Some thoughts on coaching people who are feeling anxious..

If you’re a frequent train traveller you’ll know that on the information board on the platform they let you know if the train you want has departed the previous station and if it’s on time or not.

They do this I think because travel can be anxiety inducing and the information is very useful in keeping any anxiety around potentially missing a connection or being late for a meeting at bay.

This got me thinking. If you are invested in helping someone to perform at their best and anxiety is getting in the way, what can you do to help? To start with it can be useful to ask…

  1. Can a bit of anxiety actually help them perform in this situation? If so help them embrace it and recognise how to use it positively.
  2. If sharing some information might help – what information is most useful?
  3. And when is the most appropriate time to share that information?
  4. If information alone isn’t enough (or it isn’t good news!) what else can help?

Knowing what else can help isn’t always easy to work out so for what it’s worth…

  • Be careful not to add more anxiety if you decide to try a “don’t be anxious” approach. While you might think this is a good/kind thing to do, often what people hear is that it must be wrong to be anxious in this situation…. which can make them even more anxious!
  • Learning how to reduce their anxiety is their job, not yours and it’s particularly important to avoid the classic coaching pitfall of trying to solve the issue for them.
  • Help them recognise that anxiety is felt at a physical level so things like deep breathing to alleviate physical symptoms really can be very useful in helping them feel less anxious.
  • I also think it’s important to work out if the person you are trying to help is feeling anxious about the specific situation or whether being anxious is part of their identity and this is just another opportunity to view what happens to them through an “I’m an anxious person” lens. The same person, the same situation but potentially two very different coaching approaches.

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