How I Managed My Work Anxiety and Became More Confident

Woman in a sage blouse sits at a table and types with one hand on a laptop computer.

When it came to work, my internal dialogue was broken. Whether it was an upcoming presentation, a disagreement with a coworker, or a pressing deadline, anxiety would often take over. I was constantly on edge.

I second-guessed myself and struggled to control my feelings. Every time I opened my laptop, I felt tension in my shoulders.

I knew I was far from alone: A majority of Americans consistently cite work as a significant source of stress, according to the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America survey. But knowing that didn’t comfort me.

For a time, I thought these feelings would take over and paralyze me for the rest of my career. I imagined them limiting my potential for advancement. That was until I discovered cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Part of CBT involves learning how to:

  • Spot thinking patterns that are creating problems
  • Reframe unhelpful thoughts in light of reality
  • Better understand the behavior and motivation of others
  • Use problem-solving skills to cope with difficult situations
  • Develop a greater sense of confidence in one’s own abilities

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How thought reframing helped me at work

I was struggling with a large content strategy plan that I had to present to an important client. My anxiety was at its peak and I was sure I was going to fall flat on my face. When I felt myself retreating into my usual cave of despair, I knew I needed to try something new.

Rather than letting my thoughts run away from me in an endless cycle of negativity, I began using CBT’s 3Cs framework: Catch It, Check It, Change It. Here’s an example of how it went:

Catch it

Step 1
Describe a situation you’d like to explore

My Answer
I have a big presentation

Step 2
Note how you’re feeling about this. What emotions did you experience?

My Answer
Anxious and worried. Scared and on edge.

Step 3
Identify any thoughts that went through your mind. These could be your interpretations of the situation or what it might mean to you.

My Answer
I’m going to mess up. I’m going to look like a fool in front of my colleagues and the client.

Check it

Doing the thought exercise above gave me some perspective on my situation, but I still felt anxious. I took my exploration a step further by checking my thoughts for “thinking traps.” Thinking traps are flawed, biased, or unrealistic thought patterns.

Step 1
Look for thinking traps

My Answer
Catastrophizing: I was assuming that if something goes wrong, it will be a disaster and I won’t be able to recover from it.

All-or-Nothing Thinking: I was viewing my situation in absolute terms. I only considered the most extreme outcomes.

Ignoring Positives: I was only seeing the negative and discounting any positive outcomes.

Labeling: I was calling myself a loser.

Fortune Telling: I was predicting with certainty that I was going to fail.

Step 2
Reflect on yourself and your past. Note if this situation is something you’ve dealt with more than once.

My Answer
I tend to make assumptions about my performance that aren’t based on past experiences or results.

Change it

At this point, I could see my basic thought patterns and the thinking traps I was falling into. To move into a more helpful mindset, I needed to “reframe” or change the way I was thinking.

Step 1
Think about alternative ways to interpret the situation. Can you soften extreme language? Try to take a step back and think about what advice you would give someone else in your position.

My Answer
I’m trying the best that I can. I am prepared and I know the subject inside and out. If I make a mistake, I will recover. I also have my colleagues to support me. I know this client well and understand their needs.

Taking control of how I think — and feel

The 3 Cs exercise gave me a sense of comfort. It allowed me to reflect on all the negative self-talk I had been pummeling myself with. Most importantly, it put the reality of my situation into stark focus. Using these CBT techniques, I put a big stop sign in front of my constant rumination. I no longer fear the everyday work challenges that arise. Now, even when anxiety starts to percolate, I know I have the tools to power through.


Do you need help reframing your thoughts? The 3 Cs Guided Journal in your AbleTo program will walk you step-by-step through the process.

Need help putting these tips into practice?

You may be eligible for virtual therapy, coaching, or on-demand self care from AbleTo. Each program is designed by clinicians and grounded in science. Sign up today and get the support you deserve.

Editor’s Note: There’s still a lot of stigma when it comes to sharing mental health stories. The writer of this piece has asked to remain anonymous, and we respect their decision.

Photo by Galina Zhigalovai/iStock. Individuals in photographs do not represent AbleTo participants.

Clinically reviewed by Sarah Dolling, LPC, Clinical Content Producer at AbleTo.

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