Accepting and acknowledging anxiety in difficult times
With a pandemic and a slew of natural disasters changing life as we know it, it’s hardly unexpected that many of us are living in a state of constant anxiety right now. And, with a long weekend approaching, it’s worth acknowledging this constant worry and seeing if you can use this additional time to live in the present and relieve the pressure.
Last week, I was bringing our horses in to the barn as a new storm brewed on the horizon. We had plenty of time, we were not in danger, and I was handling the situation in a calm and efficient manner. So I thought…
I was really surprised to find my horses, Legs and Opal, reacting to me in a way that was different to usual. They were jumpier, less co-operative. It was only at that point that I realised: my anxiety was sky-high. And, despite telling myself that everything was fine, the horses could see beyond my façade and reacted accordingly.
An anxious time
So, why was I so anxious? Well, the obvious answer was that the heavy rains had already flooded my office (we weren’t in a flood area; the culprit was a blocked pipe). However, I think it runs deeper than that; it was not just this one incident that threw me, but the accumulation of a turbulent few months. Of course, a flood is a distressing event, but when it comes on the back of a pandemic and devastating bushfires, then it all snowballs.
And, I feel I’m not the only one. That ‘always worried’ feeling is normal right now: in Australia, mental health problems are twice as common as pre-pandemic. This is the case across the globe; a US study found 42% of adults felt they were suffering from depression or anxiety at the end of last year, up from 11% in 2019.
Yes, Australia is doing well in the pandemic compared to other places, but its effects are still a constant presence in our lives; for example the new lockdown in Brisbane, the end of JobKeeper and ongoing worry about elderly relatives or loved ones who live overseas.
As we headed into 2021, the biggest concerns Australians had were around employment and the economy, ahead of the health fears that were front of mind in the early days of the pandemic. To me, this shows that our anxiety is likely to be around for a while yet as we deal with the fallout of everything that’s happened in the past few months.
Being aware of the impact your anxiety has on others
The incident with the horses was also an important reminder that it’s important to acknowledge and accept anxiety. I’d tried to push that anxiety down, but the horses had seen right through it.
Think about this in the context of your work life as well. To the horses, I am their leader and my obvious anxiety made them act in ways they don’t normally. If you’re working with or leading others, then they are likely to pick up on your anxious vibes. And you are likely to pick up on the anxiety-driven moods of colleagues,, so try to be understanding.
It’s also a reminder that leaders should not always push their concerns down. Good leaders are strong, yes, but that doesn’t mean they should never show vulnerability. A great leader will be authentic and acknowledge their behaviour.
Be positive – but also give yourself a break
As a rule, I always try to be positive. I have a roof over my head, me and my loved ones are well, we have food to eat. There’s no reason to complain.
But the trouble with unrelenting or unthinking positivity is that it can push down all those feelings and leave them to fester. It’s okay to acknowledge anxiety and then take positive steps to move forward. Of course, not everyone can just ‘snap out’ of anxiety, and don’t hesitate to seek help if you need it. But, the incident with the horses did at least bring me back to the moment and give me fresh perspective. Horses don’t worry as much about the future (which is the source of much anxiety), and we can learn a lot from that.
How we deal with anxiety is no easy question, but perhaps the approaching long weekend presents an opportunity. Acknowledging our anxious feelings and trying hard to enjoy this extra time might be good for all of us. Doing nothing without guilt, enjoying the company of other or having some fun are all ways to go about it.
What can you do to relieve anxiety during your downtime?
It’s a difficult time for all of us – why not try developing some leadership skills which will set you on a strong path through life and work? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about our unique leadership training.