Work-related stress and anxiety is very common, and over the long term it can have serious consequences both inside and outside of the workplace. According to Statistics Canada, more than 1 in 4 Canadian workers reports being highly stressed on a daily basis, and the majority of these people identify work itself as the main source of this stress. Worries about one’s performance or perceived competence at work are very common concerns, particularly for those in higher-level management, professional and technical careers. Important cases, projects or deliverables can trigger stress and anxiety, interfering not only with the ability to produce the desired results, but with sleep and physical health.
When the pressure is high and there’s a lot at stake, anxieties about possible failures, mistakes or missteps can be overwhelming. Taking cues from the evidence-based methodology of cognitive-behavioral therapy, the following tips can assist in alleviating work-related stress and anxiety by helping you to prioritize and challenge your assumptions about your personal efficacy at work:
- As a means of reducing your concern about the outcome of a big project, you might ask yourself “What is the worst that could happen?” and “How would I handle that?” (e.g. you blank out for a minute when you are speaking, or forget an important file for court or a meeting). With this technique you want to envision some of the worst case scenarios or “what ifs?” in anticipation, and then come up with a plan of how you would manage in the event that the worst case is realized (e.g. take a minute to collect your thoughts, have a junior associate return to the office for the file).
- You might also ask yourself “How likely is it that the worst will happen?” (Probability 0-100%). For example, if you are a very prepared and experienced litigator and work with other skilled associates that you trust, how likely is it that a crucial file will be overlooked? This sort of more objective thinking tends to deflate anxiety and reduce the sense of doom, while increasing your sense of competence and ability to handle even very difficult outcomes.
- Another technique to consider is to “Look at the Evidence” that defeats your worst fear. For example, of all the times you have been under similar pressure, how many times has something bad actually occurred? Usually when you look at situations in a more systematic fashion you begin to realize that there is very little evidence to support the likelihood of your worst fear occurring.
- Lastly, if you find that your mind is busy processing issues from the day “after hours,” you may find it useful to do a “mind dump,” meaning writing out the worries or problems on your mind as a way of clearing your head and allowing your brain to stop processing information so you are able to relax. It is important in using this technique, however, that you not problem solve the issues that arise during “off hours,” particularly in the evening before bed, but instead just record them as things to follow up on the next day. You might also find this technique useful if you wake in the night and are worrying about issues related to work.
Zoë Laksman has practiced as a Registered Clinical Psychologist at The Clinic on Dupont since 2007. Laura Clarridge is a certified executive coach who helps her clients find fulfilling educational and career pathways. Their backgrounds and training have shaped their interest in promoting improved psychological health, interpersonal functioning and wellness. They work together as a clinical team and as the developers of The Clinic on Dupont’s online presence.