Helping Your Employees Challenge Unhealthy Thoughts

Every month, Aduro’s Content and Media Labs team produce a Hot Topic podcast. The podcast is a sample of what our members experience through their well-being program to support their overall mental health. Aduro creates interactive digital content for our members that resonates, motivates, and engages them towards making impactful positive changes in their lives.

March 2021 – Hot Topic – Challenging Your Thoughts

This month’s Hot Topic is with one of Aduro’s Mental Health Coaches. The conversation’s focus is around learning how we fall into negative thought cycles, the effects this can have, and examples of how to rethink these patterns.

As a manager,  you must understand this concept to support the mental health of your employees who may be struggling with breaking free from negative thought patterns. As you listen, take notes of ways you can bring this conversation to an employee in need. After your discussion, we recommend you share this podcast with your employee as a resource to help them break unhealthy thought patterns to develop more positive thinking, and feel better, more often.

Key takeaways to support your employees:

We lead busy lives. Many thoughts are happening fast, often too many, for our brain to properly process and manage. We have to make it easier on our brain – so we form habits or patterns of thoughts. Think of a thought pattern as a shortcut for the brain to move toward action faster.

“When I’m sad, I do this. When I’m frustrated, I do that.”

No matter what the situation is, we follow our pattern. It’s important to remember—we filter our thoughts by attaching feelings to them, and that feeling sends us to our predictable pattern.

While this process can help manage the level of stimulation we receive, it’s essential to understand that the mental shortcuts we create can cause problems—we may make inaccurate assumptions that don’t align with reality without realizing it. This leads to unhelpful thought-patterns and negative feelings—leading to feelings of hopelessness, powerlessness, and self-judgment, which can significantly impact our mental health.

When an employee’s mood is low, and self-judgment is high, it will be hard for them to operate at 100% or be productive. While each employee is unique in their experiences, unhelpful thought-patterns are pretty predictable.

Here are the examples our Mental Health Coach offers:

  • All or nothing thinking: When you see no grey area—something is always true or never true. Life is either fine or terrible. For instance, “My coworker shot down one of my ideas in a meeting. I hate my job and need a new one.”
  • Catastrophizing: Viewing small setbacks as full-blown catastrophes. For example, “I left my friend’s birthday gift at home. Now I’ve ruined the party and our friendship.”
  • Personalizing: Convincing ourselves, we are the cause of someone else’s behavior, even when there isn’t any evidence. For example, “My mom hasn’t responded to my text. I must have made her mad.”
  • And of course, Should-ing: Using “should” and “must” statements that push you to think you have to be or act a certain way, based on a strict personal or social standard. For example, “My friend asked me to host her baby shower. I should do it and must make it the best party ever, or else I’m a bad friend.”

What is important to remind your employees is that these thought-patterns are a normal part of being human!

Tools to help employees to improve unhelpful thought-patterns

The good news is that new mental pathways and patterns can be created; it just takes a little practice.

Here are the initial steps:

  1. Slow down. It is essential to recognize that these negative thoughts are not facts. Ask yourself, is this true, or is it an assumption or form of self-judgment?
  2. Assumption of self-judgment Try a different thought and see how you feel. Do you feel better? Or do at least feel more in control?
  3. Repeat. Do this every time you recognize your patterns. Catch yourself and create a replacement or alternative thought that takes you down a different path.

To take the practice further, begin keeping a record of these thought patterns. Steps to start a Thought Record:

  1. Write down your initial thought. What is the first thing that crossed your mind in this situation?
  2. Then, challenge that thought. Prove your unhelpful thought wrong by asking:
    • What facts do I have to support it?
    • What does my thought overlook or ignore?
    • What assumptions am I making?
  3. Next, write out a different way to respond to the situation that prompted your unhelpful thought.
  4. Then, write down an alternative, a helpful opinion that you can choose to have.
  5. Take a couple of notes on what you want to do next time a situation like this happens again.
  6. Lastly, check-in on your mood. Is it the same as it was when you had your initial thought? Hopefully, it should be better; if it is, you have landed on a helpful idea.

The act of writing down unhelpful thought patterns helps you to challenge them. With practice, you can create a new, healthy thought pattern that leaves you feeling good.

The most important thing to remember is to be kind to yourself—self-kindness will pave the way to new thought patterns and more positivity in your life.

If you missed February’s session about Healthy Screen Time for Kids, click here to gain more guidance on encouraging healthy habits for the kids in your life.