Imagine for a moment that it’s 1:30 AM. Your room is dark. You lie in bed, pull the covers up to your face, and stare at the ceiling.
Thoughts whirl around in your mind, keeping you up even though you feel tired. Is that big decision you made yesterday going to finally put your team on the right track or will it blow up all of the progress you’ve made so far? Will you measure up to your team’s expectations? Will you have enough time to get all of your tasks done and eat lunch away from your computer?
If you see yourself in this narrative, you’re not alone. Many people find that stress at work affects their sleep and thought patterns. Some other leading signs of high stress include changes in your eating patterns, changes in your skin, heightened irritability, isolation, the use of alcohol or drugs for numbing, or a general feeling of a void of love and excitement.
At MyWellbeing—a company I founded in 2017 to help people in New York City find a therapist that’s right for them—we’ve recently learned from a quiz on our site that the vast majority of our community is experiencing moderate to severe burnout.
The good news? A number of habits and routines have been proven to help us create a healthier relationship with stress—so that it motivates us, as it’s intended to, without defining our lives or resulting in burnout.
One of those evidence-based tools, you won’t be surprised to learn, is therapy. Working with a trained professional will help you better understand yourself, your level of stress, your relationship to that stress, and what you want and need in a work environment. It can help you perform better than ever, achieve more than you thought possible, and ultimately feel more at home in your own mind and body.
Here are five ways engaging in therapy can improve your professional life:
1. You’ll Navigate Your Relationships and Environment More Smoothly
Relationships are at the core of almost everything we do. At work, for example, you need to collaborate effectively with your team. To do so, you need to understand things like:
- What role do you most often play in group dynamics?
- Which roles are most satisfying for you and which cause the most stress?
- What behaviors of others help you feel most supported?
- What behaviors of others are most triggering for you?
- What are your unique strengths?
- What are your weaknesses?
Working with a therapist will help you understand your answers to each of these questions as they relate to your personal life as well as your work life. The more you understand yourself, the more control you’ll feel over your reactions and responses and the better you’ll be able to seek personal and work environments and relationships that are fulfilling for you.
Of course, you may not always be in control of your work environment or have a chance to choose who you work with closely. But if you’re aware of your preferences and can anticipate your reactions, you’ll be taken less by surprise. You’ll be able to work with your therapist to proactively develop habits and routines that don’t compromise your health or your job. For example, if your boss says something upsetting or you’re feeling particularly frazzled because of a tense meeting with your team, you might go to the restroom or step outside afterward and do a brief breathing exercise to calm down and remind yourself that you’ll be okay.
Next time you’re job searching, you’ll also be able to keep in mind the kinds of environments and relationships you find energizing rather than draining—and screen potential bosses, teams, and companies accordingly.
2. You’ll Boost Your Communication Skills
As you learn more about the roles you’re accustomed to playing as well as your wants and needs, therapy also becomes a powerful environment to practice communicating your needs to those around you.
When you strengthen your communication skills, you can ask for what you need to do your job especially well. If your needs aren’t being met, you’ll know that’s the reason you’re stressed rather than assuming you’re inherently flawed. This can take weight off of your shoulders and improve your self-esteem over time, further reducing stress.
3. You’ll Set Healthier Boundaries
The more you understand and communicate your wants and needs, the better you’ll become at identifying non-negotiable needs you have outside of work, advocating for them, and prioritizing them.
For example, maybe you’ll realize that you need to exercise at least twice a week in order to be at your best. Now, when you’re on the treadmill or at Zumba class, you can reframe your ruminating thoughts away from, “I’m wasting time when I could be working,” to, “This is what I need to be the best teammate I can be and is, therefore, a productive investment of my time.”
You’ll also hone your ability to say “no.” It’s difficult but deeply empowering. Someone once told me that every time you say “no,” you’re adding an opportunity to say “yes” to something else. The more you understand what fuels you, the more you can say “yes” to those things and “no” to everything else.
4. You’ll Be More Productive
Studies confirm that your productivity isn’t directly correlated to the amount of time you spend working but to how efficiently you use your time. In other words, four concentrated hours of “flow,” or doing your best work, can be more meaningful than eight hours of scattered, distracted time.
To optimize time in this way, you would ideally be working on tasks that are challenging enough to excite creativity, problem-solving, and teamwork, but not so challenging that they lead to burnout. The process you’ll go through in therapy can help you understand what kinds of tasks fit in this category for you and embolden you to seek them over other assignments.
You also need to take into account your specific working styles and preferences. Do you work best early in the morning or late in the afternoon? What tends to take you out of the zone? What are the recurring thoughts and worries that distract you from paying full attention to the tasks at hand? Therapy will help you understand what you need to do and prioritize in order to focus and be productive.
Therapy is also regularly scheduled, contained catharsis and stress relief; knowing it’s always just around the corner will increase your distress tolerance between sessions. For example, if you have a fight with your boss or coworker on Tuesday, and you know you’re going to therapy on Thursday, you’ll be better able to manage the discomfort and frustration in the meantime knowing that you already have a designated time coming up to process in a safe space.
With therapy as a container, you can focus more easily during your workday, feel less distracted by ruminating thoughts and feelings, and react to stressful triggers intentionally and strategically rather than impulsively.
5. You’ll Gain a Clearer Sense of Your Values and Goals
Through therapy, you’ll slowly strengthen your sense of self and gain more clarity around your values and professional goals. As your long-term objectives become more defined, you can more easily figure out the steps you need to take in the short- and middle-term in order to achieve them.
Regularly zooming out to see the bigger picture can put individual projects and tasks in perspective and reduce the stress attached to each one. The more you feel that your day-to-day actions are contributing to a larger roadmap, the less overwhelmed and groundless you will feel, and the more momentum you’ll have to propel you forward.
It’s important to remember that while therapy is a healing and productive investment of time and resources, there are hundreds of therapy styles and forms of training out there. Not every therapist is going to resonate with you, but one (or more) will.
You want to work with a therapist with whom you feel a rapport, but that can be hard to find. While working as a therapist, I had a challenging time finding my own therapist, and I yearned for a better system. That’s exactly why I founded MyWellbeing, which is designed to match you to a therapist based on your answers to questions about logistics, style, issue areas, and identity preferences. If you prefer to start a search on your own, our team wrote this thorough guide to help you.
Because the last thing you need is for the search for a therapist to cause you more stress than you’re already experiencing.