Stan and The Four D’s
Stan considers himself fortunate, given the state of the world these days. He was recently promoted, heading up a new team with exciting growth potential. The company he works for is on solid ground; earnings are steady while market share is increasing. His wife is also doing well in her job; the kids are healthy and happy with a nice group of friends at school.
Now that he’s going back to the office instead of working from home, the slog of rush hour traffic is causing him to wonder, “is it worse now than before the lockdown?” He has time to think about things. His new boss has a different working style than his previous boss, who was more like an old buddy after all their years together. Does he sense an undercurrent of distrust in his new team? Some team members seem to be on board, yet productivity is lagging in others. These issues, along with his new job responsibilities, are causing Stan more restless nights than he’s used to. Some days he wakes up groggy and wonders: “am I really so fortunate after all?”
Stan is experiencing what we in Resilient Leadership call Chronic Anxiety. The term “anxiety” is used by many and well-understood by few. Here’s a quick summary of the difference between two types of anxiety – acute and chronic.
Acute anxiety is a transient state of heightened stress caused by circumstances that feel threatening. One is typically very aware of the threat and consciously aware of acute anxiety. When you’re speeding down the highway, the flashing red lights of the police car pulling you over cause acute anxiety. This is not the type of anxiety that has Stan wondering about his life.
Chronic anxiety is different. It is an abiding sense of unease that is typically beneath our conscious awareness. One may feel anxious, tense, uncomfortable, confused, disoriented, or many other emotions that describe your reaction to imagined or anticipated threats, and we may not be consciously aware of why. As we’ll discover, Stan is experiencing chronic anxiety.
Stan would benefit from learning about The 4 D’s of Chronic Anxiety. The first two D’s – Displace it and Distract ourselves from it - are common behaviors, but do they help? Not so much; in fact, they may even be harmful to you. The second two D’s – Dissolve it and Deploy it;- are very helpful. Still, they require you to practice self-awareness and honest reflection, moving to a more conscious awareness of your choices and your behaviors.
More explanation is helpful. When it comes to dealing with anxiety, we can either:
- Displace it – pass it on to someone else,
- Distract ourselves from it – do something that numbs our anxiety,
- Dissolve it – engage in a calming activity that loosens anxiety’s grip on us,
- Deploy it – face a real threat with courage and think about how best to address it.
Now let’s look at how Stan is currently behaving relative to The 4 Ds of Anxiety.
To displace our anxiety includes becoming too “other-focused.” When we gossip, talk about others behind their back, complain about and blame others, or try to change others, we’re attempting to displace our anxiety about our relationship with them. This is an unhealthy and often unconscious behavior that only increases anxiety rather than reducing it. Although it may feel good in the short term, it will ultimately make you feel more anxious in the long run. Stan does not displace his anxiety as he avoids gossip. Stan ignores his anxiety by choosing not to address it. This is not a healthy behavior either, especially in the long run.
Distract ourselves from it:
The vague unease (chronic anxiety) we feel is not pleasant, so we do things to distract ourselves from it. Maybe we spend even more time at work than necessary and procrastinate by endlessly checking social media, or come home and binge-watch Netflix. After receiving a nice bottle of Scotch from his boss for his promotion, it’s become routine for Stan to have a “nightcap” or two after the kids go to bed to help him fall asleep. Remember how Stan now wakes up a few times during the night or sometimes feels groggy in the morning? Alcohol before bed disrupts his normal sleep cycles as it wears off. Like displacing it, distracting ourselves from anxiety is another unhealthy choice.
The tension in your shoulders, that feeling in the pit of your stomach, and the vague fogginess in your thinking are just a few ways chronic anxiety can affect you physically and mentally. Stan’s been thinking about trying meditation for a while now because someone told him it helped their sense of unease and lowered their anxiety. Greater calm is the face of chronic anxiety can be achieved with meditation or other practices like exercise, enjoying nature, and prayer. Stan is beginning to explore these and other proven ways to lessen his chronic anxiety. These are obviously healthier choices, ones that require a conscious choice to behave differently.
While displacing anxiety is about passing anxiety to others; deploying anxiety is about taking proactive steps to eliminate or reduce its impact. Stan would benefit a great deal from learning how to deploy anxiety in the Emotional Systems that surround him. He would benefit from learning how to be more calm, more thoughtful, and more at peace. He has not found a way to deploy his anxiety yet. Join us for June’s Practice of the Month when we will outline specific techniques which Stan can learn and apply on his journey to calm down and become a more Resilient Leader!
Mike Nowland is a persuasive and empathetic communicator with over 30 years of senior-level experience in Leadership Development and Human Resources with companies like Marriott International, ResMed, and Kisco Senior Living.
John Moyer has 30+ years of experience training and coaching both student and adult leaders. His focus is primarily on individual coaching along with targeted training engagements as a complement to his teaching career.
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