The definition of anxiety is:
"a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome."
When we work under High Anxiety, it becomes very difficult for us to deliver a high-quality and timely work product.
The situation is worse when our bosses feel the pressure from above and become stressed and anxious.
As an Agile Coach and consultant, I have found myself in situations where I have felt the anxiety building. This article offers some tips I use to help myself when I feel anxious and describes how I work with people around me who are anxious.
High Anxiety is Evil
It is normal to feel stress. Our professions are stressful; we have deliverables we need to complete. We attend daily standups and report our progress to everyone. This can definitely cause anxiety.
When we spend much of our time worrying and find it hard to focus on doing our work, we are experiencing High Anxiety. This can really inhibit our ability to perform our work and be successful.
Head it off
The first priority is being able to tell when it is coming. A huge component of anxiety is fear. When you find it difficult to concentrate on your task because you are fearful of succeeding, that is a warning sign. If you spend more time worrying than working, you are in a High-Anxiety situation.
Tackle the Problem
It is easy for anxiety to take over your mind and cloud your thinking. As you feel the anxiety building, take time off and tackle the problem. Write down some notes about what you will do to be successful.
There are times when I lie in bed, worrying about something. When this happens, I spend a few minutes updating my notes. I have my Chromebook by my bed ready. Having opened up my notes and updated them, I can often fall asleep again.
This does not need to be a long and drawn out affair, spend a few minutes and take formal notes. Then execute on the notes you took. When the notes are no longer correct, change them and try again. This inspect and adapt approach causes you to focus on the problem. As you begin to succeed, the anxiety will fade.
Manage Your Anxiety
Once, I was often in a state of High Anxiety. If a situation arose that caused me anxiety, I would move right into the dysfunctional state of High Anxiety. I would wish that the anxiety would go away.
Then I had an epiphany. I realized that anxiety was a part of life. I had no control over many things, and anxiety was like gravity. I learned that, by heading off the anxiety and tackling the problem, I could lessen the time that I spent in a High-Anxiety state.
At first, there was not much improvement. Something would happen and bam, there I was in a High-Anxiety state, sometimes for days. But, eventually, the days became hours and sometimes even less than that. Now I use this approach multiple times each week.
High Anxiety Happens to Your Boss Too
Everything I have said about anxiety happens to your boss too. She is human and experiences stress just like you do, maybe more. When your boss is under High Anxiety, her decision-making may be affected.
The most likely effect of her anxiety on you is an erratic change in plans—either a change in date or in scope. You may be asked to do something that is not reasonable.
The first thing I recommend is empathy. Put yourself in your boss's shoes and try to understand what she is going through. This will help you make sense of why things are changing.
Offer alternatives to the approach that you find unreasonable. If you are following an agile process like Scrum or Kanban, it is easier to do this. Adding a story to an in-progress sprint or exceeding a Kanban constraint breaks major agile rules. Pull in the Scrum Master and ask for his help.
If this does not change your boss's mind, explain the consequences of executing her request. Get her to agree to the risks before you execute the changed plan.
Your job is to explain the situation as you see it to your boss, but, in the end, the decision is hers. You may have to salute her and implement what she says even if you do not agree with it. It is very important that you do your very best to succeed in your execution of the new plan. Do not gripe or complain to others on the team.
Your boss knows in her heart when she is asking for unreasonable things. If you behave in the manner I recommend, she will remember what you did and be grateful.
The bottom line is, you cannot control the events around you, but you can control how you react to them. Once you figure this out, you will be more successful and have a much happier life. If I was able to do it, so can you.