Before the pandemic, public conversations about anxiety were relatively rare. Now, it’s top of mind for all of us, and leaders should address it, writes Jeff Steen for

As we continue to plod through the pandemic, it’s worth reflecting on what we could have done better to support ourselves and one another. Specifically, how could leaders and authority figures have supported us more effectively in a time of intense anxiety?

Check out the list, then start applying the tips.

  1. Give anxiety a name and a face. When left formless and without context, discussion about anxiety is clinical. Few of us can relate to it. When we actualize it, however, and give it real-life color, we begin to relate to it. A press release noting that “anxiety is affecting all of us” is meaningless. A leader writing a bylined op-ed in a major newspaper explaining his or her struggle with daily anxiety is relatable. Pair this with actionable guidance and words of community support, and we begin to see a path forward.
  2. Acknowledge that anxiety is not stress and offer perspective. We lump anxiety and stress together all the time, but there are important differences between them. Stress is the result of an external trigger or force. Anxiety, while sometimes fueled by external events, is rooted in internal dialogue and assumptions about ourselves and how we relate to the outside world. Self-doubt, lack of confidence, fear of failure — all of these can come out of an overactive, anxious mind.
  3. Remind people that change is constant, and we will adapt (and thrive) in a new normal. This is the equivalent of parents telling their nightmare-spooked child that “everything will be alright.” Part of our anxiety during early pandemic lockdowns was linked to uncertainty. In short, when anxiety hits, remind your team how they made it through hard times before. Outline the bigger picture (and our ability to survive, adapt and thrive) to soften the edges of anxiety.
  4. Remember that anxiety is a constant. Crisis averted? It’s not exactly back to a happy-go-lucky status quo. Anxiety is, and will remain, constant for almost all of us. Keep the conversations going. Continue to acknowledge your own struggles with anxiety. Make resources available to employees when they need them. And, when appropriate, encourage them to seek professional help and support, especially if anxiety begins to affect their work. Put simply: Support, don’t stigmatize.