Day 3: Wednesday, April 1, 2020 
How To Manage Anxiety Throughout a Crisis
featuring Neha Sangwan, MD

We can use the disruptive energy of this moment to tap into what’s possible now that wasn’t possible before this all happened.

We are so grateful for an outstanding experiential learning opportunity with Dr. Neha Sangwan who shared a number of practical tools that are designed to allow leaders to connect more deeply to themselves, each other, and the world around them. Dr. Neha began her webinar with a critical question: “Can we think about ourselves while we collectively heal ourselves, serve the we, and impact the world?” and dedicated the webinar to providing tools and strategies to help us experience and manage our emotions to elevate to this purpose.

These are the key takeaways from today’s session:

Emotions need to be experienced; they can’t be suppressed forever.

These are extremely difficult times, and with them can come extremely difficult emotions. Fear, anger, frustration, sadness are all very common emotions that can cause a lot of internal and physical discomfort. It’s normal to want to suppress them and hide them away – especially in the workplace – but that’s an ineffective strategy. Emotions are signals to pay attention to what’s going on around us, and they don’t go away by will power. Dr. Neha likened the experience of suppressing emotions to trying to keep a giant ball submerged in the deep end of a pool. You may keep it down for a little while, but before long, your arms will weaken and it will pop up out of the water. 

You can use your imagination to change your body’s response to emotions.

Our minds can trick our bodies into experiencing danger, even if there is no real danger present. Don’t believe it? Think about the last time you had a bad dream and you awoke in the middle of the night. When you awoke to the peace and safety of your bedroom – were your sheets wet with sweat? Was your heart beating out of your chest? In waking hours too, our emotions can easily trick us into feeling unsafe even when there is no real and present danger. Luckily, there are a number of strategies to “hit the pause button when things become uncertain.” Dr. Neha led us through a powerful guided imagery designed to calm the body by imagining what it feels like to be safe and at home and calm inside yourself

Leaders can use the Back to the Future Tool to manage their emotions and to support the emotional experience of all the members of their team. 

The Back to the Future Tool is a series of questions that you can use when you are feeling uncertainty and fear, and it’s easily applicable to others as well. As a leader, you will be called upon to coach your team through these extremely difficult circumstances, remember that the most important thing you can do is be present for the other person as you utilize this tool. Here is an outline of the process:

  1. Get present in your body. – When you are experiencing anxiety, you are often imagining a worst case scenario in the future. This part of the exercise is designed to bring you back to the present moment.
  2. Name the fearful story. – Anxiety is often based in fear and lack of self-trust to handle uncertainty, but it’s not always easy to identify the root of your anxiety. This part of the exercise helps you to identify the fear by saying it out loud or writing it in a journal. You should begin by saying What I’m most afraid of is…
  3. Expand your perspective. – As discussed, emotions can trick your body into feeling that it is in danger. Here’s the thing, when we feel threatened, we focus all our attention on fighting or running away; we often can’t see that we already have everything we need to stay calm and safe in the present moment. One way to reduce the feeling of threat and anxiety is to gain some perspective on the situation by asking, What am I afraid of actually happening right now? If your fear is real in the present moment, the next question is What support do I need in this moment? If it’s not actually real in the present moment, say out loud, or write in your journal: What I know for sure is that I am whole, healthy, and well.
  4. Ask yourself. – What will courage and self-trust do now? – This is the part of the exercise that helps you to not only reduce anxiety, but opens up possibilities for creativity and thriving. As Dr. Neha shared at the beginning of her webinar, “we can use the disruptive energy of this moment to tap into what’s possible now that wasn’t possible before this all happened.”