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:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security


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