Long before the pandemic, remote employees were already more likely to report feeling left out and unsupported. But now, with an increased number of people who work from home plus the isolation, higher workloads, more things to juggle especially if you’re a parent due to school closure and more stress than ever before, it’s no wonder why paranoia continues to rise. This is especially true for those who identify as a sensitive striver — a high-achiever who processes the world more deeply. Under stress, your natural perceptiveness can morph into overthinking and self-doubt.
According to Mental Health America, paranoia involves intense anxious or fearful feelings and thoughts often related to persecution, threat, or conspiracy. The state of mind occurs in many mental disorders but is most often present in psychotic disorders. Paranoia can become delusions when irrational thoughts and beliefs become so fixed that nothing (including contrary evidence) can convince a person that what they think or feel is not true.
Melody Wilding in this article writes how paranoia can lead you to fill in the blanks when someone doesn’t respond to an email or message, assuming it’s because your work isn’t up to snuff. When a colleague is looped into a project, perhaps you worry they’ll take over versus welcoming teamwork. And maybe when your boss asks you not to attend a meeting, it’s because she doesn’t believe in you rather than an effort to protect your time.
While remote work does pose difficulties, it’s possible to take your power back from paranoia. We compiled how to get off track and back to what you do best at work.
Proactively set expectations with your manager and colleagues around communication style, decision-making processes, conflict management.
One way to make expectations explicit is through a list of a formal team working agreements that specify guidelines for positive collaboration (reply to messages within 24 hours, listen with an open mind, speak on behalf of yourself, etc.). Another tool is to complete a “user manual” that outlines factors like your work hours, how you learn best, and things you struggle with.
Don’t add everything to your plate.
Know your job descriptions and expectations from your role well. Look for meetings you can eliminate or cancel. Consider delegating attendance to a direct report or collaborator who can take notes and report back to you so you don’t get too involved in micromanaging. Cutting the cord in this way should feel uncomfortable.
Don’t take it too personally.
Remember that paranoia mostly hits the sensitive striver type because the empathy levels are likely off the charts. That level of emotional depth can be both a gift and a burden. On the one hand, you’re skilled at sensing others’ needs and probably have a strong pulse on morale. But on the flip side, you might take other people’s behavior too personally. You might misread a throwaway comment as an insult, for example.
The next time you find yourself gripped by paranoia, channel your empathic powers for good. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and ask what might be leading to their reaction. What’s the most generous interpretation of their behavior? If it’s still a struggle for you to figure out, think if they would even pay that much attention if the email that you recently sent to a client had missed a period at the end of the last sentence.
Clock out your anxieties.
Without proper boundaries, paranoia can interfere with your hours. Four out of five workers currently find it hard to “shut off” in the evenings. This statistic underscores why it’s essential to mentally disconnect and detach from worries at the end of the day.
In your mind, but stressful situations from your day into an imaginary backpack that you shrug off and leave in the corner of your home office overnight. Alternatively, if you prefer to make this exercise concrete, draw a rectangle on paper and scribble down your concerns. Tear up the paper and throw it away, symbolically disconnecting from the day as you do.
While being vigilant and attuned to the goings-on at work can be a competitive advantage, if taken too far, it can devolve into paranoia and paralyze you. With the right effort, you can manage your mind more effectively, even amid the challenges remote work poses.