- While it is normal to worry from time to time, obsessing over these worries is not normal and can negatively impact important areas of life.
- Unfortunately, many of us experience work anxiety—we become focused on fears like getting fired or never finding greater success in our career.
- It’s important to manage this anxiety, as it can cause us to despise our job and feel generally unhappy.
- The first step in doing so is acknowledging negative thoughts and separating those thoughts from reality; it’s important to understand that you are not your mind.
- 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, if these steps are not effective, consider working with a professional to lessen work anxiety—a therapist can help you understand the role of irrational thoughts.
It’s in our nature to worry—to think about all that could go wrong. Sometimes, though, we obsess over these possibilities; so much so, that it begins to affect important areas of life. Our personal and professional lives are interrupted, as we find it hard to focus on anything but these thoughts. Take, for example, the anxiety many of us experience at work. We become fixed on fears like getting fired or never finding success in our career.
Work anxiety can cause us to seriously hate our job and feel unhappy as well as unfulfilled. So, how can we work through the worries and fears we develop about work? There are three keys: create space between your thoughts and self-concept, shield yourself from the negativity of your coworkers, and if your anxiety is completely out of control (or you think you could benefit) work through your anxiety with a professional. Let’s walk through these steps, one by one:
Create Space Between Your Thoughts and Self-Concept
The first step involves acknowledging the negative self-talk we all engage in. That’s right, we are all guilt of speaking unkindly to ourselves. Not to mention that the things we say have no warrant! There is often no evidence that we’re on our way to getting fired 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 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.
For example, the next time you have a negative thought about yourself, pause, and notice you’re having it. It may help to preface the thought with the statement, ‘I’m having the thought that…’ simply adding these five words in front of the negative thought creates distance between you and the thought. You can even say, ‘I’m noticing I’m having the thought that…’ to create even more space between you and the thought. This little trick helps you remember that you are not your mind, and just because you have a thought doesn’t mean it’s true.”
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. 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,” explains Christine Scott-Hudson, Licensed Psychotherapist, Marriage and Family Therapist, and Owner of Create Your Life Studio.
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. Think like a superhero! You have invisible protection. Suit up. You can imagine putting on an invisible cloak of protection after that! Zip it up or imagine a suit of armor. Decide that you are guided and protected. Imagine your ancestors going with you to work and having your back.”
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 Anxiety in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
The third crucial 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. 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 with 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 their 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.”