Know Your Stress – Spin Your Stress is the second tool in my book, Banish Burnout Toolkit. This tool is important because while it is normal to have an emotional reaction to a stressor, it can cause problems if you let the stressful feelings get too intense or linger for too long.
There are two main types of stress reactions, referred to as cognitive distortions. Cognitive means the act of thinking or reasoning. Thus, cognitive distortions are essentially irrational, inaccurate, or false beliefs or thought patterns.
The first form of distorted thinking is overreaction. Your reactions tend to become exaggerated. When we overreact, we tend to lose control, losing the ability to think clearly. That is because we let the Amygdala or fight-flight-or-freeze part of the brain take control.
One example would be: you made a mistake on an important report, presentation, or project, and you jump to the conclusion that you are going to be fired or lose out on the next promotion due to this one problem.
Another common distortion is overgeneralization. That means to take an occurrence and generalize it to become something that always happens, or never happens.
Here are some examples:
Every time I send an email to one of the leaders, my manager criticizes me.
IT Support is never available when I need them.
Sue is always late to meetings.
Put a Reality Spin to Change Your Reactions
After you’ve identified your distorted thinking, the next step is to convert the reaction to more balanced thinking. In technical terms the conversion 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 conversion helps you to calm down and take the angst out of your mind and body and replace that angst with clarity and logic.
When trying to process one of your distortions ask yourself one or more of these questions:
- Am I responding emotionally or rationally?
- Am I overreacting or overgeneralizing?
- What evidence is there that my response is accurate?
- Am I really worried or upset about something else?
- What else could be going on to exacerbate my emotions?
The conversion is where the magic of behavior change happens. With focus and practice, you get better and better at catching yourself in the act of overreacting or overgeneralizing 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 distorted thinking and make a decision to change my thoughts, my mood, and my habits.”
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.