Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

Leverage Your Anxiety to Overcome the Uncertainty of Transition

Image via Dbrus/

With political transition hours away, sequestration hanging over our heads and budget cuts on the horizon; federal employees are in a period of intense uncertainty and anxiety. Author Elizabeth Grace Saunders offers tips for leveraging that anxiety to get focused and keep moving forward, despite the uncertainty ahead.

It may seem odd for me to encourage you to “leverage anxiety.” Isn’t anxiety bad or simply some sort of mental weakness?

Well, yes, and no.

On the one hand, anxiety separated from reality can have all sorts of counterproductive effects like causing you to shut down under pressure or to frantically throw yourself into an activity. We don’t want to allow emotional compulsions to control us so in these instances working on your mental game with positive affirmations or meditation can really help. 

But when anxiety rises in you based on the recognition of a true problem, you shouldn’t ignore it, but leverage it.

I recently wrote a guest post for on how to use Past, Present, and Future Focus to not get overwhelmed by big projects.

But if you’re using the techniques I describe in this post, and still start to feel anxious, you can channel that sensation into productive action in these ways:

Leveraging Anxiety over Past Focus:

  • Big Picture: If reviewing actual numbers from past projects makes you anxious about your current project, this is a sign that you may need to ask for a deadline extension or extra support.
  • Day-to-Day: If you evaluate your weekly progress and start to feel anxious, that’s a signal that you need to start allocating more time to your main project or push yourself to move through it at a faster pace.

Leveraging Anxiety over Present Focus:

  • Big Picture: If looking over your weekly or monthly schedule raises your anxiety, see what other responsibilities you can eliminate or delay until later. Even if you’ve already agreed to something, it’s often better to back out early than to try to do everything and let everyone down.
  • Day-to-Day: If your daily progress (or lack of progress) causes you stress, do whatever it takes to get focused. Go to an Internet-free location, install blocking software or uninstall tempting programs, turn off your phone, listen to music, and use this anxiety to lock you in on your goal.

Leveraging Anxiety over Future Focus:

  • Big Picture: If thinking of what comes after you finish your big project makes you anxious, you may need to start doing some exploratory research. It could be as simple as talking with someone who has done what you’re doing before or thinking through the big picture steps of what will need to be done. Try to identify what actually makes you afraid and to address that fear directly.
  • Day-to-Day: If you’ve mapped out the next micro-level steps and you still feel afraid to execute, it may be time to get someone to help you do the work, teach you a new skill, or at least give you feedback. If you don’t know what you’re doing, admit it and get support.

Over the course of writing my book, I’ve experienced anxiety in all of these areas. But instead of denying my anxiety, I’ve leveraged it as a powerful force to take the steps that would drive me toward my goal and reinstate my sense of inner peace.

I hope you find these insights helpful in staying focused and moving forward during the coming period of transition and uncertainty. 

Getting rid of all traces of anxiety would be like successfully dismantling your house’s security system. Yes, things are quieter and more relaxed, but you won’t know you are in trouble until it’s too late.

~from “Good Anxiety–and Bad” in Psychology Today

Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success With Less Stress and is the founder of Real Life E Time Coaching & Training. For more time investment tips, check out

(Image via Dbrus/

Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the founder and CEO of Real Life E® a time coaching and training company that empowers individuals who feel guilty, overwhelmed and frustrated to feel peaceful, confident and accomplished through an exclusive Schedule Makeover™ ( process. She is an expert on achieving more success with less stress. Real Life E® also increases employee productivity, satisfaction and work/life balance through custom training programs. McGraw Hill is publishing Elizabeth’s first book: The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success With Less Stress

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.