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Pressed, Stressed, or a Hot Mess? Practice Cognitive Flexibility

What stresses you out most? The Careerstone team will go first: 

• Lack of timely responses
• Work overload
• Multiple concurrent deadlines
• Inconsistent communication
• Unclear expectations and guidelines

Sound familiar? Whether you share these work stressors or experience others, we all have differing degrees of stress and many factors contribute to how we it and develop strategies for resilience.

Research shows that what separates the stress tolerant individual from the perennially stressed-out person often comes down to cognitive flexibility, defined by the American Psychological Association as the “capacity for objective appraisal and appropriately flexible action,” cognitive flexibility is a form of mental adaptability that can help us both manage and minimize stress. How hard can that be, right?

The good news is that, unlike IQ, or having a great memory, cognitive flexibility is a facet of emotional intelligence that can be developed with practice. Working on a few of these skills can help develop your cognitive flexibility and manage your stress.

Develop Emotional Agility — Many of us must navigate uncertain business environments and all of us must weather rapid and ubiquitous change. These common stressors can send us spinning: Is my job secure? What does my new boss really think of my work?  How will I do this without my trusted team of ten years?  Improving on our emotional agility can help. To be clear, this isn’t Pollyanna or “the power of positive thinking.” Quite the opposite: It requires us to name and accept negative emotions, and then helps us detach from them so we can invest precious inner resources in problem solving.

Start by identifying the unpleasant physical sensations that come with your stress and its attendant worry, sadness, anger, frustration, or whatever you’re experiencing. Know that your rapid heartbeat and sweaty forehead are a necessary but involuntary and evolutionary protective mechanism, that gives you important data about your environment—the infamous “fight or flight” response. Then, remember they don’t control you. Watch them come, and watch them go, and then start exploring solutions.  How can you reframe your challenges as opportunities? Who are your trusted, go-to advisors to help you decide what to do next? Resolve to “control the controllables,” and start racking up some small wins.

Seek Multiple Perspectives — Work stressors such as multiple looming deadlines or numerous failed attempts at producing a quality outcome can paralyze us from creative thought and meaningful action, only further delaying our work and exacerbating our stress. If you find yourself stuck in place, look elsewhere for a fresh take or some inspiration. Please, take a brisk walk to clear your head. Then reach out to trusted colleagues to help you brainstorm new ways of seeing your situation and different approaches to the work or problem at hand. A diversity of viewpoints always leads to a better decision. You might also try asking yourself what you would tell a friend or colleague if they brought this stressful situation to you. What would your best advice be?

Get Creative — If you’re asking yourself if you’re stressed because you’re stuck or stuck because you’re stressed, the answer is probably, yes. To get unstuck, first go do anything else that stimulates your mind and senses. As the internet admonishes us regularly, go touch grass. Do a crossword puzzle or catch up on Wordle. If you paint, paint. If you doodle, doodle. Then get to work organizing your thoughts and planning. Perhaps you want to try design thinking techniques. If you’re a visual thinker, then try a mind map. Or, maybe a good, old fashioned brainstorm session is what you need? Start exploring and experimenting.

Whatever stresses you out at work, whatever you’re hoping to improve as a team or a leader, we’ve got you! Our work focuses on the very things that likely create stress in your work. Getting constructive feedback: stressful. Giving constructive feedback: stressful. Managing change: don’t get us started. Operating as a happy, high-functioning hybrid team across global time zones and disparate work styles: Yikes! We also offer stress management and resilience training. Let us know how we can help.

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