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7 Reminders For When Managing Your Team Is Hard While Also Managing Depression And Anxiety

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I knew fairly early on in my career that someday, I wanted to be a people manager. I knew how impactful managers can be on employees — both good and bad. By the time I was three years into my career, I had been through eight different managers; some were amazing and helped me grow both professionally and personally, and some made me miserable. I wanted to be the former. 

When I first became a manager, I got pretty overwhelmed. Suddenly there was additional pressure and I wasn’t just responsible for my career, I was responsible for others’ careers as well. I wanted my team to feel comfortable coming to me, but some days my depression and anxiety would get the best of me and I didn’t show up in the way I wanted to. There are countless books on how to be a good manager, but nothing really prepares you for when you actually have to do it, and there isn’t a lot out there about managing your own depression and anxiety while also managing a team. Over time, these reminders have helped me set reasonable expectations for myself, while also doing my best to not let my team down. 

1. Prioritize Your Team

I noticed that managers, myself included, often felt stretched thin or pulled in a million directions because you’re expected to do a full-time job, and managing your team is on the side. It should be the opposite. My obligation is to my team first, to make sure they are OK and have the support they need. As a manager, I felt I always had to do all the work and spend time with my team, which just made my anxiety worse because it was too much. I had to learn to let some things go, and those things should be tasks — not managing your team. 

2. Learn to Delegate

My anxiety can make me a perfectionist sometimes, and I don’t like when things are late or wrong. But as a manager, you have to learn to trust your team, empower them to make decisions, and delegate work so they can take ownership. They’re going to make mistakes a few times — that’s OK. It doesn’t mean they’re a bad employee, or you’re a bad manager; your job is to create a safe learning environment, and that sometimes means keeping your anxiety in check when things go sideways. Reassure yourself, and reassure your team that it will work out. 

3. Keep Things In Perspective

Depression has a tendency to make me think things are far worse than they are, and anxiety likes to exaggerate small mistakes. It’s important to keep reminding yourself that most things can be fixed, and mistakes won’t be the end of the world. I’m not in the business of saving lives, and it’s not worth me or my team losing sleep over a mistake if we learn from it. 

4. Frustration Isn’t Your Fault

When someone on my team would confide in me, or tell me they were frustrated with something, I’d get anxious and jump into problem-solving mode. Other times, I saw it as a personal failure that I hadn’t protected them. Yes, managers are responsible for looking out for their teams, but sometimes people get frustrated. It’s not your fault if someone on your team is having a bad day or hitting roadblocks. Take a minute, listen to them, and ask if there’s anything you can do. Sometimes people just need a safe place to vent, and other times they might be looking for advice. Try to put your anxieties around their feelings aside and focus on them.

5. You Can’t Fix Everything

Someone on your team is bound to have a problem that you can’t find an easy fix for. I always found this to be an anxiety trigger for me because I felt like a failure. All we can do is our best to make our team members feel heard and supported, and if we can’t fix it ourselves, maybe we can help them find someone who can fix it. Sometimes there are tedious tasks one of your team members may hate doing, but it still has to be done. While you can’t fix that, you can come up with creative ways to make it less painful.

6. Take Hard Conversations In Stride

Being a manager comes with having to have some difficult moments. Whether it’s firing someone, layoffs, disciplining an employee, or a difficult performance review, these things can’t be avoided. I felt sick to my stomach and depressed the first time I had to fire someone. It made me feel like a terrible person, and I didn’t want to — I wanted to hide in bed until it went away. But I couldn’t do that; I had to put my feelings aside and follow the procedure. Once it was done, I made sure to take some time to myself to work through those feelings of anxiety and depression. The key isn’t to make those feelings go away or become numb, but rather to make sure that I can center the other person at the time, but then come back to my own feelings later. 

7. Accountability Is An Act of Care

I get intense anxiety around giving constructive feedback. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, and I know how it feels to be told you’re not doing a good job. But it’s important to remember that holding someone accountable helps them learn and become better, and that if you do it with care, you’re doing a good thing. Holding your team accountable is an important part of managing your team well, and it doesn’t make you a mean boss if you provide feedback and set expectations. Being assertive and clear is part of being a good manager.

At the end of the day, being a manager is hard work, and it’s valid if it can be overwhelming or triggering sometimes. It’s important to remember that you have to take care of yourself and fill your own cup before you can fill someone else’s. It’s not easy to manage depression and anxiety while also trying to manage a team, and you’re not alone if you feel like it’s really difficult. You can’t be expected to be an unemotional robot; managers are people, too, and it’s OK to show you struggle sometimes. I’ve found it helpful to connect with other managers and share what I’m going through. More often than not, they’re going through it, too. Sharing with other managers helps relieve some of the burdens, without burdening your team, and helps create a support system with people who have been where you are. I believe that the more we seek out support for ourselves in dealing with anxiety and depression around being a manager, the better we can show up for our teams and employees and do our best to create workplaces where people are valued and supported.

Getty Images photo via David Lees

Originally published: July 15, 2022
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