Anxiety is our body’s natural response to stress. At moderate levels, psychologists classify anxiety as a normal, even healthy emotion. It may look like a feeling eating us up as relentless worry from the inside or as an internal voice that deters us from taking risks, signaling ‘This is danger’. Since the human brain is wired to keep us safe, we are constantly scanning our environment for potential threats and uncertainty. It has been observed that geniuses and people with above-average intelligence have twice as much anxiety as the average population.
But too much of anything can upset the delicate balance of life. Disproportionate levels of anxiety can disrupt concentration, cause feelings of constant unease and discomfort, and in severe cases even lead to physical symptoms (jitters, nail-biting, restlessness) and negatively affect day-to-day life. Anxiety poses a considerable obstacle to attention and focus as the mind is overwhelmed with anxious thoughts related to impending danger regardless of whether it is real or merely perceived, taking one away from the present moment.
According to a Forbes article, in any given month, 18% of people at work are experiencing a mental health condition, of which depression and anxiety are most common. More often than not, highly productive and creative people in the organization often fall under this statistic. If not addressed, the adverse effects of anxiety can disrupt critical thinking and decision-making, often spiraling across the workplace.
It is proven that line managers who want the best out of their teams can no longer adopt a directive approach, merely making decisions and expecting the team to follow through without understanding their issues up-close. Line managers are increasingly adopting the coaching methods to bring out the best in people, which requires them to be good listeners, relationship builders, and performance enablers. Hence it is essential that line managers possess some tools to support team members in dealing with workplace anxiety.
The following model is a simple 4-step tool (CALM Model) that can help organizations and managers manage anxiety at the workplace and its related issues:
Concern Or Empathy
Sympathy works from a frame of ‘I am strong and you are weak. It is defined by the feeling of pity for the other person without necessarily understanding the problem. However, empathy is about ‘I have been where you are and I understand how you feel’. It is a keen competency of emotional intelligence and leadership effectiveness. Empathetic leaders show awareness of the feelings and thoughts of others and are able to put themselves in the other person’s shoes and thus react with compassion. By being empathetic, leaders can offer psychological safety and help team members feel comfortable sharing their anxieties without being judged, work with the team members through anxiety and help them cope with it better.
Away From Stigma
Stigma leads to matters being brushed under the carpet, i.e., willful ignorance of the problem. When dealing with mental health or anxiety, the first step is to reduce or eliminate the stigma associated with it. Mental health awareness should be embedded in the company’s culture and should be part of the employee orientation process. Some companies offer mental health days or leaves apart from sick leaves. Employee access to mental health or psychological counseling is non-negotiable these days as more and more companies are implementing employee assistance programs with mental health services as a part of them.
Another strategy to destigmatize anxiety is encouraging leaders to speak about their problems and share examples of success stories in dealing with their own anxiety and related issues by sharing tips, tricks, and strategies that worked for them. This can help bust misconceptions. By destigmatizing stress and anxiety, people will ask for accommodations without fear of discrimination. Consistent help in a positive direction will reflect positively in their performance, as well as their increased comfort in the office environment.
Live In The Present Moment
Anxiety can take you away from the present moment and make it difficult to cope with tasks. Anxious thoughts can accompany from task to task or make the mind drift or wander. A person obsessed with the past or future cannot give their 100% in the present. This can also cause absentmindedness, lack of focus and lead to issues with recall and decision making.
Keeping your team members grounded through anxious moments is very crucial. Well-known techniques are practicing mindfulness, deep and focused breathing exercises, and practicing gratitude. Throwing them challenging tasks which require quick turnaround and results can make the person focus on the present and the immediate results, although care must be taken not to overwhelm them all at once.
Overall, anxiety has always been common in a high-stakes environment, but as mental health awareness increases and the stigma fades, people do feel more comfortable asking for the help and guidance they need. It’s important to remember that what works for one may not work for the other; hence line managers must keep patience, know their people well enough and find out what works for them. It has always been expected for employees to go the extra mile for the organization, and managers must be prepared to do the same whenever the need arises to help their team combat anxiety.
Sabeeh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org