Just Enough Anxiety – How to Cope in Today’s Uncertain World

No matter where you get your news these days on the internet, TV, podcast, social media – reading, listening, and watching are likely to make you feel anxious. The health crisis with Covid-19 and the resulting economic fallout, combined with political divisions and social unrest has many people feeling more worried and anxious than ever before. 

Fear and anxiety can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions. Learning not only to cope but to thrive will help you, the people you care about, and your work colleagues to be healthier and more resilient. Let’s take a moment to look at anxiety- where it comes from, what the different kinds of anxiety are, how it may be affecting you or someone in your family, and some tips for coping with it. 

What factors influence how we develop and handle stress and anxiety?

Everyone reacts differently when stress occurs in life. We are all playing the game of life with four major “cards” in your hand: your genetic makeup, personal development, life experiences, and beliefs and emotions. Each one of these cards can enhance or detract from your ability to manage with the hand you’ve got. Together, they determine your overall capacity to manage your anxiety. 

1. Your Genetic Makeup

Your genes give you the raw materials from which your emotional experiences are built. They define how your nervous system operates. They establish your “set point” for anxiety and stress—whether you naturally tend to be highly sensitive and vulnerable or hearty and resilient. Your “gene card” defines your natural tendency for experiencing and managing anxiety in your life. It’s the one card you must keep in your hand!

2. Your Personal Development

Whatever the gene card you are dealt with, you inevitably find yourself face-to-face with a family. You are in a relationship with your parents or caregivers, and you may or may not have brothers or sisters. Your extended family may be large or small, functional or dysfunctional or somewhere in between. Whatever your situation, your experiences in childhood and adolescence have a profound effect on how you experience anxiety and handle uncertainty and change. Whatever family you were born or raised in, your personal development card is embedded inside you, but you can choose to re-examine and revise it, and maybe even return this card to the deck.

3. Your Life Experiences

Life is an unpredictable journey. You set out on a path, thinking you know where you are going. Along the way, you face obstacles, take detours, and even change direction from time to time. Sometimes you trudge up steep hills or get stopped in your footsteps by something totally unexpected. Sometimes you coast or gain momentum moving forward. One thing is for certain: you never know what is around the next twist in the road. You can find yourself anxious about any aspect of your life at any time. You might be feeling anxious about a relationship with a partner, parent, colleague, or friend. You might get anxious over personal finances, social, or political issues. You might be experiencing anxiety about your performance at work or job security. These are all snapshots in time. Some worries you can control, some you can’t. Some hardships seem impossible to get through. Others are catalysts for growth. They are all part of life’s journey.

4. Your Beliefs and Emotions

Your deep-seated beliefs and emotions about yourself and the world around you can become self-fulfilling prophecies. They determine what makes you anxious and affect the amount of anxiety you feel. And they can also influence how you interpret and label your experiences. What you believe and feel can help or hinder you. If they are positive and self-affirming, they can push you to do your best. If they are negative or self-defeating, they can hold you back. Either way, beliefs, and emotions can be tough to uncover because they are stored deep within your memory banks in your emotional and executive brains. Because of this, they will influence your experience of anxiety, for better or for worse. If you want to change them, you will need to devote time, attention, and patience to the task of digging them out and understanding them, and it can be done.

Anxiety Is a Wake-Up Call

Anxiety is a message inside our body telling us to pay attention. Getting real about anxiety leads you to uncover the hidden driver of life and business success. Accepting it as a natural part of the human experience is to get real about what living consciously actually means. Like a rubber band, too much anxiety will cause us to snap. Too little anxiety and we keep us stuck. Living with just enough anxiety will help you grow and change as you move through uncertainty. 

The Three Faces of Anxiety

Too little anxiety: The face of complacency

Having too little anxiety is like living life with your head in the sand. You naturally avoid change and over-value the status quo. Not surprisingly, people like this live in a protective bubble. Maybe their parents spared them from difficulty, or maybe they learned at an early age that they needed to protect themselves from uncertainty and change. Too little anxiety people can be too detached, cautious, idealistic, or over-pleasing. Whatever the reason, this approach to our disruptive times doesn’t work anymore. You must look squarely in the eye of the storm. 

Too much anxiety: The face of chaos

Most of us are too familiar with too much anxiety. Today’s frenetic world makes it difficult to avoid.  Some people are even vulnerable to making too much anxiety a habit. One problem is that many of us are too attached to success. Our need to be right and in control drives our behavior and creates unhealthy energy around us. Underlying this attachment is fear—fear of failure, inadequacy, insignificance, or being taken advantage of. Emotionally, people with too much anxiety are out of touch with themselves in the moment. They may look suspicious, perfectionistic, irritable, or egotistical. Inside, they are often being held hostage by negative emotions such as anger, sadness, and fear.  On the outside, they wear their feelings on their sleeves, bringing their inner chaotic energy to everyone around them.

Just enough anxiety: The face of success

Just enough anxiety is the sweet spot for productive energy — the right level of tension that drives you forward without causing you to resist, give up, or try to control what happens.  With just the right amount, anxiety creates the optimal conditions for learning so you can stretch beyond your current reality into your desired future. It allows you to close the gaps between who you are and who you wish to be.

Keep Things in Perspective

When you are working from home, take ten minutes to meditate to get refreshed and keep perspective. 
During this time of uncertainty, you can manage and alleviate your stress by taking the time to take care of yourself.  Make sure to take time away from the news to focus on things in your life that are going well and that you can control.
These are some of the actions you can do to support yourself:
  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. 
  • Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some activities you enjoy and treat yourself to special times.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
  • Call your healthcare provider if the anxiety interferes with life’s activities for a sustained period of time. No doubt some people have anxiety disorders that need expert attention and support like therapy, coaching or medication. 
Life today is about keeping up with a rapidly uncertain world. Economic, health, environmental, and sociopolitical changes are more complicated and unpredictable than ever. To feel at home in uncharted territory and to make friends with ambiguity and anxiety we must develop coping skills. The more we learn about anxiety the more resilient we will become. 


About the Author

Picture of Bob Rosen, Ph.D.

Bob Rosen, Ph.D.

Bob Rosen is founder and CEO of The Healthy Leader and author of 8 best-selling leadership books, including Grounded: How Leaders Stay Rooted in an Uncertain World, a New York Times bestseller, and Conscious: The Power of Awareness in Business and Life, a Washington Post bestseller. At The Healthy Leader, we help develop leaders at all levels to improve their health, well-being, potential and performance.


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