Go Ahead and Worry—It Will Solve Everything!

Anxious woman holding head

Go Ahead and Worry—It Will Solve Everything!

Fear, and its smaller sibling—anxiety—can serve a useful purpose in our lives, but only in a very narrow way, and under specific circumstances. Most of what we hold as anxiety about the workplace falls under the old-fashioned category of “neurotic”: it’s not really significant enough to require any drastic action, and it’s usually about our inability to keep ourselves centered and balanced.

Sample scenario #1: Sally worries that she’ll disappoint her team if she doesn’t stop at the bakery every Friday to pick up goodies. She’s concerned about what her manager will think if she makes a mistake. Her coworkers will roll their eyes in a meeting when Sally asks yet another question just so she can “get it right.” Her to-do lists are massive, and there’s always one more thing to add.

Sample scenario #2: Deion doesn’t consider himself to be a suspicious person; however he does have his doubts about where the owners are taking the company, whether that new young buck is after his job, and what his supervisor meant in that last e-mail. He is concerned that he may find himself without a job, so he spends much time documenting his actions, which he considers to be simply “covering my ass.”

Why will this help me at work? Whether you worry about too many details, are anxious about the future, or are overly concerned about what people think of you, you are robbing your present of available time and energy. Appropriate concern is good; obsessing on what might or should happen is not. Others in the workplace tend to create work-arounds rather than dealing openly with a “nervous Nelson or Nellie.”

Why is this so difficult at times? For most people with an anxious personality component, the worry is an attempt to self-soothe. If “out of control” is the worst thing that can happen (and sometimes it’s actually quite desirable to move skillfully through out of control), then being wigged out may try to serve a purpose of managing a negative internal state. When you do not have trust in your own capacity to go into the unknown, then dealing with ambiguity will be a supreme challenge.

Your frank self-assessment:
• Has anyone ever referred to you as a “control freak”? A “worrywart”? Is there any potential truth to this?
• Are you able to sit quietly and contemplate your next moves, or is there usually an internal pressure to figure it out and get it done right now?
• Do you beat yourself up for not getting enough accomplished? Do you have an incessant feeling that you should be doing more?

My tips:
• If this is a pattern for you, it could be a challenging one to change. You’ll have to replace being worried with accepting “what is” (without turning into a complacent blob of jelly!).
• Ask yourself this question: “Is it possible for me to do more than the best I can do?” Now, make sure you right-size “best.
• Identify the ways you differentiate between concern and worry, or between being focused and being obsessed. Make sure you can pick up the internal feeling of “being okay” versus “not being okay.

Action for traction:
• See if you can figure out—with a trusted friend, colleague, or counselor—what is at the root of your anxiety. Knowing the basis behind it won’t automatically make it disappear, but it could provide some understanding.

•Using the 1–10 scale, with 10 being something like nuclear war, 9 being brutal violence or murder, 8 being the death of someone very close to you, 7 being a diagnosis of a terminal illness, and so on, it’s easy to see that the things we think are major episodes of disaster in the workplace are in fact 2s and 3s. Make up your own scale and keep track of how many times you initially perceive a 3 to be an 8.

•Practice talking privately to yourself in a mirror. Tell yourself exactly why things are so dire, the horrible outcomes you are imagining, and the absolutely heroic efforts you and only you must take in order to stave off catastrophe. See how long you can keep this up!

Baked-in benefits:
• Bringing the triggers for your own anxiety into your awareness and changing them will have major positive impacts on the ones you truly care about. Loving an uptight person (that would be you) is not an easy task.
• Ironically, the less you truly obsess over details, the more likely you are to be seen as highly valuable. Think about it—are the leaders you admire calm or chaotic?
• Yes, there are folks who get their work done, hang out with good friends, and enjoy a rich full life, but they don’t take a checklist approach to it. Use focused concern as a tool, not a burden.

Excerpt From: Flip Brown. “Balanced Effectiveness at Work. How to Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labor without Driving Yourself Nuts.”  Published by: Starr Farm Press