After my time in the Army, I developed an anxiety disorder, General Anxiety Disorder to be precise, however I did not let it bring me down in my job duties. In fact, I used my anxiety to my benefit when leading others in stressful, fast-paced situations. It sounds counterproductive if you are unfamiliar with having anxiety or know anyone with anxiety because typically, you’d suspect, it would much more difficult for someone with anxiety to handle stressful situations but this is not always the case. I will admit that yes it has been and can be difficult for me in certain situations to handle stress but it has allowed me to have an upper-hand to my competition. In this post, I will give advice for those who struggle with anxiety to fight through it as well as how it has helped me as a leader.
Coping with Anxiety
I’ve worked in the package delivery/transportation industry for over 10 years now and, as some of you know, it can be one of the hardest industries to be in as far as intense, fast-paced industries are concerned. I have also had side jobs in the restaurant industry and that too is very high stress and fast paced. It can be difficult for someone who has anxiety to cope with being pushed and rushed for an extended period of time everyday. If you do not have anxiety or do not know anything about it, imagine that everyone is crowding you at all times, every little noise is screaming in your ear, when your boss is telling you to improve on something it feels like you’re a total failure, and everything, no matter how small, can feel like life or death. Now, this does not represent everyone who has anxiety or has experienced it but this is what it is like for me.
One way I have coped with anxiety is by taking deep breaths, taking a step back, and being mindful of the situation as a whole. When I mean being mindful, I mean assess the situation and realize it is not life or death, you are in a safe place, and you can handle anything. I say this to myself, almost as a daily affirmation, and it really helps. Typically when someone has anxiety, it is because they have experienced some kind of trauma, not always, it is also genetic. If you have anxiety because of some trauma, think to yourself you’re safe, you’ve overcome worse, and it has made you stronger. This segues nicely into how anxiety has helped me as a leader.
Anxiety as a Tool
Having anxiety can also allow you to see things others cannot. Possible bottlenecks, threats, errors, etc. because you are used to being cognizant of threats. It is like an animal, they experience trauma in a different way than humans do. They use it as a strength, that they will not allow it to happen again, and they become more hyper-aware of their surroundings and situations. A book that really helped me do this was Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma by Ann Frederick. The author does a great job or describing the difference between humans and animals and how they experience trauma. We tend to be more emotional and because of that makes it harder for us to get over it. Once you are able to handle your anxiety it can become a great tool to be 5 steps ahead of everyone around you because you are hyper-sensitive to stress and threats. Others may be too blindly ignorant to the reality of the stress or threat to where they will fail. Sometimes it can be a negative trait for you because, like I said earlier, you can treat something that is not as important as a life or death situation and appear out of control. This is where your mindfulness comes into play; realizing what is truly important or not. Having anxiety can be like having a super power, to see 5 steps ahead, but you need to be able to harness it, focus it, and execute it to work in your favor.
Think about the idea of fight or flight. Sometimes it is best for you to stand up and fight against the threat but sometimes it is best to run for safety. Having anxiety can feel like this every day but it can be helped with mindfulness, meditation, medication if you need it, and acknowledging it. Like all human traits, it has its strengths and weaknesses but it is up to you, the leader, to use it as a strength and prove to yourself you are strong enough to overcome anything!