Managers are worriers. They fret about their employees’ problems, their bosses’ demands and their peers’ perceptions.
It’s unrealistic to banish worries from your day. Even if you adopt a carefree outlook, your professional duties and dealings with others may trigger occasional anxiety. The real question is how you respond.
“Most people worry about the wrong things,” says David Bartlett, senior vice president at Levick Strategic Communications, a public relations firm in Washington, D.C. “If we can control something, it gives us the perception that it’s less risky than something we can’t control.”
Yet exerting control doesn’t guarantee we’re safe and sound. We may worry more about how the CEO and board of directors react to our presentation than about our preparation and delivery. But while we can’t control how others behave, we can dictate how much time and effort we invest in a key presentation.
Here’s another example. When you board an airplane, your worry level can soar. You figure that you’re trapped in a cramped, pressurized metal tube for six hours. But statistics show that the odds of accidents are far higher in your drive to and from the airport than during your flight.
“Most people don’t worry nearly as much when they get behind the wheel,” says Bartlett, author of Making Your Point. “When it comes to worrying, it’s important to understand it’s less about the actual risk involved than your sense of control.”
To prevent runaway worrying, monitor your anxiety as it flares up. Take these steps to avoid aimless fretting:
Ask, “What actions can I take?” Assess how much control you can exert over the situation. Take precautions, reduce risk or devise contingency plans that address worst-case outcomes that concern you.
Call it quits. If you can’t stop worrying, impose a time limit. Or tell yourself, “I’m going to stop thinking about this now.” Then plunge into an intense task that requires your full attention.
Enlist an ally. Find a pragmatic friend to confide in. Explain what’s bothering you and why it is consuming your thoughts. Talking with a perceptive ally helps you gain perspective.