An anxious business leader being comforted by a peer
An anxious business leader being comforted by a peer

Image courtesy: Pexels

Strong leadership is more important than ever in troubled times. Whether the business landscape is dealing with uncertainty or your organisation is facing a crisis, you need to be calm and confident while doing justice to people’s trust in your ability to lead.

As a business leader, you will be the most effective when you are calm and collected. Being extremely anxious or agitated will cause an “amygdala hijack” where the part of your brain that controls the fight-or-flight response will take control and override your higher brain functions. Though some degree of stress can help you focus and handle challenging situations, unmanaged and excessive stress can cause anxiety, which will dramatically impede your ability to perform effectively. 

If stress-induced anxiety is adversely affecting your leadership, implementing this 3-step approach can help.

1.     Acknowledge and Accept Your Emotions

Business leaders often push through fear, fatigue, and stress as it’s their common coping mechanism. If you too belong to this league, it’s much better to acknowledge your stress and accept the resultant anxiety and emotions.

Though it may appear to be uncomfortable, accepting that you are anxious will help you to identify stressors, understand how your behaviour and decisions get affected by them, and then find ways to manage your condition.

Remember – the more you try to control your anxiety, the more it will fight back. Rather than succeeding despite your emotions, it’s much better and a lot less stressful to thrive by embracing your emotions.

2.     Control What You Can Via Time Blocking and Small Actions

When you are anxious, things may seem completely off the rails. To break the shackles of fear and anxiety, value your time and organise your to-do tasks via time blocking. Creating a detailed schedule for your day where you specify time blocks (say, between 30 minutes to an hour) for various activities will have a positive impact on your mental health.

Anxious spells are often accompanied by self-judgments, catastrophic thoughts, and all-or-nothing ideas. By creating a to-do list at the beginning of your day, where you can schedule every activity, from taking your breakfast, getting ready for work, commuting, handling urgent phone calls, and presiding over meetings, among others, you can ensure you move the needle forward on your business goals. 

You must time block without overscheduling or being too tough on yourself. Ideally, you should block time for self-care, relaxing breaks, hobbies, and self-pampering while staying focused on critical work.

Anxious business leaders are troubled by a downward mental spiral where focusing on big tasks or long-term goals can seem overwhelming. To break this downward spiral, it’s much better to focus on immediate or near-term tasks and take small, meaningful actions.

There’s no harm in taking a break from the big tasks and the future for a little while and simply managing the tasks featured on your to-do list for the present day.  

3.     Use Tools and Techniques for What You Can’t Control

Turning off the future isn’t possible always, especially when something urgent needs to be addressed. Even when you are in a stress-induced downward spiral, you will have to handle such tasks to the best of your ability. That’s where certain tools and techniques can help.

Mindfulness techniques like body scans, belly breaths (also called the 4-7-8 method by some), and meditation can help calm you down. Postponing your anxiety can also help, where you say out loud to it, “You can stay put where you are because I’ll deal with you after I get this task done.” Connecting with other leaders (offline or online) and focusing outward can also help divert your focus on yourself and break the negative thought loop.

Performing a quick generous act is another effective way to help beat anxiety. From something as simple as giving a “like” to a LinkedIn article written by your team member or sharing it with your network to endorsing the work of a past employee or checking on a former colleague via a phone call, small acts can help you stay focused on something positive and manage anxiety effectively.

If you feel the techniques and tools you implement aren’t of much help, don’t shy away from consulting a mental health professional or therapist. Talking to a trained professional can help you know about and use additional coping mechanisms to address anxiety and its debilitating effects on your leadership skills.

Final Words

Leadership in tough times can seem overwhelming and stressful. However, you can manage stress-induced anxiety by acknowledging and accepting your emotions, using time blocking and taking small actions to control what you can, and making the most of tools and techniques to deal with what you can’t control.

The key to navigating anxiety and troubled times lies in having a healthy level of hope, connecting with peers and leveraging human connections, and practicing gratitude and appreciation to manage anxiety at levels that won’t interfere with your leadership skills.

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