Five Ways to Answer Leadership Anxiety

Five Ways to Answer Leadership Anxiety
Thomas Thompson
April 12, 2022
min read
“Stress is a response to a threat in a situation. Anxiety is a reaction to the stress.”
--Anxiety and Depression Association of America

Leaders live with stress.  And therefore, leaders live with anxiety.

The weight of decisions that affect lives.  The fear of future consequences to hard calls.  Knowing that you carry not just the burden of navigating what’s next for you, but what’s next for your organization as well.

And the stress doesn’t have to be true to be real.  For years, I led our church in an annual offering where we raised over $100,000 for nonprofits and ministries outside our church.  And though all the historical data and tracking showed we would easily blow past our goals (and we did every single year), I always carried the stress of what would happen if we did not make it.

I thought I handled stress and anxiety well…until I didn’t.

Here are some failed answers to anxiety (see if they sound familiar)

  • I tried outworking it.  As a former offensive lineman, my approach to anything was to outwork it.  So I just got up and came to work earlier and earlier.  One time I set off our office alarm as I rolled in at 4:15 am! It became a battle of willpower between my stress any me.
  • I tried to escape it.  I would have strict rules about turning off my email/phone when I came home.  I know that can sound healthy, but my heart was not seeking balance, but avoidance.  I’d get lost in a movie or project at home and pretend like I didn’t have a daytime job.  That glass of wine to end my day became more than a transition from work; it became a transition into numbing from stress.
  • I tried procrastinating it.  Moving a dreaded project off of your afternoon slot and into tomorrow’s morning gives a sense of immediate relief…until tomorrow comes.  I was just setting Future Me up for greater anxiety.


These attempts to answer anxiety failed because THEY ALL MADE ANXIETY WORSE.


  • Outworking is unsustainable.
  • Escape delays the problem, kicking it down the road.
  • Numbing made me unpresent for the anxiety…but also the people and priorities of my life.


The year 2021 reached an anxiety breaking point for me.  I experienced a season of loss in the death of my mom, a season of therapy as childhood traumas surfaced after decades, a year of transition as our family shifted towards empty nesting, and a time of sustained financial stress as I continued building a new company from scratch.  


My failed stress strategies and anxiety answers came up short. I wasn’t sleeping.  I had constant stomach pain.  I struggled to regain energy 


I had to come up with a new answer: turning towards, not away from, anxiety.  Meeting it head on and learning how to handle it in healthy ways.  Answering anxiety instead of avoiding it.


Here are Five Ways I Answered Anxiety


  1. Acknowledge it.  I began to pause and admit, “I am feeling anxious right now.”  Saying it out loud lowered the volume.  A friend of mine says, “If you can name it, you can tame it.”  Naming anxiety took some of the fear away.  The Bible says, “He himself is our peace.” Ephesians 2:14.  Only when I acknowledged I lacked peace, could I turn to Christ to let him be my peace.  I had to learn that when I did not have peace outside me, I could let Christ bring peace inside me.


  1. Bring it Closer.  Anxiety is future focused–worrying about what would happen next week, next year.  If I failed to hit my financial goals this month, what would happen next month?  Instead of letting anxiety run too far downfield, I pulled it close and focused on today. What is God asking me to carry today?  What action can I take today?  How has God provided for me today?  Even though starting a business created some of the greatest financial instability I’ve ever faced, at the same time, we never missed a payment. God always provided.  Seeking the “daily bread” kept me from letting fear grow out of control.


  1. Choose gratitude.  Beginning my day listing what I have to be grateful for brought my anxiety temperature down.  It injected a dose of reality directly into my veins. It refocused me on what I had, and not what I did not.  Directing gratitude towards God has stayed with me as a daily power practice to begin every morning.


  1. Take Action.  A huge factor in anxiety is focusing on what we cannot control.  The more we do this, the more overwhelmed we feel.  Stopping to ask, “but what CAN I control in this?” gives leaders something to DO.  I tell my clients, “Confidence does not lead to action.  Action leads to confidence.”  The only way out of anxiety is to take action.  Identifying the one thing that would most move me forward, and tackling that.  Pro Tip:  Usually it is the one thing I was putting off.  Taking action each day on the one thing (the Antelope) energized me and started to relieve the logjam of stress.


  1. Reject your old anxiety answers.  Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.  One of the worst answers for me was alcohol.  Alcohol is a depressant.  it actually INCREASES anxiety.  That drink to take the edge off, over time, sharpens that edge.  I had to seriously reevaluate my relationship with alcohol, and even remove it from my life entirely for a season.  Because the danger in using alcohol to cope with the problem is that it quickly becomes the problem.  If you are using alcohol as a solution, you will never answer anxiety.  Hit me up if you want to unpack that further in a safe space.

Leadership Anxiety is real.  Facing it is not a question.  How you face it is.  

How are you handling the anxiety of leadership? I'd love to talk with you more about that. Shoot me an email and let's start answering your anxiety today.

Photo by Usman Yousaf on Unsplash

I founded Thompson Leadership to come alongside leaders like you. Together, we will unpack your unique leadership, unearth your biggest challenge, and create an action plan to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be.
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