Make a Referral

Managing Worry, Anxiety, and Negative Thoughts

mental health Mar 21, 2024
Managing Worry, Anxiety, and Negative Thoughts


Many employees struggle with worry and anxiety on a day-to-day basis with no tools for coping with these very natural, but powerful emotional responses. Work, relationships, school, finances – these can all create stressful situations that, left unmanaged, can lead to many health and performance issues. Understanding our anxiety and finding strategies to manage negative thoughts can help us control our emotions better and prevent our feelings of worry from snowballing.


Worry and Anxiety

Worry is an excessive “thinking ahead” approach. Though this ability allows us to foresee problems and plan accordingly, it can also lead to catastrophizing and feelings of anxiety. Mentally, worrying might feel like not being able to cope, like being out of control, or like “a chain of thoughts and images” that leads to progressively unlikely scenarios. Worry is often temporary and may dissipate once the issue causing concern is resolved or fades in importance. Anxiety, on the other hand, can persist for longer periods and may even become chronic, impacting daily functioning and quality of life. Physically, worry and anxiety may present in symptoms like fatigue, muscle pain, restlessness, and difficulty with concentration and sleeping.  

These are perfectly normal and biological responses that helps keep us safe and aware of potential risks or threats. However, those who experience heightened levels of stress and anxiety may find it more difficult to respond to workplace stressors in a calm and rational manner. To regain control over our responses, we need to stop the subconscious process we go through when we feel threatened. This process is called the fight, flight, or freeze response, and occurs when we are triggered by certain activities or events.


The Fight, Flight, or Freeze Response

When we encounter a stressful event, our body undergoes rapid changes to prepare for action:

  1. Our brain evaluates the risk and threat (these can be external sensory output, such as seeing or hearing something alarming, or internal cues, such as intense emotions and memories).
  2. Our brain, if it evaluates the situation as a threat, will release chemicals into our body to prepare for handling the threat.
  3. Our body then gets activated – heart rate increases, breathing becomes shallow, our muscles get increased blood flow and become tense, and our pupils dilate – we call this the Fight, Flight, or Freeze response.
  4. We then have a behavioural response to either avoid, attack, or minimize the threat. This may look like a quick exit, an angry outburst, or silence/inability to respond.
  5. After the threat has passed, the body returns to a state of equilibrium and physiological functions return to baseline levels, facilitating recovery from the stress response.


What Are Unhelpful Thinking Patterns?

Thoughts are not facts, yet they have a powerful impact on our emotions and reactions to perceived events. Our perceptions and negative thoughts can turn into an unhelpful pattern of thinking that exacerbates feelings of anxiety. Some unhelpful thinking patterns associated with worry include the following:

  • Jumping to conclusions: fortune telling (predicting the future) and mindreading (imagining we know what others are thinking).
  • All or nothing thinking: sometimes called “black and white” thinking. (e.g., “either I do it right or not at all”).
  • Mental filter: only paying attention to certain types of evidence (e.g., noticing our failures but not seeing our successes).
  • Overgeneralizing: seeing a pattern based upon a single event or being overly broad in the conclusions we draw.
  • Disqualifying the positive: discounting the good things that have happened or that you have done for some reason or another. (e.g., “that doesn’t count”).
  • Catastrophizing: blowing things out of proportion.
  • Labelling: assigning labels to ourselves or other people. (e.g., “I’m a loser”).
  • Emotional reasoning: Assuming that because we feel a certain way, what we think must be true (e.g., “I feel embarrassed so I must be an idiot”).
  • Shoulds and musts: Using critical words like “should,” “must,” or “ought” can make us feel guilty or like we have already failed.
  • Personalization: Blaming yourself or taking responsibility for something that wasn’t completely your fault, or blaming others for something that was your fault.


Reframing Unhelpful Thinking Patterns

Employees can work on reframing unhelpful thinking patterns by trying the following strategies:

  1. Write down the negative thought and situation or trigger that caused the thought.
  2. Identify if you are entertaining an unhelpful thinking pattern and label it (see above for examples).
  3. Ask yourself questions to help you balance the thought:
    • What is the evidence that the automatic thought is true? Not true? Could there be another perspective?
    • Is there an alternative explanation?
    • What’s the worst that could happen? Could I live through it? What’s the best that could happen? What’s the most realistic outcome?
    • What’s the effect of my believing the automatic thought? What could be the effect of changing my thinking?
    • What is my best next step to help me move past this thought?
    • If (friend’s name) was in the situation and had this thought, what would I tell him/her?
  4. Write down an alternate, balanced thought – remember that reframing thoughts is not about making the negative into a positive. Times are tough and it’s important that we allow ourselves to acknowledge the difficulties while trying to also recognize other perspectives or options.
  5. Take note of the situation or trigger that caused the unhelpful thinking. Can you limit or avoid these?
  6. Be compassionate to yourself. It is normal to worry and have unhelpful thoughts. Practice self-care to allow yourself to unwind from daily stressors.
  7. Work with a healthcare professional such as an Occupational Therapist. Occupational Therapists can provide CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) to help employees work through unhelpful thinking patterns.


More Tips to Manage Anxiety

  • Stop and breathe deeply.
  • Use grounding techniques, such as using a worry stone. When you become activated, touch the stone to ground you and remind yourself that you are in control.
  • Focus your energy into active movement – go for a power walk.
  • Find a safe space to experience your emotions.
  • Find activities that will distract you from the stressful task or conversation.
  • Practice mindfulness to help you get in tune with your thoughts and feelings. Connecting with your body and engaging in your physical space through breathing and stretching exercises can also help you handle difficult emotions.
  • Focus on problems within your control rather than hypothetical problems.
  • Try “postponing your worry” – set up a dedicated time during the day for worrying and spend the rest of your day letting go.
  • When faced with a stressful event at work, ask for time to think and suggest a meeting later to discuss the issues.
  • Be honest with your employer about your needs – talk to them about possible accommodations for your mental health concerns.
  • Use your resources: get support from family and friends and reach out to a healthcare professional if you need assistance with managing anxiety.


What Can Employers Do?

Employers can help employees manage their mental health by recognizing the issues, providing employees education, and giving employees access to a wide variety of tools and supports.

  • Set up education and training: Both employees and employers can benefit from getting information about how to manage anxiety in the workplace. Consider training sessions for your team. Managers can sign up for Manager Mental Health Training to learn how to support employees in distress.
  • Keep an open line of communication: Listen to your employees with empathy, attention, and respect. Look for signs of distress. Your employees may not know how to ask for help.
  • Consider the psychological health and safety of your workplace: Poor psychosocial conditions can create stressful situations in the workplace, so evaluate your culture and programs to ensure you have a healthy workplace employees can thrive in.
  • Provide mental health resources and supports: Provide employees with access to mental health supports that will assist them in building their skills to manage worry. Let them know what their benefits are and what resources, like the EAP program or Occupational Therapy, are available.
  • Provide accommodations where possible: If an employee has a mental health concern, they may benefit from accommodation tools and strategies to be able to stay productive at work. Make a referral for Occupational Therapy here to get customized solutions for your team.
  • Contact our team: Learn how our team of Occupational Therapists can help your team! Contact us or book a consultation with one of our experts.