Ambiguity is a fact of life in corporate America. The anxiety that often results can help us by nudging us toward our goals, accelerating our timelines, and sharpening our focus. Too much anxiety, though, can be paralyzing, debilitating, and panic inducing.
According to John Tsilimparis, MFT, director of the Anxiety and Panic Disorder Center of Los Angeles, the three common characteristics of those who suffer from anxiety are perfectionism, relying on others for approval, and the need for control. These characteristics are also often seen in high achievers. As a manager, managing your own anxiety has a two-fold benefit: your team’s anxiety is reduced, which allows them to focus better and helps you function better as well.
To help manage your anxiety, pay attention to your thought patterns. Speaking in absolutes (always, never, should, must, no one, and everyone), black-and-white/all-or-nothing thinking, and anticipating (and believing) the worst-case scenario are all anxiety-producing thought patterns and behaviors. You might hear yourself thinking things like, “I can’t make a mistake in this report,” “If I don’t perform well at this meeting, I may be fired,” or believing that you’re a success at 110 percent but a total failure at 99. These are all unrealistic, rigid definitions of appropriate behavior. You can easily get stuck in “what if?” thinking.
It’s important to distinguish between concerns (fact-based and current) and the fictions you create. Being aware of your doom-filled thoughts is a great first step. Once you recognize them, replace the thoughts with something more balanced, like, “This is an important meeting and I’ll do my best,” or, “I’m doing really well at my job and my work reflects that.” Keep practicing replacing your thoughts and over time, they will become automatic.
One in-the-moment strategy is diaphragmatic breathing, according to Julia Vigna Bosson, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist in New York City. Diaphragmatic breathing suppresses your physiological response to anxiety. Take slow, deep breaths, fully expanding your belly and extending your exhale for two to four counts longer than your inhale. This will help address your physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat, sweating, or fast breathing.
Distorted thoughts lead to both psychological and physiological stress which are depleting and lead to anxiety. Focus on addressing your mental chatter in order to let it go so you can focus on what’s actually happening.