Stress isn’t the problem — the way you react to it is. As you transition into a management position, don’t let stress keep you from being a great leader. Try these stress-reducing tips.
Think back to the last few years of your career. You’ve likely been in a work situation where your emotions got the best of you, or experienced a time when you were so overwhelmed that you felt paralyzed. This feeling is typical for many professionals, especially those transitioning from entry-level to a management position.
Evolution is to blame for this reaction to stress. Our brains developed for survival: people needed to pay attention to threats and avoid them. If a neighboring tribe invaded, our ancient ancestors experienced a surge of negative emotion that prompted them to fight or flee.
The amygdala is that part of our brain that serves as an alarm system — it fires when we feel threatened, releasing adrenaline and other stress hormones into our system. In modern times, threats are more psychological in nature — threats to our sense of control or self-esteem, for example — but our primitive amygdala response still has a strong influence.
Fortunately, our brains have continued to evolve and the logical, rational part of our brains can be trained to exert control over the amygdala during stressful times. Here are tips to enhance an adaptive mindset. These tips are geared towards helping you overcome reactive responses to stress and develop the calm, rational brain required of a great leader: (Click here to tweet this list.)
1. Practice mindfulness
Our brains are constantly producing negative thoughts about ourselves and others, and we have a habit of reliving the past or ruminating about the future. The network of brain regions that generate this thinking originally developed to help us plan tasks, review the past and improve future behavior.
But as the brain evolved, some of these brain functions could go too far and cause suffering. We seldom live in the present moment, which is why researchers highly suggest practicing mindfulness.
Mindfulness is directing our attention to the present moment. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings with acceptance, without judging them as good or bad.
Meditation is one form of mindfulness. People who meditate demonstrate greater connectivity between their prefrontal cortex and their limbic system. The structural connection between these two brain regions allows the “thinking” brain to calm the “feeling” brain.
Meditation has also been shown to reduce stress, generate greater emotional stability and sharpen the mind.
2. Know your emotional hot buttons
To increase your emotional awareness, write down your emotional triggers: what causes you to feel stressed, frustrated or angry. Triggers aren’t always major events, such as arguments with a co-worker; they can also be small disturbances, like unwelcome noise from the hallway outside your office.
A full awareness of your triggers is critical because it’s the first step to understanding your emotions. Once you understand the sources of your difficult emotions, you can take steps to manage your environment, regulate your emotions and tamp down your stress response.
3. Analyze first to avoid over-reacting
Sometimes we misinterpret events or jump to conclusions, which leads to needless fear and worry. You can counteract this tendency by slowing down and mentally reframing your thoughts and beliefs.
Whenever you experience a strong negative emotion, such as anger or anxiety, pause before allowing the emotion to control your behavior. Do a reality check.
By reappraising your thoughts and interpretations of events, you force the logical and reasoning part of the brain to solve a problem. This inhibits the amygdala from releasing adrenaline and other stress hormones that result in strong emotions. It also results in a much more accurate understanding of external events.
4. Challenge your self-talk
Research shows that people speak to themselves endlessly, using hundreds of words every minute. Humans have a bias toward negative thinking rather than positive thinking. If much of what you say to yourself is negative, it’ll affect your outlook.
If you step back and watch these thoughts, evaluate them and correct them so they’re more realistic, this can change how you view yourself and the world, and how you respond to stress.
Stress isn’t the problem; it’s the way you react to it. By following these tips you’ll learn to better control your emotional response during stressful times.
Dr. Natalie Wolfson is an Organizational Research Consultant for The TRACOM Group, a leading workplace performance company best known for development of the world-famous SOCIAL STYLE Model™, a proven model for building interpersonal and leadership skills. For more on resiliency, watch this short video or learn more about stress management through TRACOM’s Adaptive Mindset program.