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CoachingLeadership CoachingJanuary 11, 2018by Ray Kinsella0Coaching to reduce anxiety in the workplace

Anxiety is all around us and very much a part of normal life. In the early days of human evolution, our fight, flight or freeze mechanisms were vital to protect us from the many predators that we shared our lives with. Today's world we are much safer generally, however these mechanisms are still important in terms or understanding the level of danger a situation may present and reacting with the necessary speed when necessary. It is also vital to motivate us into action e.g. studying for exams, preparing for important meetings etc. However the sheer power and strength of this prehistoric safety mechanism can be an overwhelming force in our lives.

This post contain an example of a coaching session working on improving confidence. This situation and the coachee are fictitious. Rather it is representative of how a coaching session might play out in this scenario and common outcomes. Its purpose is to give the reader some insight into the coaching process and what they can expect to experience.

Anxiety is all around us and very much a part of normal life. In the early days of human evolution, our fight, flight or freeze mechanisms were vital to protect us from the many predators that we shared our lives with. Today’s world we are much safer generally, however these mechanisms are still important in terms or understanding the level of danger a situation may present and reacting with the necessary speed when necessary. It is also vital to motivate us into action e.g. studying for exams, preparing for important meetings etc. However the sheer power and strength of this prehistoric safety mechanism can be an overwhelming force in our lives. It can create destructive habits in us as our brain attempts to keeps us safe from perceived dangers. These habits can be create even more anxiety than the perceived danger we are protecting ourselves from. The unconscious mind responds to these habits deploys a range of psychological defence mechanisms to protect itself from unbearable anxiety and pain.

The defence of ‘denial’ is used as a way to deny an aspect of reality in order to protect themselves. While we often have some awareness of it, it is in a less conscious part of ourselves that can cause anxiety as a result. Denial often relates to an emotion, thought or piece of behaviour – one’s own or another person’s – that arises from or provokes anxiety, or intensifies the individual’s inner conflict about the issue.

Sally, an IT manager who engaged with coaching to help her build confidence and impact, struggled to acknowledge her anger and distress and found it difficult to express these emotions in a way which she felt comfortable in the workplace. In her first coaching session, she described in detail her boss’s behaviour towards her. If the facts were true, his conduct amounted to serious bullying. Yet Sally denied that the boss’s behaviour was upsetting her or angering her, insisting instead that she felt sorry for him.

The coach noted, however, that her breathing became shallow, her posture tense, her voice tight and a red rash spread from her chest to her neck when she talked about what was happening, indications that she felt much more anxious and agitated that she was admitting to herself – but also that these emotions were just below the surface. By denying these feelings, Sally was attempting to avoid the painful implications involved in acknowledging her true situation, namely that an authority figure that she had trusted was attacking her.

It also enabled her to avoid taking responsibility for doing something about it. By denying the true impact of her boss’s behaviour, she could maintain her self-image as a reasonable, patient individual who could rise above this unpleasant situation with dignity and self control. However, the price Sally paid for her denial was a high one. As well as suffering from physiological effects of anxiety, it made it impossible for her to mobilise herself to stand up to her boss, negotiate an alternative or seek help from others.

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