In IG or text-speak IYKYK (if you know you know) evokes feels of being in-the-know… part of the cool kids club… maybe being at the cutting edge of, well, whatever. Ngl… we all like feeling cool. There’s a sense of power (or maybe superiority) that comes with “knowing”.
But what happens when you don’t know?!

When the power of knowing… is gone

With countries reopening in May and travel allowed, albeit with certain restrictions and added steps, there was a lot I didn’t know. What type of COVID test to take? When did I need to take it? Will my results get to me in time? Do I need both the electronic and printed results? Would my COVID vaccination card suffice or did I also need the WHO Immunization Record? Those are just a few of questions raced around my brain.

Adding another wrinkle: my partner has an EU and US passport. Since we aren’t married, we typically go through passport control separately. What if he gets through and I don’t? Where can I go outside of the EU (London? Dubai? Istanbul?) that has direct flights to countries open to tourists in the EU?

Lots of scenarios. Lots could go wrong.

Not knowing = food for the anxiety gods

Not knowing what was expected, or if rules would change within days (or hours) of our plans, drove a level of anxiety I haven’t felt so acutely in a very long time. It was hard to sleep well. Not prone to headaches (I think I got my first one in my 40s), a dull, nagging one stuck with me for the days leading up to my flight. While COVID lockdowns wore me out, the physical manifestation of my trip-anxiety surprised me.

Ok… let’s address the elephant in the room: I know these are “first world problems”. Being able to travel reeks of privilege and I’m grateful for the opportunity and resources to do so. But the experience did make me think of all the conversations and articles circulating about the changing landscapes of workplaces/workforces and expectations.

I was on the way to something fun – yet the anxiety and physical manifestations of not knowing what was expected drained the fun factor from anticipating my adventure.

I didn’t know I could feel anxiety

Work isn’t always fun. So if that isn’t fun and I don’t know what’s expected of me, what’s the result? Negative impacts to my sense of well-being, confidence, ability to focus (thus my productivity) – and never mind actual physical manifestations – can all accelerate the descent into darkness. (I’m already extra…being cranky from headaches are next-level extra that no one should have to deal with!).

To those who have felt the physical manifestations [12 Effects of Anxiety on the Body] of anxiety – I’m sorry I wasn’t more aware until now.

To my team / people, I’m sure there were times I set poor expectations and contributed to your anxiety – I apologize.

To the managers, leaders, shot-callers who don’t think you’re the cause or part of your team’s anxiety – take a beat… look hard into the mirror… and check yourself. [HBR Leading Through Anxiety]

Expectations – setting them, adjusting them, communicating them, meeting / falling short / or exceeding them – are common themes in my career journey so expect to hear more. While recurring themes are probably annoying for some, believe me: expectations (mine and those of others) happen constantly. So how we manage giving, receiving, and clarifying them can minimize or remove issues that can feed anxiety. But you need to be aware and have the tools to engage before things escalate.

In the end, our travels were (thankfully) uneventful. While grateful for the luxury of travel, I’m also grateful for this lesson at this time. As our world continues to fluidly evolve, I feel better equipped to manage my anxiety as a result of the experience. What are your anxiety management lessons-learned?

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