Struggling with self-doubt? Here's how to tackle a confidence crisis at work

Ever find yourself stuck in a spiral of thinking you’re rubbish at everything, you’ll never succeed, and you should just give up and accept a life of doing nothing?

If so, you might be experiencing a confidence crisis.

A confidence crisis is, as the name suggests, when you experience a serious, dramatic loss in confidence and self-belief.

You’re likely to feel filled with self-doubt, worrying that you’re completely incapable.

It’s super common, and while a confidence crisis can strike any target – ranging from body image to sporting kills – it’s oh so often experienced in the realm of work.

Why? It can be down to all sorts of reasons. Poor results at work (a dip in profits, or site traffic, or whatever metric you’re judged on), a lack of feedback, burnout, and workplace gaslighting, for example.

Once you’re deep in the confidence crisis hole, it can feel impossible to get out. But don’t panic – we’ve spoken to experts to create a crisis plan.

Be aware of what’s happening

The first step to tackling a confidence crisis is acknowledging that it’s happening.

‘If your levels of confidence have changed significantly, and it’s impacting you negatively this can point to an ongoing issue that might need addressing,’ explains Counselling Directory member Andrew Harvey, who notes that the key is spotting the difference between a one-off bad day and an ongoing struggle.

‘That voice in your head telling you you aren’t “enough” goes from loud to deafening and you start to second guess everything you’re doing,’ says career coach Claudine Robson.

‘You start to overthink small tasks which are normally routine and thoughts of work can dominate your mind.

‘There are physical signs, too — interrupted sleep, a change in appetite and even a change in posture from alert and upright to defeated and slumped.’

Analyse the why

Has something prompted this feeling? Is there a particular issue making you doubt yourself?

‘It’s wise to look around you,’ Andrew tells Metro.co.uk. ‘What’s changed? When did this confidence crisis begin? Has something happened? Are you assessing your ability based on one or two aspects of your work – and is that wise?

‘It’s a good idea to talk it through with someone you trust – this often helps to identify what might be happening.’

Change of any kind can often trigger a dip in confidence, even when it’s a ‘good’ change, such as a promotion or a new project.

Take a deeper look to see if there are any clear triggers, so you can then work on combatting those individually.

‘Many things can trigger a confidence crisis,’ Claudine explains. ‘Some common triggers include snide comments, working in an unsupportive culture, being promoted too soon, a culture clash between you and your company.

‘People can also develop a confidence crisis when they’re overqualified for a role as when it’s not challenging work they start to sleepwalk through it, making silly mistakes, which then undermine confidence.

‘There can also been deeper issues at play, like untreated trauma, loneliness and isolation at work, or diversity issues impacting a sense of self-worth.’

Break the pattern

Once you’re in a confidence crisis, you get stuck in a self-defeating loop.

‘When people’s confidence is low, they might start paying extra attention to things that might reinforce their lack of self belief,’ notes Andrew, ‘noticing every little struggle they might have and discounting their strengths.

‘This becomes reinforcing of their lack of self belief and undermines their confidence.’

Simply acknowledging that you’re spiralling, and that your harsh self-criticism isn’t actually based in reality, can make a huge difference.

Then, it’s about countering that negative self-talk – you know, that running monologue in your head that says you’re awful, you’re going to fail, blah blah blah.

Each time your brain pipes up with that sort of thing, take the time to consciously correct it with some opposing evidence.

If you’re thinking you’re terrible at a certain aspect of your job, for example, take a moment and remember your successes. Remind yourself that you have this job for a reason, you’ve nailed things before, and you’ll do so again.

‘Take a step back and try to objectively look at the situation from the outside,’ advises Claudine. ‘Acknowledge all the brilliant things you do but usually overlook.

‘Remind yourself of who you are, how far you’ve come and where you’re going. If you’re off track, take steps to get back into your groove.’

Get some perspective from an outside source

It can help to talk to someone outside of your own brain, to help rationalise some of that negative chatter.

Perhaps ask your manager for a one-on-one so you can get some proper feedback, if you’ve been left to wonder whether you’re getting it all wrong.

Or, chat with a friend entirely outside of your workplace, so you can talk them through what’s happening and they can provide a more distanced view – which will often be something along the lines of ‘nope, you’re not rubbish, it sounds like you’re doing great but are perhaps just overworked’.

Fix the obvious triggers

Once you’ve analysed the causes of your confidence crisis, you can start clearing the obstacles in your path.

