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Career Advice

5 Signs You're Overthinking Things at Work

Posted by Emily Moore

November 2, 2017

I don’t mean to brag, but I’m kind of the queen of overthinking things. I’ve overanalyzed conversations and situations so often that my boyfriend and I joke that I should put a dime in a jar every time I work myself up over nothing, and buy myself a nice meal with the proceeds. But I digress.

It hasn’t been quick or easy, but I’m slowly getting better and better about not overthinking things. For any of you in a similar camp, a) know you’re not alone and b) check out the following sage advice from HR professionals. The next time you find yourself hopping on the worry train, look for these signs to determine whether or not it's all in your head.

1. You’re Obsessed With What Your Boss Thinks of You

It’s natural to want your boss to think highly of you — and in many ways, that can actually benefit your career — but if you constantly worry about being in their good graces, you’re probably causing yourself more trouble than it’s worth.

“Sure, there are times where your boss may really not like you and it could cause issues in the workplace, but a lot of times people are too ‘self-oriented’ with their thoughts and fail to remember that their boss is managing lots of people, and doesn't have time to direct that much energy or frustration against just you,” says Valerie Streif, Senior Adviser at Mentat.

Remember, “little comments or directions from your boss that may come off as harsh or them being frustrated with you could just be them being direct… Don't let it get under your skin or assume it has to do with a personal thing of them not liking you,” Streif says.

2. You Seek Perfection in Everything You Do

When you work on something, you want to do a good job. But at a certain point, you need to leave well enough alone. Whether you’re putting together a deck or just drafting an email, there is definitely such a thing as over-editing, and if you keep second-guessing yourself, it’s likely that you’ll fall victim to that practice.

Instead of obsessively tweaking tiny elements over and over again, “trust your gut instinct,” says Laura MacLeod, creator of From The Inside Out Project®. “Does the project feel ready, does it represent your best effort, does it meet the requirements? Answer these questions as honestly as possible — taking into account how you feel [in] your gut — not so much in your head.”

If you find yourself unable to answer these questions impartially, “get an objective viewpoint — turn to [a] trusted colleague to get away from your own obsessions,” MacLeod recommends.

3. No One Else Echoes Your Concerns

Got a sinking feeling that you’re not pulling your weight at work, or that your colleague is mad at you? Well, if you’re the only one who thinks that way, odds are that it's not true.

“If no one else you work with has the same fears, you may be overthinking. Test out your concerns with trusted and well-connected peers. If nobody has the same spider-senses tingling that you do, you may be able to relax,” suggests Jill Santopietro Panall, HR consultant and owner of 21Oak HR Consulting, LLC. Even if you know deep down that you’re overthinking things, it can really help to hear that you have nothing to worry about from a neutral third party.

4. You Feel Like You’re Never Good Enough

If you’re chronically guilty of comparing yourself to others and feeling that you come up short, or just feel like you don’t deserve to be where you are today, you might be suffering from impostor syndrome — the unfounded fear that you’re a fraud whose true incompetence will be exposed at any minute.

According to Santopietro Panall, this is especially common for those early on in their careers.

“There's a big jump that you make after you get into the workforce after leaving your highest level of schooling. Even at a fairly young age, you may suddenly have real, significant responsibility for money, projects or people… and that can lead you to constantly be worrying that someone is going to find out that you're actually not that competent after all and the whole house of cards will fall down.”

It won’t happen overnight, but in time you can overcome impostor syndrome by taking small, yet meaningful steps.

“Whether you need to do daily affirmations or get confirmation from trusted friends and peers, try to reassure yourself that everyone starts somewhere and your company would not have given you the role you have if they felt/knew for sure that you couldn't handle it,” Santopietro Panall points out.

5. The Stakes Are Low, But You're Worried Anyway

Many times, we worry ourselves sick over situations that truly won’t have much of an impact in the long run (think: a typo in an email or getting tongue-tied during a presentation). In situations like that, a little perspective can be your friend.

“Do you stand to lose millions of dollars or put someone's life in jeopardy if you make a mistake? If yes, by all means, feel free to worry a lot. If not, though, maybe you're overthinking,” Santopietro Panall says. Explore why you’re so anxious, she recommends. For instance, do you carry around baggage from past experiences?

Ultimately, “if you have a supportive boss — someone who will let you make mistakes and figure out how to fix them — then you're probably overthinking it if you worry constantly that one mistake will ruin everything or cause career catastrophe!” she adds.

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