we have been dealt with harshly in the past.
We may react to things that are innocuous with fear or trepidation, leading to unnecessary stress and worry. Explore what your triggers are and when they come up, recognize them for the warning system they were intended to be. Keep in mind that being aware of our past and future allows us to make patterns that can help us learn from our mistakes, leading to better solutions.
When faced with anxiety, it can be tempting to try to control or eliminate all possible sources of worry. This approach is often counterproductive. Not only does it foster a sense of helplessness, but it can also lead to significant disruptions in daily life.
A better approach is to set boundaries. By learning to identify and respect your professional limits, you can take back control of your anxiety. This doesn’t mean avoidance — instead, it means being mindful of your triggers and making choices that allow you to stay within your comfort zone. In many cases, setting boundaries can be the key to harnessing the power of anxiety, rather than being controlled by it.
Anxiety can keep us on track and make us aware of the potential daily pitfalls that can throw us out of balance. Anxiety can alert us when we put too much pressure on ourselves, take other people’s actions or opinions personally, or are about to act against our better knowledge, values, or beliefs. Anxiety can make us aware that we may not have taken care of ourselves and have neglected our physical or emotional needs.
A recent study by the Harvard Business School found that emotional intelligence (EI) is twice as important as IQ or technical skills in predicting success in leadership roles. Decades of research on EI have shown that people who understand their own feelings have higher job satisfaction, stronger job performance, and better relationships; are more innovative; and can synthesize diverse opinions and lessen conflict. In other words, they make better leaders.
The ability to be aware of and manage your emotions is not only critical for your own well-being, but also essential for leading others effectively. Those who can do both are likely to find themselves in high demand in the years to come.
Anxiety is our body’s way of preparing us to face a challenging situation, and it can be helpful in certain situations. When anxiety is constant or overwhelming, it can be difficult to cope. Yet the point is that to make peace with anxiety, we need to avoid getting caught up in its emotional charge. We could perceive anxiety as an inner — albeit at times overzealous — protector. By understanding the purpose of anxiety and learning to work with it, we can find ways to minimize its impact on our lives.
Next time you feel anxious, instead of getting scared or upset, think about how you could be the leader who calmly assesses the thoughts or situations that triggered your anxiety and then responds with clarity, kindness, and reassurance.
Leadership and anxiety
It’s not uncommon to feel anxious in situations where we’re called upon to lead. After all, leadership can be daunting. You may find yourself wondering if you’re up to the task or questioning whether you have what it takes to be successful. If you’re feeling anxious, know that you’re not alone. It’s normal to feel this way at times. The important thing is to not let your anxiety get the best of you. Doing this will not only help you feel better in the moment, it will also help you build the skills you need to become a more confident and effective leader.
When you’re feeling anxious, your first instinct may be to try to escape the situation or numb your emotions. If you can learn to stay present and lean into your anxiety, you’ll be better equipped to handle whatever comes your way.
Leaders who are able to calmly assess and respond to challenging situations are better able to earn the trust and respect of those they lead. They’re also more likely to make decisions that result in positive outcomes. So next time you’re feeling anxious, remember that you have what it takes to be a great leader. By staying present and learning to manage your anxiety, you’ll develop the skills necessary to lead with confidence and effectiveness. Anxiety about the future is a common feeling, but it doesn’t have to be a permanent state.