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Anxiety in the Workplace: Overcoming Negative Thought Patterns

Anxiety can lead to negative thought patterns that can affect team performance through a variety of traps we fall into, some examples of this are:

Catastrophizing: Worst-case scenario thinking.

Mind reading: Assuming others' thoughts/feelings.

Fortune telling: Predicting negative outcomes.

Black-and-white thinking: All-or-nothing perspective.

Overgeneralizing: Drawing broad conclusions from single events.

To break these patterns, strategies can be implemented. These include identifying physical symptoms of anxiety, recognizing and naming the specific pattern, separating fears and facts, and telling stories to change thought processes.

Anxiety impacts everyone in every organization, managing it and compartmentalizing anxiety is how we generate different outcomes from it. This is true for everyone from 1 to 150 including senior executives, high-performing employees, employees on PIP programs, unemployed jobseekers, retired consultants and more.

When we are anxious, we tend to get trapped in negative thought patterns that can take over our lives, making it difficult to focus on work and perform at our best. If left unchecked, these thought patterns can lead to a debilitating negative spiral, further exacerbating our sense of helplessness.

To avoid this, it's important to identify the traps that anxiety can lead us into. These traps include catastrophizing, mind reading, fortune telling, black-and-white thinking, and overgeneralizing. If one or more of these thinking traps has a hold on you, try implementing the following strategies to break free from them.

  • Pause the pattern

Anxiety is often preceded by physical symptoms, such as a churning stomach, sweaty palms, or flaring nostrils. These reactions are part of an amygdala hijack, causing your body to react with a fight-or-flight response instead of operating from your thinking brain. When you notice these reactions, consciously change your activities. Engage the thinking part of your brain by doing something that will challenge you enough to divert your brain away from your stressor. For example, try doing a math problem that is challenging enough to require your full attention.

  • Name the trap

Give your pattern a name, whether it is one of the traps listed above or something you come up with yourself. Naming converts the vague threat to something concrete. You regain power by realizing you've encountered it before - and survived. You can fine-tune your mitigation strategy based on the specific trap that's ensnared you. For example, if you find yourself catastrophizing, name it as such and make a plan to challenge those thoughts with evidence to the contrary.

  • Separate FUD from fact

Create a two-column list. On one side list all your fears, uncertainties, and doubts, or FUD. The second column is for verified facts. Being able to compare the two can quell your fears and bring you back to reality. When you are feeling overwhelmed, take a step back and write out your fears in one column, and the corresponding facts in another column. By seeing the facts written out, you can challenge the negative thoughts that are fueling your anxiety. For instance, let's say you're anxious about an upcoming presentation. Your FUD column might include thoughts such as "I will mess up and everyone will laugh at me." In the facts column, you can write, "I have prepared thoroughly for this presentation and have done it successfully in the past." Seeing the facts written out can help you challenge the negative thoughts and focus on the positive aspects of the situation.

  • Tell yourself a different story

Our thoughts shape our reality, so it's important to challenge negative thoughts and tell ourselves a different story. Instead of catastrophizing or assuming the worst, try to reframe the situation in a positive light. For instance, if you find yourself thinking, "This project is going to fail," try reframing it as, "This project is challenging, but I have the skills and resources to overcome any obstacles." By telling yourself a different story, you can change your thought processes and reduce your anxiety. In conclusion, anxiety can lead to negative thought patterns that can affect team performance through a variety of traps we fall into. However, by implementing strategies such as pausing the pattern, naming the trap, separating FUD from fact, and telling ourselves a different story, we can break free from these negative thought patterns, gain control over our anxiety, and perform at our best in the workplace.

In order to work together more effectively in teams and avoid common pitfalls in the workplace, it's important to foster open communication, establish clear roles and responsibilities, encourage constructive feedback, and prioritize collaboration over competition. By recognizing the potential challenges that can arise in group dynamics and proactively addressing them, teams can build trust, enhance creativity, and achieve greater success in their endeavors. With a commitment to ongoing learning and improvement, individuals can also develop the skills and mindset needed to thrive in a collaborative work environment. By following these principles and staying focused on the shared goals and values of the team, we can build stronger, more resilient organizations that benefit both the individuals within them and the wider community.


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