The way we work has changed dramatically in the last few weeks. Under the lockdown, those of us who can are working from home and all interaction with colleagues and bosses has turned virtual.
For some people, working from home is a welcome change from busy commutes and stuffy office meeting rooms. For others, though, the switch to remote working is less than ideal. Our routines have been upended, the distinction between work and home has been blurred and dealing with frozen screens and sound issues is frustrating and exhausting.
It can be hard to adapt when our work landscape suddenly changes. And when we’re isolated from co-workers, friends and family, negative thoughts can run wild – and lead us to question our skills and abilities.
Many people struggle with imposter syndrome; the feeling you’re inadequate and going to be unmasked as a fraud at any moment, despite overwhelming evidence saying otherwise. So why do we doubt ourselves when working from home – and how can we stop it?
“Depending on perspective, we may just have a lot more time to think – or less time with so much going on. For a lot of people, this means that thoughts can’t be processed in the same way as normal,” says Gemma Leigh Roberts, a chartered organisational psychologist and founder of Career Compass Club.
“Experiencing a lack of control over the situation people find themselves in can prompt feelings of self-doubt. When the power to direct your destiny is taken away, it can make you question why you’re not able to take control of the situation, and whether that’s a reflection of your abilities or skills.”
It can be difficult to feel motivated and productive when there’s a global health crisis. Projects and meetings may seem far less important when we’re preoccupied with worries about vulnerable friends and family, our job security and the future. It is not an easy time, but we may still feel useless for getting less done than usual. And being alone for long periods of time makes it far easier to pay attention to your inner critic.
For those who struggle with anxiety already, the fast-changing environment can exacerbate stress or anxious feelings too. “This can lead to worry, and questioning whether we have the abilities or skills to deal with the challenges faced,” Roberts says.
It’s not easy to challenge feelings of self-doubt, but there are some steps you can take to boost your self-esteem and confidence.
“The first thing is to switch your mindset to play to your strengths and dial down the focus on your development areas for now,” Roberts says. “You can start by asking people you’ve worked with, or even loved ones, what they think your strengths are. Even if you’re not in the mood, or you’re not sure how it will be useful, give it a go. The feedback might pleasantly surprise you.”
It’s also important to give yourself space away from work. Under the lockdown, many people are spending longer at our desks – but taking time off is essential. “It’s proven that when we allow ourselves to zone out, it has a positive impact on productivity and creativity, which in turn helps towards tackling self-doubt,” Roberts says.
Learning or reading something or taking a course can help you take control of the situation and boost your confidence, which will have a positive impact on your sense of worth. “Do something that makes you feel like you’re making progress,” Roberts says.
“You need challenges to grow and develop, so try to view challenges and discomfort as an opportunity to slowly step outside of your comfort zone and emerge stronger, more self-aware and more confident. No one has all the answers, just trust you can find them.”
Perhaps most importantly, be kind to yourself. Even the most accomplished people have periods where they feel incompetent. It’s also easy to make mistakes or be unproductive when there is so much going on around you – we’re only human.
“I always ask clients would you talk to your best friend the way you talk to yourself? Then think about things you’ve achieved in the past,” Roberts says.
“The likelihood is that at least some of these achievements weren’t easy, and you had to learn about yourself or make mistakes along the way. Remind yourself that despite the obstacles, you achieved something at the end of it. Apply that frame of mind to the present to acknowledge that you don’t necessarily have the answers, but you have the ability to find them.”