Happy New Year to all the clients, colleagues, family members, friends, and interested others who read this blog!
I’ve been thinking a lot about anxiety in preparation for Managing the Anxiety of Change, the theme of our Annual Leaders Retreat on Jan. 9, 2020. It is perhaps a telling sign of the times that this year’s retreat has reached its 200-seat maximum faster than at any year in our history.
My work - and that of my colleagues - with leaders and organizations often includes open dialogue about anxiety. As part of those conversations, I am sometimes asked how I manage my own anxiety. Circumstances seldom allow for a thorough and thoughtful response to this question, so I want to respond to it here and now.
I can think of no more worthy and impactful goal than decreasing anxiety among leaders and parents. What a different world it would be if this could happen in even a small measure.
I offer my experience as a launching pad for your own reflection on this first day of the year. How will you manage anxiety in 2020?
I rely upon numerous behaviors and routines to create inner calmness, clarity of mind, openness to differing points of view, and greater flexibility. The following four habits head the list:
1. I invest in meaningful connection with important others.
The connection I strive for is not merely a feeling of emotional closeness. Rather, it’s the experience of knowing and being known, of deep understanding and trust between two people.
I say, “between two people,” because, while this can happen within a group, my focus is developing meaningful, one-on-one connections with my most significant relationships and with anyone I want to get to know more deeply.
My litmus test for this kind of connection is the ability of two people to say to one another what each thinks, feels, wants, and needs, and to hear each other without defending, withdrawing, or criticizing. That’s a tall order, yet I find that even a little bit of quality connection helps regulate my anxiety.
2. I create time and space to be alone in nature.
Nature acts as a quiet, old cathedral for me – a place where I can hush my mind, become still, and observe my surroundings at a slower than normal pace.
There’s nothing like a deep breath of fresh air to re-center myself.
I look at birds and bugs, take in the vastness of the stars, feel the wind on my face. I touch dirt, and dig into it to plant and harvest vegetables. I pick up rocks and stack firewood. My busy mind empties as I watch the snow on the trees or the mesmerizing water of streams and lakes.
For me, the balance of connecting with people and reflecting in the quiet of nature has become a potent combo for the most reliable anxiety reducer I can think of: perspective..
3. I move my body.
For years, I was a gym rat, but learning more about longevity has shifted my focus from indoor exercise to outdoor movement.
Unless the day is excruciatingly cold or hot, I seek outdoor movement every day. I don’t always make it, but it’s become my firm goal.
I have noticed that in the Blue Zones – the places on earth where humans live the longest – there are very few “workout facilities.” People walk outside, and they do it every day. The walking is often on uneven terrain, across varying elevations. It usually accompanies normal work tasks that require bending, stooping, reaching, lifting, pulling, and pushing.
I try to incorporate that kind of varied activity into my daily routine.
Moving my body and doing it outside –and all the better if I sweat - helps regulate my stress.
4. I talk about the real stuff of my life.
Talking to trusted others about what I’m thinking, feeling, experiencing, and up against has become an important life discipline for me.
Since much of my coaching emphasizes listening and attending to the needs and challenges of others, I could easily go weeks and months without ever considering my own need to explore and define myself to another person.
It took me a long time to consider the possibility that I am not Superman, that I am not always clear in my head about decisions I need to make, and that I can gain from self-exposure just as my clients do.
Thankfully, I have been fortunate to find a few stress management partners who are generous listeners as well as willing disclosers.
Now it’s your turn. We each have different routines and commitments for staying emotionally balanced. What are yours?
Can you identify with any of the above?
What disciplines do you want to build into your lifestyle to help manage anxiety?
How’s the quality of your connection with your immediate family members and siblings?
What do you want to do less of and more of in 2020?
I hope your year gets off to a restorative beginning!