Positive thinking at work: not the antidote to stress

Positive thinking at work: not an antidote for stress - counselling hove


I’ve been enjoying this article by Alexander Kjerulf about how taking positive thinking to extremes in work situations backfires. His piece talks about five areas where positive thinking is problematic:

  • Faking emotions at work is stressful
  • Positive thinking makes it even worse for people who are unhappy at work
  • Negative emotions are a natural part of work
  • Positive thinking can contribute to quelling dissent and ignoring problems in the workplace
  • Trying to force yourself to be positive, makes you unhappy

These statements all ring true for me, both in terms of personal experience but also because they speak to being authentic in the workplace.

It’s normal that we wear masks in life – there is that part we keep hidden from others, even those closest to ourselves; and of course there remains a part hidden to ourselves, the unconscious.

But in the work context, the masks are more prevalent and perhaps concrete. How much of  all the aspects of yourself do you reveal at work?

It strikes me, that we when we can be more authentic at work (well in life generally) not only do we feel better about ourselves, but we tend to have better work relationships.

If you were sitting next to someone who told you they were fine, but secretly was holding on to the fact they had lost a close relative that week, how would you feel if you found out? Shut out? Shocked at not knowing something so important?

Sometimes the pressure to be ‘ok’ can be so high, that the masks we put on become deadening. And the trouble with deadening is that all our feelings become deadened, not just the ones we are trying to filter out.

To me, that sounds like a recipe for unhappiness and in the longer term depression. I don’t have any answers here, but I do feel strongly, that the more authentic we can be, bringing more of our complex, rich selves to work, both the closer we feel to others, but also the more we feel ok about ourselves at work. That must be down partly to the culture of the workplace, social norms and personal choice. What do you think? Does this ring any bells for you?


If you’re always putting pressure on yourself to be positive, check out this blog post on  the downside people pleasing.

And have a look at this great review on the effects of both positive and negative thinking from Healthambition.com.

Photo by SirHenryB licensed under creative commons.