Do you worry too much? Are you unable to shut off that incessant pattern of anxiety loops that keeps you on edge?
As many leaders have been feeling, the year of unprecedented changes has left some scars and stains on our psyche. We didn’t always feel like this. Yet, old habits that keep worry alive-well-may have been our home zone for some time.
With the pandemic showing signs of subsiding, we get to examine our current state.
Often we realize that anxiety has a nasty habit of lurking in the shadows. No one wants to feel scared, anxious, or phobic. We are craving strategies and practical actions to return to earlier states of normalcy, confidence, and calm.
Here are 3 strategies to help you get there.
Strategy 1. Getting Curious About Anxiety
Unwinding From Anxiety
If you haven’t heard of Dr. Jud, well… I’m surprised. Judson Brewer is a neuroscientist who manages to share evidence-based research in common-sense language. You don’t have to be a scientist, have an advanced degree, or be a clinical specialist to understand his methods.
Jud explains the precise science that is at work in the human brain. He shows exactly how the brain gets hooked on repetitive cycles that result in negative actions such as anxiety, addiction, obsessive thinking, and weight gain.
The fascinating thing about Dr. Jud is that he makes the complex simple. He can sort out the science into steps that leaders can use to transform their lifestyle — and share with their teams.
During the pandemic, Dr. Jud set up office hours. He opened up his calendar to offer counsel and advice to the rest of us who were struggling with anxiety, nervous tension, panic attacks, and addictive behaviors.
His recent book explains why we turn to coping mechanisms to cope with the unknown. He explains why we stress eat, procrastinate, binge watch, and scroll through social media for hours. He explains the hidden mechanisms that are at the root of why we’re reaching for a glass of wine or a dose of Scotch, saying, “It must be 5 o’clock somewhere.”
I know. It’s been rough and according to Dr. Jud, it’s natural. We are seeking comfort during times when we feel out of control.
The thing is… it doesn’t have to stay like this.
Dr. Jud has just released a new book, “Unwinding Anxiety” and it is already being featured in the Wall Street Journal, The UK’s Daily Telegraph, and Good Morning America.
Additionally, Dr. Jud has created an app to help people break free from everyday addictions and habit loops. Using this app-based mindfulness training, physicians experienced a 57% drop in anxiety and burnout.
Taking Action Against Anxiety
One of the biggest challenges during the pandemic has been worrying and fretting about our health status. Did we get exposed? Are we a carrier? Are we carrying the virus and don’t know it?
If you or anyone on your team is concerned, you can set the wheels of worry to rest. By taking an at-home Covid test, you can find out your status easily without having to visit an in-person test site. You can follow up by taking additional health screenings for cancer and other diseases.
Here’s how it works. You can take a swab sample at home and ship it to the lab free. You’ll get secure digital results within 24-48 hours of the lab receiving your sample. If you like, you can get a telehealth consult to guide you through your steps.
Exploring Health Coverage
Many leaders are going the extra step to encourage employees to do self-testing. They are exploring issues of coverage with their organization’s healthcare plan. If you can do this, it removes one more obstacle that could contribute to stress and worry.
Namely, you’re letting employees know is not just paying lip service to a people-first policy. You’re demonstrating that your organization truly cares. This goes a long way towards building trust in your commitment to employee health.
The fact that you’re ‘walking-your-talk’ is clear in your thoughts, speech, and actions. If you are practicing empathy, it doesn’t mean you’ll hit it perfectly every time. Stanford psychologist Jamil Zaki has written a remarkable book “The War for Kindness” underscores the importance of showing your team that you care — all day, every day.
With this kind of active empathy approach, you can realistically expect empathy to expand in your interactions, at work, and home.
Doing What Matters
Speaking of getting curious about mastering anxiety, there’s a great resource from the World Health Organization. Doing What Matters in Times of Stress is an illustrated guide for anyone experiencing stress.
I stumbled on this last year when I was struggling with feeling anxious in the early days of the pandemic.
The e-book was scrutinized and reviewed by top mental health professionals. Each of the exercises is field-tested and simplified to be very user-friendly.
In reading this e-book, you may find that your mind is opened. It’s so easy to get biased and limited in our perspective about the pandemic. We may be focused on the state of affairs in our home, office, family, and community. We may be concerned about remote work and its effect on workflow. We may be thinking about the impact on our state, our nation, or our continent.
While reading this e-book, I noticed how many of my fixed perspectives started to dissolve. While I was upset because of a flour shortage, other people were dealing with much more drastic issues. Civil war. Famine. Floods. Natural horrors. Human disasters. My ‘big’ issue evaporated into a non-issue.
The tools covered in this e-book can help you and your team finds a new sense of balance, perspective, and skills. You can use it to support yourself and your employees to gain confidence. You will find practical tools to respond with care and empathy — in the toughest of conditions.
This ebook is truly remarkable and easy to use. The content is so practical and based on hands-on tools that anyone can use. If you or your team have been struggling with anxiety, this may be a resource to investigate.
