Anxiety. You know the feeling. Sweaty or clammy palms. Nervous tummy – maybe even a little nauseous. Shallow breathing. Heart pounding. The feeling that you’re in over your head. Or that what you’re doing is too risky. Or that it’s about to go terribly wrong.
Anxiety can come up in all kinds of situations at work:
- When you’re standing up to give a presentation
- Or you’re speaking up in a meeting
- Or you’re saying no to your boss
- Or you’re asking for a raise or a promotion, or even simply an opportunity to earn them
And it can cause you to shut down. To back down. To shrink. You don’t say what needs to be said. You don’t ask for what you want. And then you feel bad, second-guessing yourself. You start to question whether you even deserve to have a seat at the table. And those thoughts cause you to shrink and hold back even more. Until you give up. You stop trying for that promotion. You stop putting yourself out there for new opportunities.
Anxiety-driven self-doubt holds so many people back. So many thoughtful, wonderful, smart people.
- People who have good ideas, but stop short of sharing them
- People who see what’s not working, but stay silent instead of speaking up
- People who feel themselves burning out, but are too afraid to say anything until they feel their only option is to quit
- People who would be amazing candidates for the job, but are too nervous for the interviewers to believe them
It’s heartbreaking. And the worst part of all is that it’s completely preventable.
When you are able to understand what anxiety is and where it comes from, you can create an entirely different relationship to it.
Here’s what I mean by that. Yvonne Agazarian is a psychotherapist whose work I’ve studied for a long time. She defines anxiety as our natural apprehension that we all feel when we’re at the edge of the unknown.
In other words, anxiety is a natural experience that just about everyone feels when we’re entering some kind of new territory. That could be when we’re about to speak up in a group where we don’t usually speak up. Or we’re about to do something we haven’t done before. Or we’re about to do it in a new context or in a new way. It’s absolutely natural that we’re going to feel some anxiety.
Knowing that has made a profound difference in my life. It has helped me see that feeling anxious isn’t really a problem at all. It’s like feeling hungry. It’s just an experience that my body is having that lets me know I’m doing something new.
So feeling anxious isn’t the problem.
The problem comes when we make those anxious feelings wrong or bad, or tell ourselves that it means something about us.
In his book the Expectation Effect, David Robson shares the research of psychologist, Jeremy Jamieson, from the University of Rochester. Jamieson says that how we frame our anxiety correlates to the impact it has on our performance. If we interpret our nerves, rapid heartbeat, and breathing as a sign of energy and arousal that can help us perform, then feeling anxious can actually increase our performance. If we say to ourselves, “I’m just feeling anxious because this is really important. This anxiety, this energy, is going to help me focus and do the right thing,” then we can leverage the anxiety to focus and make the contribution we want to make.
On the other hand, if our stories about anxiety are disempowering, it’s likely to have the opposite effect. If we see those feelings as a sign that something is wrong, or a weakness or personal failing, that’s when we shut down.
This is one of the very first things I work on with my clients. I help them identify the thought patterns that contribute to and ramp up their anxiety and get in the way of their contributions. They learn to replace those thoughts with new stories that help them reach their goals. By becoming friendly to their anxiety, they can use it as a source of energy and inspiration.
I’m not a psychologist, so I do this in the context of coaching. If you have chronic or severe anxiety, or experience anxiety attacks, therapy may be a better option for getting to the origin of the anxiety-provoking patterns and healing the history of them. I’ve worked with several clients either after they’ve done work in therapy, or alongside therapy, to help them channel their new energy toward their work goals.
If what you’re experiencing is the day-to-day anxiety that causes you to go quiet or shrink back and not reach for what’s next for you, I can absolutely help and I would love to do that. Whether you’ve been holding yourself back in ways that keep you invisible, or hesitating about asking for a promotion, or stalling on putting your resume out there to get a new job, we can help. You can reach out to us at zmcoach.com/apply to schedule a breakthrough call with us. We’ll talk with you about what’s happening now and what you want in your career. If we can help you get from here to there, we’ll talk with you about what that could look like. If for some reason, we think we’re not the right fit for you, we’ll tell you that too, and point you to other resources. Reach out to us today and let’s get moving toward the success and the contribution that you really want to make over the course of your career starting now.
Prefer to watch a video on this topic? Watch this: