Everyone has bouts of paranoia over their job from time to time. Whether there’s genuine cause for concern or not — an impending merger or layoffs, for example — that feeling can creep over you for any number of reasons.
Perhaps you just started a new job after a sudden restructuring at your old job, and as a result, you’re constantly on your guard. Or maybe you have an uneasy relationship with one of your bosses, and you feel like no matter what you do, they’re out to get you.
If you’re prone to anxiety, this paranoia may be hard to shake — especially if it’s proved well-founded in the past. What’s worse is that, apart from how these feelings affect you psychologically, they do have an impact on your performance. Studies at Harvard University have shown that anxious thoughts can have a negative impact on your productivity — which could lead to you actually losing your job.
So how can you check your paranoia at the door? We spoke to a few experts who had some good tips.
Dr. Lyssa Menard, business coach, psychologist, and assistant professor at Northwestern University, regularly works with clients who experience work paranoia. She examines their thoughts and feelings, and helps them distill the reality of a situation from their emotional distortion of it.
If a client says,”my boss hated my report. I’m definitely getting fired,” that’s an example of extreme or catastrophic thinking, in which the mind leaps to the worst-case scenario as the only possible outcome.
An easy way to clear away the irrationality is to step back and get perspective: even if your report wasn’t a work of genius, one sub-par report rarely leads to firing.
Another common paranoia trigger is being excluded from things like meetings and important emails, which can cause friction between team members and, at the extreme, office meltdowns.
Why is being left out of the loop such a trigger for our worst behavior? Exclusion from important discussions can make people, especially perfectionists, feel unimportant, or worse, inept. “They expect others to judge them as harshly as they judge themselves, yet they’re almost always wrong,” says Dr. Menard.
Another cause of paranoia is work burn out, which prevents you from thinking clearly. Harvard-trained psychotherapist and career coach Katherine Crowley says this can come out of simply not sleeping enough, or feeling stretched thin by other life stresses. If this is the case, she suggests taking time to care for yourself physically first, and if the feelings are still there, talk to a confidant at work (or a career coach) to ease your concerns and figure out if you should investigate further.
If after parsing the facts you still have concerns, you may want to bring them up with your superior. Dawn Roberts, a consultant on business efficiency says, “If you are consistently delivering high value to the business, you should not fear bringing occasional unsettling scenarios to your boss at work […] However, you must discern what you should bring to your boss wisely, depending on the boss and the situation.”
Sometimes, you just have to let it go. Or as Dr. Menard puts it, “basically, if you have concerns that are in the realm of possibility, but can’t ascertain the reality, it’s then important to learn to live with that uncertainty.”
Of course, that’s much easier said than done, but if you consistently do good work and add value to the company, there’s often not much more you can do. For example, layoffs can happen for any number of reasons, few of which are directly related to your individual performance.
If you’re frustrated by that lack of control, or it happens frequently, address the core issue of your fear of instability and job loss by being prepared. Create a back-up plan so you’re prepared just in case. Get your portfolio together, and keep an eye on the job market.
If you’re secure in your position, but still feeling frustrated — say you’ve been passed over for promotion several times– Dr. Menard also suggests jumping into job search mode. This is an actionable way to feel more in control and realize you have options, many of which you may have never even considered. And if you get offers, whether or not you accept th