The Fit Student – A Moment of Silence

What do your workplace conditions look like?

I survived my first month of work after overcoming years of daily panic attacks. At first, I felt strong in the workplace. But, now, I feel frazzled. I work in a high-stress, scatterbrained environment. My boss’s negative personality trait is “uncooperative”; mine is “oversensitive”—not the best fit. Some days I love work. Other days I spray swimming pools of tears. Sound familiar?

The boss often says, “If you don’t do it, I’ll fire you” and then, after a moment of silence, heaves laughter. We join in on the laughter, only to later whisper around the water cooler. Over half the office is as new as I am. None of us newbies know why.

But, oddly enough, I haven’t felt workplace anxiety. The rushes of the office bustle give me euphoric highs—so high that I forget to use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), otherwise known as self-talk. Strangely, I love chaos.

But deep down, I know I’m skydiving to a nervous breakdown. I work nine hour days for the lowest pay possible in a highly-disorganized environment with a micromanager boss. So, during lunch hours, I read CBT At Work for Dummies by Gill Garratt.

At last—Garratt teaches the formula for CBT in bold font below. I add in a school case study to help cement your learning.

Step 1: Rationalize your thoughts. If your teaching assistant (TA) acts like a tyrant boss, know that the situation is only temporary. Rationalize your way to calmness.

Step 2: Accept that you feel bad, sad, angry, or anxious. One TA had a reputation for throwing temper tantrums, and his tantrums flared anxiety within me. Have you ever tried computer programming while stricken with anxiety? It doesn’t work.

Had I had CBT, I could have accepted that I was feeling anxiety or anger or frustration.

Step 3: Label your feelings. Are you feeling helpless? Frightened? Doomed? These emotions describe some of the feelings I felt with the TA. Name your feelings.

Whenever you come across a word for an emotion, make a mental note and jot it down later. By making lists of words for emotions, you’ll better label your feelings.

Step 4: Know that your thoughts are triggering your feelings. My thoughts with the TA included, “He will give me a poor grade even with top-notch work,” and, “His temper tantrums will trigger daily anxiety within me,” and, “If I get a poor grade, I will see myself as unsuited for computer programming.”

When you know the thoughts behind your feelings, you can begin to change your thinking patterns.

Step 5: Know that events are triggering your thoughts. I got assigned to the TA, contacted him, and hadn’t heard a peep for almost three weeks. So, I emailed administration. The TA wrote a furious letter about how I wrongly told administration that he hadn’t replied in three weeks. It was about two-and-a-half weeks, but I had rounded to three. He became an instant enemy.

Also, in the course forum, the TA wrote furious replies to a disabled student’s request for help. I wrote a note of encouragement to the student. Thus, I made a friend, but not with the TA. These events triggered the anxiety I felt with the TA. Know the events that stir worrisome thoughts.

Step 6: Know that your thoughts are causing your feelings. Now that you know the events, consider your triggered thoughts. My thoughts included “he’ll give me a poor grade.” Such a thought would cause anyone stress.

Step 7: Let go of “should,” “ought,” and “must” thoughts. The subtext of my thoughts? I must get a good grade. But, nothing says I must or ought to get a good grade—even with great work. Life isn’t fair. Accept this.

Step 8: Change your thoughts. Acceptance is the key. If the TA lowers my GPA, the world won’t end. And if his temper stirs anxiety, I wouldn’t like it, but That’s life. Accept this.

And if the boss howls at the thought of firing you, know that you have choices. You can choose to stay or choose to go. You can choose to accept that people aren’t perfect. You can choose to accept that you aren’t perfect. And the CBT list of calming thoughts goes on