- While it is normal to worry from time to time, sometimes this worrying turns into an unhealthy obsession—especially during uncertain times like COVID.
- Many people feel like their jobs are at stake amid COVID-19; this fear and other work anxieties can make going to work (even virtually) difficult.
- Therefore, it’s important to manage our work fears so that we can focus our time and energy on living in the present again.
- The first step in doing so is acknowledging negative thoughts and understanding that they are not your reality.
- The next step is to protect yourself from the negativity of your coworkers; try putting up an imaginary (yet effective) shield that keeps their anxiety from creeping in on you.
- Finally, consider working with a professional to lessen work anxiety—a therapist can help you understand the role of negative thinking and provide you with additional support during this difficult time.
It’s in our nature to worry, to think about all that could go wrong. Sometimes, though, we obsess over these possibilities—especially during times of uncertainty like COVID-19. Many (if not most) of us feel like our jobs are at stake. We feel as if we could get fired or let go at any given moment. And the worst part about it is we have little to no control over this decision. It doesn’t matter if we prove our worth or make our case for staying onboard. At the end of the day, the business has to do what it can to stay afloat.
This fear and other work anxieties can make going to work, or even working virtually, really difficult. Fortunately, though, we can manage these work fears, reduce stress, and return to the present moment again. There are three keys: create space between your thoughts and self-concept, protect yourself from the negativity of your coworkers, and consider working with a professional. Let’s walk through these steps, one by one:
Create Space Between Your Negative Thoughts and Your Reality
The first step involves identifying your negative self-talk. That’s right, we are all guilty of speaking unkindly to ourselves. There is often no evidence that we’re on our way to getting fired, even during COVID, or that we’re destined to fail at our job. So, identify your negative thoughts and separate those from your true self. Lee McDonough, Master Social Worker, helps to explain this key for managing work anxiety:
“When we are feeling anxious at work, our mind starts generating all sorts of negative self-talk—’I’m not good enough,’ ‘I’ll never be successful,’ ‘I’m going to get fired,’ and so on. We each have our own script that plays in our head, reminding ourselves of our deficiencies—and it’s hard to stay focused when your mind is telling you how terrible you are.
But the thing is, just because your mind tells you something doesn’t make it true. Your mind wants to keep you safe by preparing for the worst-case scenario, and it uses negative self-talk to motivate you to get ready. But that self-talk is rooted in false beliefs, and we don’t stop to question how true it is. To combat this cycle, I encourage my clients to create space between their thoughts and their self-concept. Creating space lessens the emotional impact of the thought, and it gives you power to decide whether you want to accept or reject the thought.”
If job security is a worry of yours during COVID, you can put McDonough’s tip to the test by pausing when you have a negative thought about getting fired or let go. For example: “I’m definitely the next one to go. They’ve had it out for me from the get-go.” If you have this thought, check yourself. Do you actually think that you’re at risk of being fired right now or is your negative thinking taking over? McDonough says it helps to say, “I’m noticing I’m having the thought that…” to create even more space between you and the thought.
Shield Yourself from Coworker Negativity
The next step is to distance yourself from the negativity and anxiety of your coworkers. “A way to protect yourself from feeling anxious at work is to limit absorbing the bad moods and negativity of coworkers and to prepare yourself for it,” explains Christine Scott-Hudson, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Owner of Create Your Life Studio. “There is an anxiety contagion in the workplace. You need to protect yourself from others’ anxiety the way you would protect yourself from the others’ physical illness, like the flu,” she says.
You can talk yourself through putting up an imaginary, yet protective shield before you step into your workplace. Scott-Hudson walks us through the process: “When you first get up in the morning and are taking your shower, do a visualization that you are washing away any negativity. Imagine the soap you are lathering up is an invisible shield from anyone else’s stress and bad energy. You can imagine extra layers of protection going on your body with powder, lotion, sunscreen, hair gel, makeup, clothing, etc.
Then, when you get to work, double down and imagine a shield that protects your entire work station from the anxiety contagion: “Once you arrive to your workplace, imagine a protective circle around your work station, like your desk, office, or chair. Decide to focus in on your own work and not engage in any gossip or negativity. Remember why you are there. Stay focused on your task at hand: your job.” Scott-Hudson has a few additional tips for shielding yourself throughout the day from the negativity of your coworkers:
- Wear headphones to tune them out.
- Remain neutral and smile.
- Keep an item on your desk that reminds you of your value.
- Eat your lunch away from the office.
- Listen to something that inspires and uplifts you.
Work Through Your Work Anxiety with a Counselor
The third step is to consider working with a professional. If your work anxiety is uncontrollable and the previous tips don’t succeed in helping you to manage it, you could likely benefit from a counselor’s guidance and support. While we all feel worried or uneasy about work from time to time, it isn’t normal or healthy to experience constant work anxiety. The good news is that therapy is an effective treatment method for anxiety, and a therapist can help you to work through your work anxiety. Psychotherapist Meredith Prescott in New York City explains how she helps her clients manage their work anxiety using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT):
“When working with clients who have anxiety, I often use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to target the negative thoughts and core beliefs. CBT examines how negative thoughts and beliefs shape behavior. Clients with anxiety may share all types of concerns related to work such as fears that they may not get a good review or even worries about getting fired.
In order to improve the anxiety, we have to understand how the irrational thoughts are coming into play for the client and how we can change them. I help clients to learn how to cope with uncertainty and teach them to be more compassionate to themselves. I ask clients when faced with an anxiety-driven situation, ‘Is there evidence to back up your claims or fears?’ I challenge the beliefs with the client and have them come up with other explanations so they can rewrite this storyline in their mind. I work with clients to gain a better understanding of their core beliefs and how they might survive even if the worst-case scenario happened.”
If you’re struggling with the fear of getting fired and other work anxieties, know that you are in good company. Many people are fearful of losing their jobs during COVID, and learning to manage this fear is crucial. Practice the above tips and at the end of the day, know that no matter what happens, you’ll be okay. And if you don’t feel okay, there are mental health professionals out there who can help you get to that happy, healthy place again.
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