Am I the only leader that struggles with saying the word anxiety? It is as if by saying that you are anxious you are automatically “less than.” But this is a boldface lie. In the last year it has been hard to not be at least a little anxious. So, before going further, I want to speak directly to the type-A leader. Lean in and listen.
It is okay to admit that you are anxious.
What I am going to do with the rest of today’s post is share ideas that I have found to be helpful when I am anxious. To be sure, there is a plethora of things I do. For example, I start each day in God’s word because I need to get my mind right. I also pray a LOT. I emphasize “LOT” not to show you how spiritual I am, but to show you how DESPERATE I am. Desperate people pray. I wear my desperation with a badge of honor because I need help.
I have also found that listening to classical music, especially while I write, calms anxiety. And if all else fails, drinking a good glass of red wine can also help calm my body, mind, and soul.
See, I am not “holier than thou!”
I am human.
And here is today’s starting point…
So are you.
I am not going to dwell on all the reasons you probably are, to some degree, anxious. Rather, I want to spend time in today’s post outlining three helpful disciplines I have turned to this year. By adopting them, you will find help battling anxiety as well.
A few years ago, my Executive Coach challenged me to take inventory of all the “inputs” in my life. By “inputs,” he meant things like text messages, emails, podcasts, books, news, social media, etc. In short, anything that created noise inside my brain. What I discovered was that my entire day revolved around information. All this information, as good as it might have been, was overwhelming me.
I then discovered all the noise was my attempt to cover up the insecurity inside my soul. I thought if I answered every email in 2 minutes, read all the latest leadership books, and kept a cool Instagram, I would be “enough.” By “enough,” I mean that people would like, respect, and appreciate me. I even expected to feel good 24/7!
I learned that this was a fool’s errand. But I could only see so in hindsight, when I could see the impacts leading to large dips in energy, and even sickness. Since then, I have become more cognizant of the number of inputs in my life.
What does this have to do with anxiety?
Living in the information world, where more is always shared, tweeted, and expected (especially of leaders), your anxiety could just be a result of too much “inputs.” The antidote to this is, you guessed it, silence.
Silence requires stopping. You cannot be silent on the “go.” Further, silence requires a belief that you can stop doing whatever it is that you are doing. You can put down the book, turn off the podcast, and just be.
Being allows your self to catch up to your life.
Don’t believe me that silence helps? Over the next twenty-four hours, take inventory of all your “inputs.” Pay special attention to your phone, what you do in the car, and at night. How much time are you in complete silence?
In case you struggle with English (don’t worry I did, which is why I am being blunt here), complete silence means complete silence.
I am inviting you to turn your phone off, turn your computer off, to pull over if you are in your car, and to just be.
That’s right. Just. Be.
As I am writing this post, I have done some form of this for 27 days straight. I am using the timer app on my iPhone and timing myself in complete silence. I aim for somewhere between 2 to 10 minutes per session. I share what I am doing because if you are like me, your brain is telling you right now that you do not have time to do what I am suggesting above. You might even be thinking that I am some kind of weird monk, or hippy. I do not think I am, but that is probably up for debate.
The truth, however, is that you have time to do this 2 to 10 minutes per day, especially at the office, where the benefits on the other side of silence are staggering. For example, I have discovered that after being silent for five minutes I can re-engage positively with just about any kind of problem.
That’s right, silence leads to better on-the-job-decision making.
There is so much to share about silence that I will devote a future post to it. For now, start small, but be consistent (consistency trumps duration in almost any discipline). And most of all, be graceful to yourself.
Take ONE day OFF per week
For many, this is called the Sabbath. But, do not let that word freak you out. What I am referring to is not a day of extended solitude and silence, although that would be really beneficial! Rather, I am referring to ONE day per week that looks COMPLETELY different than the other six.
As you probably can guess, I have read a lot of Christian books about the Sabbath. Most make me feel like a failure for blowing past God’s limits for life. But lately, I have read more helpful advice about taking one day a week off. Here are some notes I have jotted down while reading those books:
- The Sabbath is a gift. It is a no obligation day!
- Four words to think about in relation to the Sabbath: Stop, Rest, Contemplate, and Delight (have fun!)
- Useful ideas for me: Grill a good dinner for the family, play golf and do not keep score (no measuring your worth in performance this day), and exercise outdoors.
- Take a nap!
I am sharing the above because I used to think that taking a day off was torturous. I have discovered, however, that it should be fun and something I look forward to.
Notice: I did not list “check my email” in the above list. I am not going to lie and say that I don’t (especially talking about the Sabbath!), but I do try to limit it as much as possible.
One last bit of advice that I found extremely helpful is that your “day off” does not have to coincide with a normal 24-hour period. What I mean is that I sometimes take my Sabbath from 2 p.m. Saturday to 2 p.m. Sunday (or something like that). The reason being is that it allows me to get my chores done Saturday morning, and then also allows me to get prepared for the work week to come on Sunday night. The point here is that you (your body, mind, and soul) need ONE day off in a week.
When all else fails journal. At least that is what I tell myself. I say it this way because journaling does not come natural to me, yet I see its profound impact every time I do it.
I have shared multiple times in these posts that I have often used Pete Scazzero’s “iceberg exercise” when journaling. By this, I answer the following questions: What am I mad about? What am I said about? What I am anxious about? What am I glad about? Writing the answers to these questions often uncover the root cause of my anxiety (and anger). To that end, I encourage you to get your thoughts down on paper. Or, as I mentioned in last week’s post, share them with a trusted friend.
The three disciplines shared above are obviously not an exhaustive list. So, I challenge you to experiment and find what works best for you.
I have allotted the last two weeks to anger and anxiety because I struggle with them. By sharing some of the disciplines I have used to battle them, I hope you have gained a couple tools to help you in the process. I also hope that you follow my lead by owning your struggles.
Remember, you cannot treat what you do not think is a problem.
I hope and pray these two posts have been helpful. My goal in writing these posts remains to encourage leaders to become the kinds of people others want to follow. To that end, we (you and I) need to own what is going on inside us for that to happen.
Please feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if there is any way I can help you, or pray for you, in that pursuit.