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Leadership Anxiety: A Problem Shared Is a Problem Halved

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Mental health at work is important, especially in times of crisis and multiple challenges when stress overload can elevate anxiety. If you’re a leader who is feeling anxious, how do you deal with it? Do you hide the fear by trying to project constant confidence? Or are you an authentic leader who’s able to share your feelings and concerns?

Since the start of the pandemic, a huge number of people have expressed their struggles with stress and anxiety, as a result of experiencing a crisis in their personal or professional life. And that’s good because being transparent and acknowledging a problem is the first step towards finding a solution. 

But if you’re a leader who is worrying that sharing your negative emotions would undermine team motivation and foster pessimism and anxiety, you might want to check your belief system.

If your core assumption is that you must always be positive, aspirational, enthusiastic, and results-oriented, then you might perceive admitting negative emotions as a sign of weakness, rather than a strength that you can utilise to help other team members become more open about their inner struggles.

Discussing the emotional and mental health issues has to be a part of the organisational culture, something that you and your staff should be transparent about. When there’s an atmosphere of feeling supported and understood, people are more able to focus and step up in challenging situations. 

Thus, changing your perspective about expressing vulnerability will not only help your emotional struggles but will also help your team become more productive.

3 Steps to manage leadership anxiety

  • A – Start with self-awareness. Anxiety is a state of mind filled with worry and fear about what might happen in the future. No matter whether the fear is rational or irrational, it starts with stress as a response to a threat in a situation. Prolonged stress can lead to anxiety.  Slow down and acknowledge your emotions and negative thoughts. What situations or interactions usually trigger your anxiety? How do you react? What coping mechanisms do you use during times of stress? How often do you experience decision-making fatigue?
  • B – Encourage open communication. Invite your team to acknowledge the challenges they face. Ask how people are feeling, what they need, and how you can support them. At the same time be open about your own emotional turbulence. Keep in mind that you’re human first, then a leader.  Bottling up your stress will only add to more anxiety. Sharing your concerns and emotions can relieve tension and reduce anxious feelings. At the same time, your own vulnerability can help you to interact with your team more effectively and empathetically.
  • C – Ask for help and support. At some point or another, we may all need guidance and help when dealing with mental and emotional challenges. That might include you too. Being a leader doesn’t mean that you have to deal with your inner struggles on your own. Asking for help shows courage and determination to improve your mental wellbeing. 

Mental health is on a spectrum and while some people will benefit from evidence-based therapy such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) for example, others might find that psychological coaching fits better with their requirements. Whatever approach you want to explore, the aim is to learn and implement effective tools and strategies to reduce stress-induced anxiety.

The action starts with you

High levels of stress create anxiety, which in turn gives space for rumination, negative emotions, and an increase of cognitive distortions such as catastrophic thoughts, self-judgments, jumping to conclusions, and all-or-nothing thinking.

Consequently, the decision-making under distress becomes impaired, making your performance less than satisfying. Basically, the more agitated or anxious you are, the more prone you become to errors in judgement, and less able to lead your team to perform effectively. 

If you want to lead your team with confidence and positivity, you need to take care of yourself first. After all, when our minds are free of mental clutter and we feel calm and relaxed, we are better equipped to deal with any personal and professional challenges.

Don’t be afraid to enlist professional help if that’s what you need at this moment. Please feel free to get in touch by visiting my website and booking your 30-minute free consultation.

Zana Busby is an experienced psychologist and author, having spent over 20 years studying and practising psychology and psychotherapy. 


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