Anxiety weighs down the human heart,
but a good word cheers it up.
- Proverbs 12:25 NRSV
There's no doubt that a good word is powerful medicine. And clearly, it's most powerful when its dispensed regularly as preventive medicine rather than after anxiety sets in.
The One Minute Manager, co-authored by Lead Like Jesus' co-founder Ken Blachard, recommends that leaders dispense a regular supply of good words in the form of "One Minute Praisings."
Nevertheless, anxiety is persistent in our personal and professional lives. A recent survey by ComPsych Corp, the world's largest provider of employee assistance programs, indicated that more than two-thirds of all employees claim high levels of stress, and 29 percent are so stressed they admit to being unable to work effectively for five or more days per year.
Here are some other tips to help you deal with anxiety in yourself and others.
- Communicate -- When people feel they are "in the loop" regarding their employer's mission, vision, goals and performance, the horizon of uncertainty recedes and with it their anxiety. They need to be treated like responsible human beings whose contributions are valued and contribute to the organization's mission. Then they feel more in control and less anxious. Also do what you can to create a sense of community and the experience of everyone working toward a common goal.
- Avoid favoritism -- From our earliest age, we compare ourselves and our situations to others' and are sensitive to any indications that we are being treated unfairly in comparison with others. (Remember sibling fights over who had more chocolate milk in their glass or whose cookie was bigger or had more sprinkles?) Adults should be past such trivial matters and should understand that there are good reasons why not all people are treated exactly equal regarding everything in the workplace. But there should be a level of thoughtful consideration accorded everyone, and leaders should take care not to favor one person over another for any reason not clearly related to workplace performance.
- Anticipate as much as possible -- Anxiety dines on uncertainty, and frequent surprises become a feeder system for persistent uncertainty. Help people manage their expectations by planning ahead and encouraging others to do so too. Stressful times are generally not as anxiety-ridden if we know they are coming and can prepare for them. Giving people the tools to help them become better time managers and to identify and manage their expectations can pay big dividends.
- Take care of your body -- The human body needs both rest and exercise, as well as good nutrition. Make sure you get sufficient rest. And exercise regularly. Just a half hour walk or bike ride, even on a stationary bike, five times a week can make all the difference in the world. Watch what you eat and drink. A healthy body can handle little indulgences at infrequent intervals. But a tired, stressed, poorly nourished body is a liability -- with the potential to be a fatal one.
- Take care of your spirit -- Just as we don't live by bread alone, we're not simply physical beings. We are conscious, sentient beings with emotional and spiritual hungers that have to be fed in order for us to live happy, purposeful lives in which anxiety is an exception, not the rule. So foster your relationship with God. Talk to Him in prayer regularly -- ideally morning and night (more often is good too). Take time to reflect on and relish His unconditional love for you. Consider how you can reciprocate that love. Tell him what's bothering you. And ask Him to help you carry your crosses. He has some experience with that, you know.
St. Paul offers us excellent advice when he says: "Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God." (Phil 4:6, NRSV)
If you're like me, you're a long way from having "no anxiety at all." But we can see the path to progressively less anxiety. When we are taking regular steps on that path, life gets better for us -- and for those around us affected by our outlook and behavior.
Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
Director, Yeshua Catholic International Leadership Institute