3 CBT tips to help overcome workplace stress.

health and wellbeing in the workplace

Roughly half a million people in the UK suffer from work-related stress, with stressed workers taking an astonishing 12.5 million days off work. Many workers respond to stress in the workplace by increasing their output – working harder, longer hours or even taking work home, which only results in exasperating stressful symptoms and contributing to additional mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

Typically, workplace stress is the result of an unsustainable definition of success. This puts pressure on us as workers to meet these high standards, that can subsequently create a culture of burnout, taking its toll on our well-being, creativity and productivity.

As leading CBT providers and an organisation that is committed to helping organisations reduce stress within the workplace, we believe that instead of responding to this pressure by taking on more and ignoring the warning signs, workers should instead adopt some key CBT practises to help them elevate their stress levels.

By reframing our perspective and taking the time to acknowledge our emotions, we can dramatically put ourselves in a better position to reduce our tension and anxiety at work.

CBT teaches us that our emotions can be a driving force when it comes to how we interpret events or situations. In a workplace environment, this can be dramatically amplified when we include unrealistic deadlines and a heavy workload.

As CBT focuses on our thoughts and assumptions, we believe that cognitive behavioural therapy can be the key to reducing the UK’s escalating workplace stress issue. We’ve put together three CBT based tips to help you or anyone you may know who is suffering from the workplace stress.

1)    Take time out to prioritise

When we start to see our to-do list extend with extra tasks as the hours go by, this can increase our stress levels and leave us feeling overwhelmed and out of control.

Not everything is a priority.  Take some time out to make a list of your crucial tasks that need actioning before the end of the day and separate them from the non-time sensitive tasks. This automatically gives you a better chance of feeling in control and breaking down your list into manageable tasks. Once you have a list of things that need your immediate attention, you can begin to shift your focus on completing them and accepting that the tasks on the bottom of your list will be addressed eventually.

2)    Monitor your mood 

Mood monitoring is one of the most important CBT exercises. It not only helps you process your feelings towards a certain event or situation but also encourages you to reflect on particular behaviour patterns that can cause you to feel a certain way.

If you find yourself dwelling on your thoughts (aka ruminating) over your workload or stressful events coming up at work, you might find it useful to do this quick mood monitoring exercise. Take a piece of paper and a pen and give yourself five minutes to do the following:

1)    Write down the stressful or upsetting event (e.g. big presentation at work)

2)    Write down all of the feelings you are experiencing when you think about this event (e.g. guilty, anxious, nervous, shame), then rate each feeling between 1 and 100 with 100 being utterly overwhelming.

3)    Finally, spend the remaining time documenting every thought that is going through your head. (e.g., “I am unprepared”, “it won’t be any good”, “I don’t have time”, “I have let the team down”)

4)    Fold the paper up and place it away for a day or so.

5)    Revisit the paper after a few days and look over what you wrote

This exercise can be a great way of teaching yourself to fully experience your emotions and document all your thoughts and feelings that come along with every negative experience in your life. By putting the paper aside and coming back to it once you have had a chance to process your feelings and let your emotions subdue a bit, you are likely to notice a negative pattern in your thinking. This could be distorted thoughts, black and white thinking or even catastrophising.

CBT teaches us that it is these cognitive distortions negatively contribute to our mental health and encourages us to challenge these thoughts once we have identified them as a familiar pattern.

3)    Focus on the controllable and adopt positive balanced reframing

When we feel overwhelmed at work, it’s easy to focus on the factors we can’t control – our boss pilling on too much work, our unhelpful colleagues or even our stagnant wages. Spending too much of our time focusing on the uncontrollable sets us up to feel exhausted and less than our best, further increasing our stress levels.

Taking the time out to do a quick reframing exercise can be a good way to remind yourself of all the things you can control and regain some power.

Positive reframing is not positive thinking and mantras) but taking wider facts into consideration – to arrive at an alternative balanced view. It works by retraining yourself to view seemingly negative situations in an alternative light, and not skewed by how we are feeling emotionally. For example, where one person might be thought of as bossy, the positive framing of that would be a good director or natural leader, but headstrong people will need a bit of extra ‘managing’ to capture their strengths.

Here is an example of positive reframing that can help in a stressful work situation.

Situation: A big project is due at work, which requires lots of details

Thoughts: This is too much work for one person. Why did my boss think I was capable of doing this alone? I’ve had no support or direction. I’m going to mess this up

Emotions: Anxious, irritable, depressed

Behaviours: Avoid doing the project. Procrastination. Not leaving enough time to research the project.

Alternative thought: This is a lot to do, I have always delivered challenges like this before.  Although this is a difficult project, I’m flattered my boss thinks so highly of me that they have trusted me with such an important task. To give myself the best possible chance to succeed I’ll see this as a chance to prove my worth and give myself enough time to do the research this needs. I’m excited to take on this new challenge and to have been given the opportunity to develop my skills. This might be too much, but I can always reach out for help if needed, I need to schedule my time realistically and find out what I can and cannot do.

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