Canada’s Mental Health Week runs May 6-12.
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You used to like your job, but over time you’ve become bitter and negative about everything you do. You feel as if you get no fulfillment from your work and don’t see the value you bring to your organization. You’re stuck in a rut and don’t know how to get out of it.
It’s common to fall into a negative frame of mind or have a bad day. Recognizing when you do is an acquired skill that can be the first step toward preventing or alleviating those less-than-positive thoughts. But after the initial recognition, then what?
Many psychologists employ cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to treat anxiety and depression. CBT is intended to equip an individual with tools to challenge and change unhelpful thinking. The idea is that emotions, thoughts and behaviours all influence each other in a cyclical manner. By changing your thoughts, you can change how you feel, which can alter your behaviour for the better.
The foundation of CBT is the recognition that your thinking is creating an altered perception of reality. Examples include all-or-nothing thinking (if I don’t get this promotion, my life is over), overgeneralization (I didn’t get the promotion this time, so I’ll never get it), disqualifying the positive (my boss recognized me positively in a meeting, but I didn’t deserve it), catastrophizing (because of this mistake, I’ll get fired) and minimization (I only succeed because my colleagues make me look good).
“Identifying negative thinking can be the first step to correcting it,” said Hélène Roussel, project manager of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Living Life to the Full program in Ontario. “When you start to challenge your negative thoughts, you can begin to separate emotion from reality, understand that your perception may not be the way things really are and refocus on helpful thoughts.”
If you’re experiencing low mood and can’t shake it, it may be time to take a step back and analyze your thoughts. Ultimately, you’re accountable to yourself to curb negative thinking, because only you can identify it. However, many programs, resources and methods are available to teach you how.
The Living Life to the Full program (to which the the Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division, holds the exclusive Canadian licence) has a five-step approach to identify and alter negative thinking:
1. Label it: When you notice a bad thought, mentally pause and recognize it as a bad thought.
2. Leave it: Once you’ve identified a bad thought, don’t challenge it. Instead, set it aside and focus on what you’re doing in the moment, planning ahead or recalling recent achievements.
3. Stand up to it: Challenge the thought. Does it make sense? Are there other explanations?
4. Give yourself a break: Consider how a loved one would respond if you shared this bad thought. Would they agree? Often, we’re our harshest critics.
5. Look at it differently: If that bad thought is still hanging on, imagine how you would respond if a friend told you this was their thought. What advice would you give? Give that advice to yourself. Alternatively, consider perspective. Will this thought matter in six months? Or think of someone who handles problems well. How would they deal with it?
At first, you may want to write down your thoughts to work through these steps. With practice, you can learn to actively hold yourself accountable by embedding these principles into your natural thought process.
There are several ways to stamp out negative thinking, as well as activities you can do to aid the thought-challenge process. Seeking the support of a professional psychological counsellor trained in CBT is a good first step.
The Canadian Mental Health Association’s BounceBack program is a free telephone coaching program supplemented with self-help workbooks and online videos, all based in CBT. Many other self-help books about challenging your thoughts are also available.
Sometimes, we just need to give our minds a break. Spending time with friends and family, confiding in loved ones about life’s challenges and practising gratitude wherever possible all are ways to relieve the pressure of negative thoughts.
Additionally, self-care such as exercising, eating well, spending time outdoors, meditation and taking time for things you enjoy is effective in making yourself feel better, which in turn will positively affect your thoughts and behaviours.
Bill Howatt is the chief of research for work-force productivity at the Conference Board of Canada.
Camille Quenneville is chief executive of the Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario Division.
You can find other stories like these at tgam.ca/workplaceaward.