Why Anxiety Has Been Called the “Shadow of Intelligence” by David Barlow

David Barlow, founder, Boston University’s Center for Anxiety & Related Disorders

So anxiety isn’t useless. In an economic crisis, the anxiety that keeps us up at night may help us fathom a solution to keeping our businesses open. But left unchecked, anxiety distracts us, zaps our energy, and drives us to make poor decisions. Anxiety is a powerful enemy, so we must make it our partner.

Whether you have a diagnosed anxiety disorder or are having your first dance with this intense emotion, you can still be an effective leader. But I’ll be blunt: If you don’t look your anxiety in the face at some point, it will take you down. This isn’t easy, but doing it will change your life and your ability to lead others for the better.Download a transcript of the audio clips here.GET THE PDF

So today, in this especially anxious moment, let’s begin. The first stage is learning to identify your anxiety: how it manifests itself and how it feels. The second stage is taking action to manage it both day-to-day and in challenging moments. The third stage entails making smart decisions and leading others in anxious times. Finally, the fourth stage involves building a support infrastructure to help you manage your anxiety over the long term.

Acknowledging and accepting your emotions

A common coping mechanism for leaders is to push through stress, fatigue, and fear. But that’s succeeding in spite of your emotions, when it’s far better to thrive because of your emotions. You have to learn to accept your anxiety — even though this may seem uncomfortable or counterintuitive.


Angela Neal-Barnett, an award-winning psychologist, expert on anxiety among African Americans, and author of Soothe Your Nerves, is a firm believer in being honest with yourself. When you name a feeling — by saying to yourself “I’m anxious” — you can begin to address it. You can learn how anxiety informs your behavior and your decisions and what causes it to surge, which will equip you to manage it.

Source: Harvard Business Review/ David Barlow, founder, Boston University’s Center for Anxiety & Related Disorders. Adapted from The Anxious Achiever podcast episode “How the Mental Affects the Physical

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