Anxiety = Uncertainty x Powerlessness
It’s hard to be wise and worried at the same time. Almost all anxiety can be traced to two sources: ambiguity and a perceived lack of influence. I’ve found when anxiety strikes, I create a balance sheet of what I know and what I can influence. Anxiety lurks in the dark, so this balance sheet acts as an illuminating flashlight.
Create four columns, as shown below and start listing everything you can think of under each heading. Maybe you’re worried you’re going to get laid off. In the first column, list everything you know about the company’s and your performance? You can add what you don’t know in column 2. Next, move to the powerlessness part of the equation by listing in column 3 how you can influence or control the situation, followed by what you can’t control in column 4.
As you look at columns 2 and 4, ask yourself what you could do to reduce the uncertainty or powerlessness you feel? Could you ask your boss if you’re at risk of a layoff? Might feel awkward, but also might reduce your anxiety. Could you focus on improving your performance and, especially, the communication of your effectiveness in the organization?
You may be surprised how your anxiety dissipates when you force it through this emotional accounting lesson. And, you could even use this exercise with your leadership team when you’re going through a difficult time.