Let's face it, being a new leader can be scary. Even though people don't talk about it a lot, it is natural to feel overwhelmed and anxious about how to handle situations and their outcome. The thing is, though, worrying can be destructive when left uncontrolled. And as entrepreneurs and leaders, I can guarantee you, you will be placed in high-stress, high-impact situations and even have to make decisions caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
So what can new leaders do to help manage harmful worrying?
The first thing is to actually recognize that it is harmful. Yes, I know. You're probably like: “I know that worrying is harmful.” Okay. But are you fully acknowledging it? Are you fully acknowledging just how harmful it is?
Have you truly considered how it is harming you as a person? It can take a toll on your mental and physical health. You will start feeling physical side effects, symptoms of that constant worry. Your mental side will be completely exhausted. That constant worry can trigger stress and anxiety.
And, longer term, it can potentially lead to depression. It may start as burnout that eventually becomes depression.
You may start noticing that you're losing sleep. My favorite time for worrying is about 3:00 AM. When I wake up all of a sudden and it’s dark, I think to myself: “I bet it's 3:00 AM.” And sure enough it is. And that’s when my mind starts to think: “Oh, I need to do this and that.” And “How am I going to solve this? And what am I going to do about that?”
When you're truly caught between a rock and a hard place, you may start dreaming about impossible business problems to solve. I get it. I’ve done that as well. When I start worrying too much, when I end up in that cycle of worry, I actually dream of absolutely impossible things to solve in business problems. And then, in my dream I MUST figure them out. But they're impossible. And when you wake up, you actually feel the anxiety of it as though you really were supposed to solve those things. Your body really feels the anxiety, even though it's not real.
Also, worry can create headaches, fatigue, the aforementioned insomnia. And, over time, chronic worrying can weaken your immune system, and make you more susceptible to illness.
And let's face it, if you're that tired and your brain is that mush, how effective a leader do you think you'll be? It's likely going to start impacting your decision-making abilities. You probably will start losing focus. You may no longer be able to see opportunities that before you would've seen when you were relaxed and confident. It may then potentially lead to poor choices that could have long-term negative consequences for your business because you're so darn tired and stressed out.
If we think about the good stress versus the bad stress, stress that is considered more “challenge stress” and stress that is considered more “hindrance stress”.
In my non-professional opinion – I'm not a psychologist – but in my opinion, worry does fall in the hindrance stress category. It does not help us grow. And based on what I’ve read the professionals do talk about how hindrance stress prevents us from growing, prevents us from being very creative and a multitude of other negative side effects. And it has a negative impact on us as a whole, as a human being.
So now that you've taken a moment to really think about just how bad it is, what are you going to do about it? Well, what we can do is recognize when it's happening and then act promptly.
So some things are super obvious. Like my example about being awake at 3 a.m. or dreaming about solving impossible problems. Take a moment throughout the day to check-in physically. Let's say you're feeling super stressed, you're starting to recognize that, for example, your heart is racing. Or breathing shallowly. Or your jaw is pretty tense. Or starting to feel a little bit of pain. Pay attention to those things intentionally. You may even set an alarm for it on your phone at various times during the day so that you can check in with yourself.
And if you're going through this particularly stressful period and you know that you just have to get through it, maybe set several alarms throughout the day.
And when you’re done checking with your physical self, check in with your psychological self. What are your thoughts? Are they very negative? What about your emotions? How are you feeling?
Then take a moment to pause and acknowledge that thought without judgment. That is so important. Without judgment. I know that for myself, it was hard to stop judging it and adding labels to it. Those who know me very well, know that I am an achiever. I'm not a competitor. Except with myself. But I do like to achieve things. And if I don't meet that bar, I get frustrated.
And that may mean that I will apply a label that really isn't fair to myself. And so it shows up in various ways. Various personality types have various labels.
Recently, a fellow entrepreneur was talking about how they tended to call themselves lazy. And that they needed to work at recognizing that they were unjustly applying that label to themselves. That it was for this particular thing it was showing up in this way, and now they added this label to it.
When you start having those thoughts, take a moment, pause, acknowledge the thoughts that are happening, and don't judge them. Just: “Hey, okay, so that's what I'm thinking right now.” And let it pass.
