Why remote work can be 'torture' for overthinkers

Why remote work can be ‘torture’ for overthinkers

Anyone can experience the isolation caused by remote work.

Even for less social people, spending their workdays using only a webcam or messaging platform to connect with the same people they used to see every day can end up being detrimental.

But this isolation can be especially challenging for one type of professional: the “overthinker.” These are individuals who tend to over-analyze events around them and often need reassurances that everything is going well.

People can think a lot about any environment that lends itself to uncertainty, such as social relationships or the workplace. But experts say remote work can exacerbate the tendency to overthink, as a lack of face-to-face communication between colleagues increases ambiguity and uncertainty.

These factors can lead to overthinking, such as “What does this one-line email mean, am I fired at this evening’s Zoom meeting?”

Of course, people can take steps to try to avoid these intrusive thoughts. But managers also need to communicate better, so that employees are aware of their performance and are not left alone, trying to imagine the situation.

“People who really need to know things”

Psychologists claim that people who think a lot, worry too much about things that could go wrong. But overthinking can also have a good side.

“People who think a lot tend to be more conscientious, and they tend to be highly responsible individuals and a bit of a perfectionist,” says Craig Suchuk, a psychologist at the Mayo Clinic, one of the largest medical research organizations in the United States. “They take care of their work and really want to do it well.”

They also tend to be “highly emotionally disciplined,” according to Jeffrey Sanchez Burkes, a behavioral scientist at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan in the US.

For this reason, employees who think often can be an asset in the workplace. They are hardworking, hardworking and aware of the feelings of others; And because they spend a lot of time thinking about their performance and what people think of them, they can be committed and loyal professionals. “It’s really a strength,” says Suchuk.

But if anxiety prevails, that strength can turn into weakness — and studies show that rumination, specifically, can have adverse effects even on people’s physical and mental health.

Sawchuk says that when these people start to worry, they tend to go one of two ways. They either detach from the situation, or become overly devoted to it, constantly reassuring that their fears are unfounded.

People who think a lot “are the kind of people who need to know.” When they are worried about something or feel that the situation is uncertain, they want 100% assurance that everything is OK. “This uncertainty is the fuel that fuels most anxiety,” he says.

An example of overthinking in the workplace might be a person who sits across from a co-worker, looks at his frowning face, and begins to wonder if the problem is with him, or if the coworker is working harder than him. But that might not be the case — “a colleague might be playing solitaire on the computer,” says Melanie Brooks, professor of business marketing at Columbia Business School in New York.

When people who think a lot become obsessed with these thoughts, they “are not doing it to feel good — they are doing it to feel less bad,” according to Sawchuck.

And even if the pros get the temporary reassurance they need–approaching that grim-faced manager to see what he’s doing, say–“the question comes back: ‘Was he kind to me?'” or “Maybe he now thinks I’m weird because I went to talk to him to try to explain.”

Difficulty working remotely

As work teams move from the office to the remote environment during the pandemic, thinkers have lost many of the little things that can dampen their fears.

In a physical work environment, thinkers may more readily notice cues from body language or reach out to ask a colleague a question when they are unsure of the situation. But remote work eliminated those possibilities.

Sanchez-Burks says that professionals who think a lot “may be the ones who have the toughest times” in the era of remote work, because they are “too dependent on context.”

Remote work increases the mystery. A lot goes unnoticed during the typical remote working day – who to meet with whom, projects others are working on, what colleagues tell the boss.

For a professional who is overthinking and anxious, this can lead to a “rumination cycle,” which can cause him to “re-read emails over and over” to decipher between the lines, explains Suchuk. Or, if the manager innocently forgets to add you to the Zoom meeting invite, he’ll start thinking about the worst.

Relying only on emails and chat rooms can exacerbate the problem. For Sanchez Burkes, “Text is really a poor form of communication.” He argues that in digital communications, there can be a large gap between what people mean and how others interpret the message. Therefore, an email that seems too short can cause the recipient to ruminate.

In the office, we can break the cycle of overthinking with a simple conversation.

“Maybe we get a little anxious, until we find it [aquela pessoa] In the water cooler or on the way to the bathroom. And we have that moment, that smile or [ouvimos] ‘How are you?’ And you can feel the human warmth,” says Brooks.

But in the world of working from home, this is no easy feat.

Of course, while remote work can exacerbate overthinking tendencies, personal work is not a panacea for these harmful thoughts. There are still many ambiguous scenarios in the office that can lead to whirlpools of overthinking. But the greater mystery of remote work has the potential to make people think a lot.

Short circuit for intrusive thoughts

Whether in a remote environment or in person, overthinking can be detrimental to the well-being of a professional.

Cycles of negative thinking and worrying about possible poor outcomes can open the door to maladaptive defense mechanisms, including substance abuse. A study of more than 32,000 participants in 172 countries showed that excessive focus on negative events is the single largest predictor of depression and stress.

But there are actions that overthinkers can take to rid themselves of obsessive thoughts.

When someone gets stuck in an excessive thinking cycle, it can be helpful to step back and monitor the situation objectively to “short circuit” intrusive thought patterns, according to Sawchuk.

He suggests that people write down their fears and doubts about the situation and ask “Is there a different way to look at this? Is there a less bad way this could happen? Do I think this is true or do I know it is true? Right?” Do I have any objective evidence to confirm this ?”

The goal here, he says, is to “question the ideas” that make you think so much.

More and better communication

Even with remote work, professionals can schedule more casual conversations with bosses and colleagues. They can create windows to allow for more contextual communication (such as a phone call or video call) that provides a better reading of the other person’s mood to reduce ambiguity causing anxiety.

But experts also say remote managers need to communicate more effectively to eliminate any anxiety that might harm employees.

“Even before the pandemic, managers overestimated their visibility and the volume of their communications,” Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks says. He explains that if managers do not communicate with employees – especially remote ones – often, it can cause eroding feelings among professionals, such as not belonging to a group.

Sanchez-Burks advises that managers really need to “increase their communication to be able to communicate adequately”.

For Melanie Brucks, the way people communicate via text can also be improved. Now is the time to change the rules and ‘insert them’ [na comunicação por texto] More information and less ambiguity.”

Remote teams should communicate not only frequently, but more informatively than blunt one-line emails. Studies show that even emojis can help with this task.

But while communication can always be improved, people who think a lot need to have a place where they can make peace with mystery – especially in today’s times.

According to Craig Suchuk, “one of the consequences of ‘remote working’ is that we have brought more uncertainty into the picture.”

This text was originally published here.

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