Idaho, Iowa, Des Moines
December 2, 2023

Managing Anxiety as a Leader: Understanding 3 Common Causes and Coping Strategies 

Being a manager or boss can be fulfilling and gratifying work. It can also come with brand new pressures and stresses to navigate. Stress in a management role is normal, but too much unaddressed leadership anxiety can become debilitating and lead to problems such as burnout, depression, and a lower overall quality of life. 

I’m a therapist for anxious millennials. Many of my clients are smart, high-achieving people in leadership roles. Even though they’re resilient, capable, and successful, many still struggle with overwhelming leadership anxiety and worry there’s something wrong with them. If you deal with too much everyday manager stress, you’re not alone. Here are 3 common reasons you might be stressed out – and solutions to decrease these stressors.

Why You Struggle With Leadership Anxiety

Workplace stress is a common problem among my clients. Offices and companies can bring a wide variety of people together with vastly different skills and personalities. It’s often difficult to navigate relationships with coworkers, particularly if you live with anxiety or feel like an outsider. A lot of people struggle with imposter syndrome, people pleasing in the workplace, and a fear of talking to their boss. 

So what happens when you are the boss? If you already struggle with things like anxiety, people-pleasing, or boundary setting, taking on a managerial role can put you in the spotlight and amplify these fears even more. 

Being an anxious manager

How to Stop Being an Anxious Manager

Leadership can add a lot of pressure to your place. You may experience heavier workloads, performance anxiety, and unreasonable expectations. Here are three common factors that increase leadership anxiety – and what you can do to help release the pressure valve. 

1. Fear about letting others down

It’s normal to have some concerns about wanting to do a good job and take care of the employees you manage. But if these fears are excessive, intrusive, or keep you from being able to focus on much else, it’s worth asking yourself why. For example, if you’re so terrified of making a mistake because you think it will mean you’re failing your employees, it can be difficult to get anything done.

It’s likely that at least some of these fears stem from people-pleasing. If so, you might constantly worry about what your employees think of you. You may struggle to manage or delegate tasks because you’re worried about someone not approving of your style or strategies. 

What you can do:

  • Find a mentor. If possible, pick the brain of the person who was in your role before you, or is in a similar role now. They can help you learn the ropes of your position so you feel more confident about things like leading other employees and delegating tasks.
  • Be upfront about your management style. Clear communication is a crucial aspect of any workplace, and maintaining an environment of open dialogue with your employees can provide clarity, ensure things run more smoothly, and mitigate confusion.
  • Set boundaries for yourself. Boundaries might feel harder to set when you’re the boss. You may feel unable to set proper boundaries because of external or internal expectations of you. You might find yourself working longer working hours so you can stay on top of everything, seem competent, and don’t upset anyone. However, no matter who you are, you get to set boundaries and advocate for yourself at work. Working longer hours and being available at the drop of a hat models poor boundary culture for your employees and also leads to burnout. Take care of yourself. You can be a supportive manager without killing yourself. 
  • Seek mental health support. People pleasing can be difficult to unlearn, and often doesn’t go away on its own. Consider therapy for support through your own individual struggles with management and people-pleasing. 
Manager stress

2. Being hard on yourself

It’s healthy and normal to have standards for yourself. However, you might find yourself being harsher with yourself than you would be with others. This can look like not giving yourself a break for things you’d give your employees a break for, unrealistic expectations for what you should be able to accomplish, or shaming and blaming yourself whenever anything goes poorly or not according to plan. 

What you can do:

  • Give yourself a break. Try looking at your role from an objective lens. Be honest with yourself: If someone else were in your shoes, would you judge them as harshly as you judge yourself? If so, why? What purpose does it serve to constantly berate yourself?
  • Speak more kindly to yourself. You might not even realize you’re being a dick to yourself. Learn how to stop your mean self-talk in its tracks and reframe the way you speak to yourself.

3. Worries about incompetence 

Leadership is a learned skill that takes time and effort to get good at. Many managers and bosses worry that unless they’re the absolute best boss from the get-go, they’re doing something wrong or are incompetent. But it’s okay if you need time to learn the skills that come with effective management. This doesn’t make you incompetent; it makes you someone who’s willing to learn and grow, and that’s pretty amazing.

Unfortunately, many bosses and managers are thrown into leadership positions quickly and without proper training. This can cause difficulty in managing all the moving parts. It can also create confusion around who’s supposed to do what, and make you spiral even more about whether you’re doing a good enough job. 

What you can do:

  • Request formal leadership training. You deserve access to resources that will help you do your job better, including continuing education and formal leadership training. If your company doesn’t offer formal training for managers, find one locally and request to have them send you. Or ask for training in specific areas, like project launches or reporting. 
  • Check for imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome can make you feel like you suck at your job even when you’re kicking ass at work. Working on healing your imposter syndrome at work can go a long way in cultivating more self-compassion and ease in every aspect of life.  
  • Clarify your role. If it’s unclear what your position entails as a manager, it will be much more difficult to do a good job. You deserve to understand what your role is in your company, and what everyone else’s roles are, too. Ask your own supervisor to meet with you to help clarify your role if you feel unsure. 
  • Be patient. Don’t expect yourself to know everything there is to know about management and your particular team right out of the gate. It takes time to build rapport and learn about the people you’re working with. That’s okay – it doesn’t mean you’re doing a bad job. Keep plugging away. 

Therapy and Coaching Can Help You Learn How to Reduce Your Manager Stress 

If being an anxious manager is causing you undue stress, burnout, or adding to your mental health load, I'm here to help. Together, we can help you work through your challenges so you feel resourced, confident, and worthy of being a boss. We’ll set specific goals to help you feel empowered and capable. You’ll learn how to navigate people-pleasing from a managerial lens, challenge your negative self-beliefs, build communication skills, advocate for yourself, and more.

I’m ready if you are. Reach out today to get started.

Meet the author

Danielle Wayne

Danielle is an anxiety therapist and perfectionism coach. She specializes in helping busy millennials dial down their anxiety and ADHD, so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.

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