As the Chief Product Officer at Kinesso, I oversee the development of countless solutions, am responsible for hundreds of employees and support business objectives that put me in meetings with some of the biggest names in our industry. And thanks to a great support system and coping skills I’ve learned over the years, I’ve managed to do it all while working through the challenges of anxiety and depression. That’s why I want to write this article – to share with anyone who’s struggling that it’s really a very common thing that affects 40 million adults in the US alone and that you can come through it!
Like many people, I had massive anxiety as a kid, but it wasn’t identified. So that made it hard to communicate what I was feeling as I grew into an adult. Things changed when anxiety became part of a wider conversation and information became more readily available. Being able to put a label on it didn’t immediately make everything better, but it helped me frame what I was experiencing in a completely different context.
Know Your Triggers
One of the first things I learned in my mental health journey was the importance of understanding my triggers. For me travel was really hard. I love the concept of traveling, but the anxiety around the whole ordeal prevented me from doing it. I soon realized that the predictability/planning around business travel made it easier. That being said, something that often goes hand-in-hand with travel (and so doubled down on my anxiety) was when I would have to show up to meet people I didn’t know. But with each new challenge that arose, like working through the time zone changes or the social anxiety of being around new people, I also learned to be more flexible and accepting of the unforeseen because it was work – so I was more objective. I got more confident as I got used to these new situations too. Vacation is still difficult for me because you don’t have a set routine anymore, but I’ve found that creating a bit of my own structure goes a long way in helping me enjoy myself. Being asked to do something I don’t know how to do can also trigger me. I used to get sick figuring out how to do new things. But having a boss that understands and manages expectations has been the best way to feel secure in my role.
Find A Safe Space
A second strategy that has made a huge difference for me is finding my safe spaces – sometimes that can mean particular people in my life or even just in the setting and maintaining of boundaries. I would say I owe an enormous amount of my success in life to that first group. Close friends and family give me a support system to lean on when I feel overwhelmed or get into a difficult headspace. It’s unbelievably comforting to have those people to keep me grounded. I remember school being a lot harder for me— where work is more of a community. If I need to take a step back, my community can step forward to pick up the difference. It’s really hard to fight those thoughts and get back out but remember that you’re not alone.
Another way to create a safe space is by setting and maintaining boundaries. When I’ve had too much, even as an executive, I’ll stop at 5 PM. It’ll be there tomorrow. I get done what I need to and let the rest sit. I also find it helps everyone on my team if I’m honest in my expectations and deadlines and take care of myself first. You’ve got to give yourself the time to step away.
Fake It ‘Til You Make It
My third and final suggestion that helps when I’m struggling is the idea of “fake it ‘til you make it.” It may sound cliché, or like a way of avoiding the issues, but emulating the things you value in others and taking those actions builds a type of muscle memory for your brain. I learn by emulating, so I’ve taken the best of two leaders in our organization and brought those qualities together. You can also see this idea in that people often think I’m an extrovert, but I’m really an introvert. I’ve learned that if I stand next to the most extroverted person in the room it often rubs off on me and brings me out of my shell more quickly. I’m able to fake being an extrovert in order to succeed in social situations, and it’s okay to fake it until you succeed. I think getting past that first hurdle of the unknown then makes it a known and decreases anxiety going forward.
All of these methods have helped to mitigate the way anxiety affects me in different ways. Communication, community, and small actions that turn into larger habits all allow me to lessen its impact and live my best life. If you’re struggling, please know that you’re not alone. There are always people to help and resources like Mental Health America, INFASI, NHS, and other services around the world. My hope is that we’ll all learn to acknowledge to ourselves and others when we need help. There’s real strength in that kind of vulnerability – and it’s the only way to create lasting change.