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Workplace Anxiety in Uncertain Times

Written by: on  January 12, 2012

How is the economic climate affecting your workplace anxiety levels?

Many people who are currently experiencing high levels of anxiety around job security have developed a lack of distinct trust in their leaders. This has an obvious impact on both their morale and productivity at work.

I recently delivered a key note called ‘Personal Effectiveness in Uncertain Times’ designed to help people deal with workplace anxiety and stress associated with not knowing what lies ahead.

I linked to Stephen Covey’s Theory of Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence in which he makes a distinction between proactive people and reactive people. Proactive and reactive people often have the same concerns, but those who are proactive focus on what they can do, on what they can influence.

Covey uses a model to illustrate the difference between what concerns us and what we have influence over. He describes two circles. The first is your circle of concern. Concerns may be minor, major or everywhere in between. The second, smaller, circle is your circle of influence. It is narrower than your circle of concern, and many of your concerns fall outside your circle of influence.

The circles offer a guide to where to focus your energy when you would like to bring about a change in something that concerns you. If you focus your concerns outside your circle of influence, your capacity for influence will diminish, because you’re wasting your time and energy on a concern over which you have no influence. This leads to anxiety, frustration, stress etc. If, however, you focus your energy on concerns that are within your circle of influence, you will increase your capacity for influence: the more influence you effectively exercise, the more influence you will have. Influence begets influence. This is the core of personal effectiveness.

Chip Conley recently had an article in the Huffington Post discussing how to better manage anxiety. He says that almost all anxiety can be distilled down to two basic variables: what we don’t know and what we can’t control. Mystery creates anxiety, especially when we feel we have no influence on the situation.

He has an emotional equation for anxiety and says that once you know the emotional building blocks of anxiety, you can influence them.

anxiety = Uncertainty x Powerlessness

He introduces an exercise to help us manage anxiety in the workplace called “The Anxiety Balance Sheet” and this involves creating 4 columns on a piece of paper

Column 1: Write a list of what you DO know with respect to the issue causing anxiety.

Column 2: Write down what you DON’T know.

Column 3: List what you CAN influence with respect to this issue

Column 4: Write down what you CAN’T influence.

He claims most people’s experience of this exercise is enlightening, as they have more items in columns one and three (what they do know and what they can influence) than they expected, and it gives them the opportunity to find out how they might be able to move some of the things from column 2 to column 1 by asking a few knowledgeable people of the subject and doing some research.

Check out his new book Emotional Equations – Simple Truths for Creating Happiness & Success

If all else fails in managing Anxiety the AA serenity prayer seems to have it nailed in a sentence: ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference’



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