Overcoming a confidence crisis

Recognise the signs and get an outside perspective
by Bethan Rees


A confidence crisis is when you "experience a serious, dramatic loss in confidence and self-belief", according to Ellen Scott in a Metro article. This may accompany feelings of self-doubt and leave you feeling "completely incapable", she says. These feelings of powerlessness may leave you wanting to quit your job for something easier, according to a blog for website building company Jimdo.

Under-35s in the UK are struggling with a professional confidence crisis, according to a Workplace Insight article by Jayne Smith. Referring to a September 2020 study by culture change business Utopia, which interviewed 2,000 people in the UK, workers under the age of 35 are feeling immense pressure "to hold a standard of professionalism that shuns emotions and favours traditionally masculine behaviour, while juggling responsibilities at home", Smith writes. The study finds that 54% of men and 63% of women are afraid to fail at work, and 53% of workers under 35 feel they'll be judged for being vulnerable at work.

It’s not just under-35s though, according to an article for HR Magazine by Beau Jackson. In general, those who have been working at home through the pandemic and are returning to the workplace after a year or more away are suffering from a confidence crisis, he says, backing up his words with a study published by Vodafone in May 2021. Of more than 1,000 respondents who had returned to work after working from home, 37% said they were experiencing a loss of confidence in their ability. This loss of confidence is almost twice as prevalent for women as for men, with 42% of women experiencing it compared to 24% of men, writes Jackson. 

Why is it happening?

In the Metro article, Scott quotes Counselling Directory member Andrew Harvey who says "it's wise to look around you … what's changed? When did this confidence crisis begin?"

There are many triggers for a confidence crisis. These could be a "change of any kind", Scott says. She quotes career coach Claudine Robson, who says that some common triggers include "snide comments, working in an unsupportive culture, being promoted too soon, a culture clash between you and your company … feeling overqualified for a role when it’s not challenging". Robson adds that there could be deeper issues such as "untreated trauma, loneliness and isolation at work, or diversity issues impacting a sense of self-worth".

In a Yahoo Finance article by Marie Claire Dorking, consultant psychologist Dr Elena Touroni explains that the uncertainty and upheaval of the pandemic could be to blame. "Depending on personal circumstances, the events of this past year might have also had a knock-on impact on our self-esteem. Perhaps our job’s teetering on [the] edge, our relationship has hit rocky ground … these kinds of changes are all likely to leave us feeling more vulnerable."

The article explains that vulnerability can "dent your confidence and lead you to question things you wouldn't normally feel worried about".

Dr Touroni suggests doing a daily ten minutes of mindfulness meditation. "Mindfulness allows us to become more aware of our thoughts and feelings and to see how we can become entangled in them in ways that are not necessarily helpful," she is quoted as saying.

Recognising the signs

In the Metro article, Scott says the first step to combating the crisis is to acknowledge that it's happening. She quotes Harvey, who says, "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". He explains that you need to be able to tell the difference between having a "one-off bad day" and an "ongoing struggle".

If it's an ongoing issue, you might find that you have an internal monologue telling yourself you aren't enough, and this can lead to second guessing everything, Robson says in the article.

Recognising that you're spiralling into a confidence crisis might help combat it, the Jimdo blog says. "Remember that in uncertain times, our brains have a negativity bias. They are evolved to expect the worst. This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint, but it can be paralysing when you need to go to work every day," it says. However, you shouldn't avoid all negative thoughts. By acknowledging them and then setting them aside, you can "take some power away from these scary thoughts".

"Once you’re in a confidence crisis, you get stuck in a self-defeating loop," writes Scott in the Metro article. Quoting Harvey, the article explains when confidence is low, you may start to notice every small struggle you have, and this then reinforces a lack of self-belief. Scott says: "Simply acknowledging that you’re spiralling, and that your harsh self-criticism isn’t actually based in reality, can make a huge difference."

Unhelpful thoughts

Countering negative self-talk and consciously correcting it with "some opposing evidence" can help combat a confidence crisis, says Scott. "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."

In the Yahoo Finance article, Dr Touroni says "thinking traps", which are negative thought patterns that stop us from seeing things as they are, can make us easily jump to conclusions and prevent us from seeing the bigger picture. "Get better at identifying these unhelpful thoughts when they appear, and call them out. Remind yourself that thoughts aren’t facts. Check for evidence, and ask yourself, 'is this thought I’m having a fact or is it an opinion?'"

An outside perspective

Speaking to someone else can help rationalise thoughts. In the Metro article, Scott suggests speaking to your manager to get some proper feedback "if you've been left to wonder whether you're getting it all wrong", or alternatively speaking to a friend outside of the workplace. "They can provide a more distanced view," she writes.

The Jimdo blog says reaching out to a friend can be hard "when you're feeling low", but it can really help. Tell them you're having a crisis of confidence and need help remembering that you can do this or why you wanted to do it in the first place. They might be able to remind you of qualities you have that you haven't thought of, or what your mindset was previously at work, or how you've overcome obstacles before.

Fixing triggers

If some causes of the confidence crisis are rooted in the workplace, try to address these. In the Metro article, Scott says if you think your self-doubt is due to a lack of feedback, "it's worth chatting with senior members of your workplace about how to remedy this and boost morale across the board". Alternatively, you could arrange a regular catch-up to check on your progress, Scott suggests.

If you don't feel capable at work, you could ask 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", says Scott.

If the workplace culture is getting you down, you could take this to human resources. "If your confidence crisis was triggered by overworking and unreasonable deadlines, it’s time to set some boundaries," she says. "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."

In the article Robson recommends sketching out a plan as to what you need to "bounce back out of your slump" and go into the meeting with your manager, boss or HR with solutions. Or "if you can't go in with solutions, go in with a diagnosis of the cause", advises Robson.

Seen a blog, news story or discussion online that you think might interest CISI members? Email bethan.rees@wardour.co.uk.
Published: 02 Jul 2021
  • Soft Skills
  • Covid-19
  • self-management
  • Career advice
  • workplace culture
  • mindfulness
  • mental health
  • confidence

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