The Three Faces of Anxiety

Posted by on Sep 27, 2018

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Anxiety is a wake-up call

Most of us view anxiety through a purely negative lens. We see anxiety as something to fear and avoid. This thinking is self-defeating and can even make us more anxious. So why is it so difficult to deal with anxiety? It starts with faulty thinking and goes something like this: Uncertainty makes me anxious. I feel vulnerable. Anxiety leads me to worry or run away. Now I’m no longer in control of my life and that feels even worse.

Our faulty thinking comes from centuries of viewing change as dangerous, even life-threatening. It comes from medical models that frame anxiety as solely a mental health problem. And it comes from years of outmoded leadership practices that ignore the human side of business. These notions about change and anxiety are not helpful today.

Instead, we need to see anxiety as a wake-up call, a message inside our body telling us to pay attention. Clearly, excessive anxiety needs to be treated by a professional. Yet for many of us, anxiety is a source of stored energy that can be used to our advantage. Getting real about anxiety leads you to uncover the hidden driver of life and business success.

Too Little Anxiety: The Face of Complacency

The first face of anxiety is having too little anxiety. This is like living with your head in the sand, avoiding change, and valuing the status quo. People like this tend to live in a bubble. In today’s volatile world we can’t walk around with a self-imposed blindfold. Too little anxiety keeps you from having to face difficult problems and limits your ability to learn.

The economics of too little anxiety can also be devastating. Difficult issues get ignored, projects start and stop unpredictably and people waste time in unnecessary activities.

Too-little-anxiety Leaders sometimes have the following effects on organizations:

  • Organization lacks a sense of urgency
  • Talent goes untapped or underutilized
  • Mediocre performance is tolerated
  • Opportunities are missed

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Too Much Anxiety: The Face of Chaos

Most of us are too familiar with too much anxiety. Today’s frenetic wireless world makes it difficult to avoid. But some people are vulnerable to making too much anxiety a habit. Many of these people are overly attached to success, the need to be right, powerful and in control. Behind this attachment is fear – the fear of inadequacy, failure, insignificance or being taken advantage of.

Emotionally, too-much-anxiety people are out of touch with themselves in the moment. Inside, they are frequently held hostage by their emotions – anxiety, anger, sadness, and fear. They also bring their inner chaotic energy to everyone around them. Four types that you might be familiar with are egotistical people, perfectionistic people, volatile people, and suspicious people.

Too-much-anxiety Leaders sometimes have the following effects on organizations:

  • They create too-much-anxiety teams
  • Creative people feel suffocated
  • Resentment and frustrations fill the air
  • Information is not shared, making mistrust the norm

Just Enough Anxiety: The Face of Success

Just enough anxiety is the right level of tension that drives you forward without causing you to resist, give up, or try to control what happens. It unleashes your productive energy and makes you want to do better. Operating with just enough anxiety creates the optimal environment for learning, so you can stretch beyond your current reality into your desired future. It allows just-enough-anxiety Leaders to close the gap between who they are and who they wish to be. In organizations, it helps your organization get to where it wants to be.

We all lean toward too little or too much anxiety under stress. Some of us are drawn repeatedly into too much anxiety. Others gravitate toward too little. Nobody remains in the middle all the time. Your goal is to maintain balance. Only just enough anxiety accelerates your path toward sustainable success.

The Three Faces of Anxiety are part of the Get Real practice in our book CONSCIOUS: The Power of Awareness in Business and Life. The other practices are Go Deep, Think Big, and Step Up.

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