Leadership Maxim 10: Anxiety and Fear are Part of Being Human.
Most of us would rather not have anxiety. We turn away from it, or ignore it, or try to medicate it away with things like alcohol, distractions or exercise. And, of course, ignoring an emotion creates bias and makes it harder to think clearly.
But anxiety contains information that we can use. It is is like a web reaching through life and work to a thousand places where there is uncertainty or looming danger. So if we sit with anxiety, and look at it, and study it, we can gain great information that can help us personally and professionally. It contains another dimension of information. It's a path into our intuitive understanding of our environment. It tells us what to pay attention to, and what to start working on.
We're not talking about severe anxiety here; this is not agoraphobia, or paralyzing social anxiety. We're talking about a lesser form, a more common form, that can be your friend and ally.
"We are wired for anxiety, because of the fight or flight instinct," says Gary Dinezza, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist in Buffalo. "It's a response to perceived threats in the environment." It can be what gets us out of bed in the morning, and it can focus our minds, so it can be positive, he says.
Think about having to make a presentation next week. If you know your material well, and you know your audience well, it might not cause any anxiety. But what if you don't know them? The answer is to listen to your anxiety and start to prepare, and then over-prepare, learning your material, refining your talking points, and learning everything you can about your audience. The best speeches I have ever made were when I knew the material absolutely cold.
Of course, as for any emotion, you can't just listen to and follow anxiety blindly. Emotions, after all, are not always the ultimate window to the highest truth. We still have to think, and carefully assess what we see and what we do.
And keep in mind that anxiety can manifest as a lot of different things, such as grouchiness, social withdrawal, or feeling unhappy with one's choices.
You can't escape anxiety unless you're medicated or dead. You might as well use it.