If you reckon self-doubt is down to a lack of feedback, for example, it’s worth chatting with senior members of your workplace about how to remedy this and boost morale across the board. Maybe they could arrange a weekly catch-up to check in on how you’re getting on, or just make a conscious effort to give you some praise when you smash it.

If you’re doubting your skills or don’t feel capable, try asking for help to make sure you feel totally comfortable doing tasks, whether that’s training or just a confirmation from a co-worker that yes, that is the best way to do that thing.

If it’s down to an unhealthy workplace, it might be time to talk to HR. If your confidence crisis was triggered by overworking and unreasonable deadlines, it’s time to set some boundaries. If it’s due to a change in expectations, chat with your boss about exactly what they’re after and how your success will be measured. You get the idea.

For those who are planning to talk with someone at work, Claudine recommends writing out a clear plan of what you think might help.

‘Before you talk to a manager, it helps to go with some sketch of a plan as to what you need to bounce back out of your slump – go with solutions and, if you can’t go with solutions, go with a diagnosis of cause,’ she says.

Find confidence outside of work

A tricky message to accept, but an important one: Your self-worth shouldn’t be based entirely in your career.

When your confidence in your work dips, it can infect all areas of your life, making you feel like a total failure.

To tackle this, it’s vital to do some stuff that’s not for your work, but for you, and to acknowledge the accomplishment of that.

Maybe you could try picking up a new creative hobby, or get into fitness, or take on a DIY project.

Give yourself some non-work goals and get in some easy wins to boost your confidence and stop your office life being all-consuming.

Make a list of past successes

It’s easy to dismiss all the great stuff you’ve done and fixate on that one mistake, that one criticism, or that one bit of work that just wasn’t up to your usual standards.

Take some time to actually gather up some of your best bits.

Plus, look at the times that things went wrong… but you kept going.

‘Sometimes remembering when you have overcome struggles like this before can be helpful,’ says Andrew. ‘How did you do that? Or if you haven’t, what would you suggest to someone you care about?’

Fake it ’til you make it

It might sound ridiculous, but sometimes just pretending to be filled with self-belief can trick your brain into feeling confident again.

‘There is some merit in faking it til you make it,’ says Claudine. ‘Adopting a power pose and faking confidence has been scientifically proven to alter your hormonal state, increasing testosterone and reducing cortisol. But it takes a bit of practice not to feel a total fraud – push past that feeling if you can.’

Compassion is key

Build self-compassion as though it’s a muscle. At first you’ll have to do it consciously, each time reminding yourself to be kinder and more gentle. But eventually, it will become a habit.

‘Maybe think about how you would help a friend dealing with this struggle,’ says Andrew. ‘Make room for any difficult thoughts and feelings, and do what is important to you.’

Take a break

When was the last time you took some holiday?

Sometimes all you need to reboot your confidence is some time away from the situation, where you can give your brain a bit of a rest.

Ensure you’re leaving work on time and keeping your weekends for yourself, rather than letting them get consumed by Sunday scaries.

‘A break is as good as a rest – so the saying goes,’ Claudine says. ‘It’s a bit like a scab – if you stop picking and poking it for a while it’ll heal.

‘A break could be as simple as doing something that makes you feel ‘light’ again — a gym class, a drink with friends and so on.’

Up your skills

Few things bridge a confidence gap quite like learning something new.

If you’re feeling self-doubt in your capabilities, why not try upping your skill level or adding a new one to your arsenal?

Don’t worry if it’s not directly related to your work – mastering any new skill will give you a little boost.

Check in with yourself

Are you miserable at work because of a momentary blip or an easily fixable change, or is there something about your job that makes you constantly feel awful?

It might be time to ask yourself these questions, and seriously assess if this is the role for you.

Claudine tells us: ‘Check your passion and values are in alignment with your job. If they’re not, look for ways you can incorporate or introduce your raison d’être to work.

‘When we feel we’re adding value by working towards a meaningful purpose we reach ‘flow’ faster. Flow is the good drug – adrenaline, dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin – which makes us feel as though we are on top of the world and can achieve anything.’

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Don’t get stuck in that trap of thinking you’re the only one feeling like this, or that you’re silly for getting so bothered by little things.

A confidence crisis can be completely debilitating, and there should be no shame in seeking support.

If chatting with someone in your workplace doesn’t feel doable, talk to a friend about how you’re feeling, or go to a counsellor or coach.

‘Whatever you do, don’t bury your head in the sand, as this will propel a minor set back into full blown anxiety and even depression,’ says Claudine.

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