When something goes wrong during your day, be it a computer glitch that stops you from accomplishing your work, or a car that won’t start when you need to get to work, do you tend to have a usual response, like,
- Life is so unfair.
- Why do these problems always happen to me?
- My boss doesn’t like me, and I can’t stand her.
In the case of your car not starting, maybe you go to an extreme reaction, like thinking you’ll have to buy a whole new car, instead of just a new battery.
When we get upset, it is very common to lose control over our emotions. We cannot really think clearly. Have you ever said to yourself, “I was so angry, I couldn’t think straight”? Or, after an argument, have you ever thought, “I wish I had said...”? This is the common reaction in which we allow the fear center of our brain, the amygdala, to take control.
This process is commonly referred to as distorted thinking. Your reactions tend to become exaggerated over-reactions or over-generalizations. This type of reaction is referred to as a cognitive distortion, cognitive meaning the act of thinking or reasoning. In other words, cognitive distortions are essentially irrational, inaccurate, or false beliefs or thought patterns.
We all turn to them upon occasion. We all have our personal irrational or unrealistic responses that may pop up from time to time. Your goal throughout this tool is to recognize your own individual response patterns.
There are a variety of common cognitive distortions that can arise when stressed. Some people immediately jump to conclusions, while others focus instantly on negative events, ignoring positive ones, and still others catastrophize.
We are going to focus on three common Stress Response Patterns:
- Over-reaction / exaggeration • Over-generalization
• “Should” statements
The second part of this tool teaches you how to change your reaction to the stressor. In order to combat distorted thinking, we need to learn to apply rational arguments to stressful situations. We do that through a technique I call the Reality Spin.
In technical terms this is called cognitive restructuring or cognitive reframing. The goal of this process is to challenge your distorted thinking and then convert those thoughts into a more realistic, rational response.
This is where the magic of behavior change happens. With focus and practice, you get better and better at catching yourself in the act of over-reacting and asking yourself, “is this level of anger commensurate with what is happening?” Often the answer is no, and then in the moment you can say to yourself, “It is not worth getting this upset over something so minor. I am going to stop this stinking thinking and make a decision to put myself in a better, happier mood.” At first it may not happen until after the incident or situation. But eventually you will start to catch yourself in the act sooner and sooner.
This process of stopping yourself is a very powerful step and allows you to engage your Prefrontal Cortex, the analytical, reasoning, executive functioning part of the brain.
Here are some suggested questions to ask yourself in order to apply the Reality Spin or to reframe a situation, so you can snap yourself out of emotional turmoil and replace it with calming clarity and logic:
- Am I responding emotionally or rationally?
- Am I over-reacting?
- What evidence is there that my response is accurate?
- What evidence is there that my response is appropriate?
- What else could be going on to exacerbate my emotions?
- Am I really worried or upset about something else?
- Is there another way to interpret this situation?
- What’s the worst that can happen?
- Is this really a black-and-white situation, or are there shades of grey?
This has worked for me over and over again. If I can do it, so can you.
JANICE LITVIN is on a mission to help leaders and teams banish burnout in their organizations so their employees can come to work healthy, happy and ready to work. She is a certified virtual presenter and SHRM recertification provider who teaches that replacing your employees is much more expensive and time-consuming than helping them be well.
She draws on over 20 years in the human resources field, 10 years in the IT industry, studies in psychology, and experience changing her own behavior in response to stress using cognitive behavior therapy.
Litvin coaches leaders on keeping teams happy and productive through her unique wellness strategies. Through keynotes, workshops, and accountability groups, she provides simple, easy-to-implement techniques to manage stress to prevent burnout, engage in wellness, and fall in love with fitness. The result: lasting behavior change.
Banish Burnout Toolkit™ is available on Amazon and wherever fine books are sold.