Ask the Expert : How can I feel more positive & reduce my anxiety levels?
This article’s expert is the Training Consultant and Corporate Coach, Martin Faiers
“I have recently returned to work after a period of maternity leave. Before I left I was a very confident person and happy with my work. Since my return, however, I have been feeling very negative and worried about my level of anxiety which is keeping me awake at night. Things are not helped by the fact that during my absence there have been a lot of changes and I have to take on new responsibilities which really worry me. I have discussed this with my line manager who is being very supportive and helpful, as is my husband on the home front.”
It is very understandable that you are having a bit of a struggle at the moment in view of what you say about the changes at work. People often find it difficult to return to work anyway after a period of absence. I think it’s very helpful that you are feeling supported by your husband and your line manager, as it’s really true that a trouble shared is often a trouble halved!!
Three further thoughts that you might find helpful:
Revisit your former self
You say that you were a confident and happy person at work before your period of maternity leave. Remind yourself that this is not lost but has had a period of interruption. Your confidence and competence are stored and waiting to be recovered.
I suggest that you spend some time mentally revisiting your former work self and recovering those times and occasions when you felt the most confident, satisfied and resourceful. If you have a visual mind, you may find it helpful to picture occasions when things were going really well, perhaps adding sounds to amplify the effects of your memories. You may also like to consider how you were feeling at the time.
When you have done this, why not capture it by writing down a list of your achievements and abilities in your former work life? Very importantly, identify which of these will still be relevant to your work now – I think you will be surprised to discover the relevance of things you have done before and this will also help you to identify where you need to develop further.
Address your thinking
You have said that you are concerned about your present level of negativity. This is an important area we cover on our resilience programmes, and one approach is to learn to identify and challenge what we call thinking traps. Thinking traps are patterns of thought that are irrational and unhelpful, and that ultimately undermine our performance. An example here is catastrophising, where we take one area of worry and overgeneralise this.
In your case, I suspect it may be very easy to feel overwhelmed by the changes you are facing following your period of absence. If so, it will be very helpful to keep these in proportion; to be clear with yourself about your areas of competence that are still relevant (the revisiting exercise I have suggested above will help here) and to pin down where you need to develop further.
One criterion we suggest on our programmes to evaluate the effectiveness of thinking is, “would you recommend your thinking to a friend”? And, if you wouldn’t, why have it yourself!
Manage your boundaries
The last thing you will need with your new family responsibility is to worry about your work at home, particularly if this is affecting your sleep.
One approach which many people find helpful is to give yourself a mini-review of each working day, preferably before you leave work, but if not when you arrive back at home. During this identify your achievements and challenges during the day. Reflecting on your achievements will do wonders for your morale and you may be surprised how many there are. Looking at your challenges is also helpful, as it will give you an opportunity to re-focus and re-plan where necessary, and crucially help you to let go and enjoy your time at home.
Finally, do make sure that you find some quality time for yourself during each week, whether this is time with your family or maintaining some area where you can “switch off” and enjoy yourself.