I especially enjoyed having the choice of how to learn. You can read the e-book, study the practices and listen to audio directions. The narrator has a soothing and calming voice.
Strategy 2: Challenge Negative Thinking
As we head into the rest of 2021, we have an opportunity to challenge negative thinking.
Negative thinking is not new. Challenging our thinking patterns is a powerful mindfulness strategy.
The new thing is that it’s coming of age.
With the insights from responding to a global pandemic very fresh in our minds, it’s a good time to anchor our thinking skills. At the very top of our goals is challenging the tendencies to over-think, see things in a negative light, and believe our sales pitch.
One of the big places to challenge is our tendency to see things as ‘half-empty.’ I’m sure you’re familiar with this phrase: ‘half-empty or half-full.’
When you think about the year we’ve had, and the year ahead, it’s clear that this kind of choice will make a world of difference.
If we look at any aspect of our lives, personal or professional, we can see the impact of negative thinking. We can see that if our productivity, health, and emotional state will sink to abysmal depths or soar to great heights—depending on our perspective.
How can we challenge our negative thinking?
The short answer is one thought at a time.
The longer answer is, well… a little longer.
Many psychologists and mental health professionals encourage working with a counselor or coach to get to the core of thought loops. The fact that you believe something to be true may be deeply rooted in familiarity, childhood trauma, or other peoples’ opinions.
If you are struggling to get to the root of negative thinking, speaking with a psychologist can be immensely helpful.
However, if you’re up for the challenge, you can do quite a bit of investigative work by channeling your natural curiosity.
It turns out that when we get curious, we get results.
Here are a few of the big places to start while investigating negative thinking loops that could be contributing to worry, fear, and anxiousness.
A. Examine The Evidence
Are you confusing thoughts and facts?
If you have an automatic belief, reaction, or feeling, ask yourself this question. You may find that you lack objective data. You could find that you do have objective evidence to back up your thinking. Either way, you’ll be asking a more relevant question, based on facts.
Are you jumping to conclusions?
If you base negative thinking on poor evidence, it’s logical that you’ll arrive at mistaken conclusions. For example, you may not have heard back from your boss today. You might jump to the conclusion that he has a hidden resentment and is planning on firing you. In reality, you could be dead wrong. He may have just been in a power outage and lost WiFi network for a short time.
B. Explore The Effects
Are you getting the results you want?
If you often interpret events in a negative light, it could produce feelings of depression, worry, or anger. Do you like these results? Is thinking this way helping you achieve your goals of health, fitness, happiness, and creativity?
Seeing things consistently in a negative light can have a distorted and detrimental impact on your health. Is this what you want for your future?
Are you setting a good example?
If you constantly complain, worry, and focus on negative aspects of situations, it affects you as well as people nearby. Your team may hold back information because they don’t want to be in the fall-out zone. If you want to shift this to a more positive environment, start by examining your thought process.
Are you asking impossible questions?
Questions that have no answer are by definition, unanswerable. Asking questions like, “Why is this happening to me?” and “Why is everything so unfair?” are a sure-fire way to feel depressed.
Of course, it’s not just depressing to you. Everyone else feels this way too. If you don’t like the effect of bringing yourself and everyone else down…ask better questions. Don’t waste your time and precious attention on questions that have no answer.
C. Evaluate The Causes
Are you asking all or nothing questions?
Questions filled with ultimatum words are danger zones. Be on the alert for posing questions that use words such as always/never, everyone/no one, and all/nothing. Most situations are more nuanced.
Sometimes things happen. Some people act this way. Some things are that way.
By steering clear of ultimatums, you’ll likely discover more about true causes.
Are you expecting perfection?
No doubt you didn’t get to your leadership position by being lazy. However, everyone is human. Mental health experts are quick to remind us that aiming for perfection can be an impossible standard. Instead, practice focusing on process goals. You may not have achieved an unrealistic goal, but you have learned a lot in the process.
Are you assuming that you can do nothing?
If your questions are rooted in a feeling of pessimism and hopelessness, this creates a vicious cycle. You won’t know the results of taking action — if you don’t investigate. You won’t know the results of taking a risk if you never give it a try.
Strategy 3: Support Your Team Health Goals
The pandemic has only clarified what you already know as a leader. Simply, we all have health goals that we’d like to achieve. As a leader, you can model having health and well-being as your top priority.
You know, just like Benjamin Franklin said,
“Health is our First Wealth.”
The interesting thing is that many people, your employees included, follow authorities. They are looking to you for guidance, inspiration, and action. When you are open and honest about your own experience, you’re setting the standard. When you share your vulnerability, shortcomings, and struggles, you invite others to speak openly.
You’re leading by example. By stepping back from anxious thinking, challenging negative thinking, and supporting your team’s health goals, you are modeling true leadership. With an ongoing commitment to open communication and empathy, you and your team can shape the future for a healthier and happier 2021.