Back-to-school anxiety hit our household pretty hard on Sunday night. School kicked off this morning with a half day, but the stress of the unknown hit our fifth grader, third grader, and kindergartener a few days early. But they weren’t talking about their nerves. Their anxiety came out in the form of increased bickering, nitpicking, and general annoyance.
That’s the thing about anxiety: it can be hard to find the source. Most of us aren’t able to pinpoint the thing that is truly making us irritable. It’s a lot easier to blame the person who’s tapping their fingers than to do the work to figure out why that’s bothering us.
As adults in the workplace, we tend to try to quiet down the anxiety with numbing activities. Sometimes it’s a snack. Sometimes it’s a drink. Sometimes it’s hours in front of Netflix where you aren’t enjoying a show, but you’re just not thinking about the thing that really needs your attention. Numbing can take on a lot of different forms, but if you’re leading a team and participating in a lot of numbing activities, it’s time to stop and take a look at what’s going on.
Anxiety is a function of groups and it is contagious. It’s the kind of emotion that begins in one person and then spreads pretty quickly. Can you think of a time when you were experiencing anxiety and gave it to the rest of your team or household? Maybe a client wasn’t happy and the fear of not meeting their needs washed over your entire office. Or maybe you brought the stress of your kids’ back-to-school bickering to work with you.
As individuals, we typically do one of two things in the midst of anxiety: over-function or under-function. The over-functioning types try to control everything and force it to be okay. The under-functioning types tend to disengage completely and attempt to ignore what’s going on. Neither of these are okay, even if the over-functioners can sometimes look like heroes for saving the day.
If someone on your team is over-functioning, they will take on the tasks of others in order to “make sure it’s done right.” That, of course, reinforces the under-functioning behavior of those who disengage. They see that the work is being done by someone else and tend to start believing they aren’t capable of doing that same task.
So how do you help both groups?
First, you’ve got to talk about it. When you see over- or under-functioning behavior in your team, you have to name it and gently look for ways to call it out.
Second, your office should practice calm behaviors. That doesn’t mean you can’t get excited about stuff, but it does mean you should teach each other to literally take a deep breath before you start processing information.
Finally, the key to all difficult situations is information. Figure out if you have all of the correct details before you freak out. Ask lots of questions. Brainstorm the questions as a team. Then, once you have all the information you need, ask everyone: What approach do we need to take to address the problem effectively?
How are your anxiety levels this week? Sending kids off to school? Watching too many news programs? Caught up in something that isn’t productive? Make sure you make space to practice being calm, ask plenty of questions to make sure you really understand what’s going on, and talk through solutions with your team. Feel free to contact us if you want to talk about solutions for your firm.