How to manage anxiety and get things done in a time of uncertainty

For many people working from home right now, anxiety is throwing up an additional hurdle to overcome.
For many people working from home right now, anxiety is throwing up an additional hurdle to overcome.

For many people working from home right now, anxiety is throwing up an additional hurdle to overcome. This, on top of trying to get tasks completed as professionally as possible while juggling childcare and home-schooling.

There’s no doubt that we’re living through one of the most uncertain and unnerving periods in recent history.

In times of uncertainty people normally seek comfort from one another, but people are currently being physically driven apart by a virus that no-one yet fully understands.

This is a reminder that the illusion of control we think we have is just that – an illusion. This realisation can cause anxiety and an inability to continue performing work duties which, for those lucky enough to still have jobs and who are able to work from home, are of crucial importance.

The secret to getting through this time lies in reframing one’s thinking, keeping anxiety under control and lowering our cortisol levels. It is therefore important to strive to make clear, thoughtful decisions, with the emphasis on long-term strategy. To regroup, reprioritise, recharge and innovate.

Leaders managing remote teams should help restore confidence and default to honest, clear and compassionate communication.

While our teams don’t necessarily expect us to have all the answers, they do expect us to be working on a plan for the benefit of everyone. Showing fear and despair is not going to inspire our people to be extraordinary, and now, more so than ever, we need extraordinary, for the sake of people’s livelihoods, and the survival of our companies and our economy.

Our belief in a shared vision for the benefit of humanity is critical to our continued survival.

When anxiety overrides thinking, the ability to make clear decisions is negatively influenced.

New research suggests that anxiety impacts our brains by disengaging the pre-frontal cortex – the part of the brain that is essential for good decision-making – where we weigh up consequences, plan and process thoughts in a logical, rational way and screen out distractions or irrelevant information.

When this happens, we become overwhelmed and distracted, and then struggle to think rationally. Emotion takes over and logic is set aside. Bad news is magnified and any positive signs are largely ignored.

The first step is to slow down

When one’s mind is racing at a million kilometres an hour, it’s hard to settle on a thought and, when one does, that thought is most often negative, further fuelling anxiety. So how can people – whether they be organisational leaders or team members working from home – override anxiety to move towards a space where it no longer cripples productivity?

The first step is to slow down.

Take a breath and slow down your thinking. Very few decisions need to be made at any given instant. Often, if we rush a decision, we’re doing so because we’re driven by sensationalist news, herd mentality or the belief that our thoughts, feelings and behaviour are a single package.

Just because we feel a certain way doesn’t mean that we have to act a certain way. Instead, we need to push against the habitual response and break the cycle by slowing the process down, being mindful and, in doing so, moving away from automatic thoughts and responses toward focusing on what is really happening and how we can best respond.

Once calm is achieved, action must be taken.

Problems sometimes seem overwhelming in number and insurmountable in scope, which can lead to analysis paralysis. When this happens, start small by working on one part of the problem first. Ask questions about your concerns.

Find a good sounding board. And then do one thing, and then another and then another. Build on the small actions, as each action will help towards feelings of empowerment, alleviating anxiety.

READ: Covid-19 lockdown doesn't have to end in divorce

Taking action also means taking care of yourself. Get enough sleep. Eat well. Exercise. Remember that you don’t need news on a continuous loop, so stop yourself if you find you are going down a rabbit hole of breaking local and international news.

Stephen King explained it well, when he said: “Panic is highly contagious, especially in situations when nothing is known and everything is in flux.”

It is important to remember that this time is a novel challenge for most, and that everyone is trying to do their best under difficult circumstances.

So consider that the work of addressing any anxiety standing in your way is part of your work. Every little bit you are able to do with a calmer mind will build your resilience muscles, and help you work towards a new normal where things are not normal, but where you are able to better handle your daily load under abnormal circumstances.

Georgina Barrick is a leadership expert and managing director at Network Contracting Solutions, ADvTECH resourcing’s contracting division

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