Practice being in the now. It sounds silly but it truly has made a world of difference for me. That famous 3 a.m. waking up thing... When that happens, I actually tell myself: “Hey, it's 3 a.m. Do I need to solve this right now? Am I going to be reaching out to someone to solve this right now at 3 a.m.?” No, of course not. I tell myself: “It’s 3 a.m. 3 a.m. is when I rest. When I rest my mind, I rest my body, and I recharge. That's what I do at 3 a.m.”
Be a little bit firm with yourself. For me, repeating that has helped. It was just about shifting that narrative in my mind. Okay, brain, I know that for some reason you’ve decided that now was the time to worry about this, but now is really not the time to worry about this. And that's one thing that can help.
Another thing that can be really helpful is when you start feeling yourself having that excessive worry, try to shift your focus to something more positive or productive. And maybe that means you do a breathing exercise. Maybe you do a quick meditation, maybe you walk around a little bit. Maybe you work on something else that also needs to be done, but it's not as “heavy”.
I know for myself, I have an 11-minute piece of music that I use to do a square breathing exercise. And I do it to this specific meditation music. It's 11 minutes. As simple as it sounds, it really works. And I resist too! I frequently think that I don’t have the time. That I “should be solving this” instead. But then I do it, and that 11 minutes change everything. And I know it sounds silly, and especially when you're feeling the pressure, but taking a break like that really makes all the difference. And it's so much better for your body, so much better for your mind. And this is one more trick that may help break that excessive worry.
Another important addition is by having a network. Especially for new leaders. Being a new leader can be really lonely. And, truth be told, even being an experienced leader can be lonely! So create a network either way. But especially for new leaders. Especially when you're very new at leadership and you don't have that confidence yet. It’s not that you don’t know what you're doing, but once you've built up a bank of successes, there's a confidence that comes with it that makes failing easier to take (I didn’t say easy!).
When you're very, very new, you don't have that, and you may worry even more because you might be concerned that you have to prove yourself and you want to do well. So find that support system. Find trusted others who could be going through something similar. Maybe they're new leaders as well. Find people who will uplift you, who will offer positive encouragement. Find your cheerleaders. It could be your friends, it could be family members, it could be mentors. Just having that support system can provide you with a sense of security and help you feel less alone when dealing with challenges.
Again, although I’m focusing on new leaders, it does apply to most leaders. But especially for new leaders, because again, you may be less sure because you don't have extensive experience to rely on. You haven't been through several challenging situations that have led to growth and lessons learned and all that. And maybe your knowledge is still theoretical at this point. Theoretical knowledge is fantastic, but practical knowledge will really make all the difference. And I can tell you worrying is not going to help at all for all the reasons I've cited. Therefore it's important to develop coping mechanisms that will help squash that worry, or lessen it drastically so that you can be more efficient and grow in a more positive way, and have that ability to deal with things that are handed to you in a much more constructive way. In a way that is less destructive to you as a human being.
Even though we have all these mechanisms, one of the most important things to keep in mind is that failure will happen. I devoted an entire article on teaching the team to fail and why failure will happen. It just does, and it's okay. And again, it comes with time. With having those successes behind you, recognizing those successes, when failure happens, it's not as devastating. But as a new leader, when a failure happens, you may be prompted to become a chronic worrier because you haven't quite learned how to deal with those or accept that it's going to happen, and that maybe there was nothing you could do.
Again, I've mentioned this before, the importance of accepting that failure is inevitable. I want to clarify that it doesn't mean that we need to accelerate that failure. It doesn't mean that we need to barrel toward failure with glee but it is an important part of managing worry. So instead of worrying about the possibility of failure, know that setbacks will happen even when we make all the “right” decisions. Sometimes things are outside of our control, and they make it impossible for us to have succeeded under those circumstances.
And even if some things were within our control, then we just pick ourselves back up. We learn from it, we move on. Just take the time to think about what went wrong and what you can do differently in the future. And I do emphasize the word think, not beat yourself up.
This attitude, this mindset, can help you grow as a leader and make better decisions in the long run. Make sure to carve out time to look after yourself as a human being. Do things that bring you joy, that help you relax.
And by reducing that worrying, and, instead, focus on what you can control and act on, it will help you make better decisions. It will help you be better equipped to handle the challenges of running a business, and it will help you thrive as a leader.