As we learned from our blog post on the stress paradox, what you believe about stress and the assumptions that live inside your mind, make all the difference when it comes to your lived experiences.
If you choose to frame stress as being a driver for building mental fortitude and improving performance, vs being debilitating and illness-provoking, you will be able to redefine your experience of stress and how you act and react under it.
The same thing applies to your role as a leader. When you can reframe workplace stress as helpful rather than harmful for your team, you will help them grow and thrive even in the toughest of circumstances.
Before you can lead others, though, you must first learn to lead yourself.
Mastering stress begins with developing your own adaptive mindset and learning to regulate your threat response to stressful or unexpected situations.
This might seem impossible at first, given everything that you’ve been through in the last few years, and from the perspective of your mind, feeling trapped in this state only makes sense.
Why am I feeling trapped?
Your brain is designed to ensure our survival. As a result, it’s continually scanning for threats and problems. When you encounter a situation that your brain perceives to be threatening, you can easily slip into reactive ways of responding.
The part of your brain that detects threats is the amygdala, two small almond-shaped
regions that are part of the limbic system. If a potential threat is detected, your amygdalae work with other brain regions like the sensory cortex, sensory thalamus and hippocampus to evaluate and respond to the threat.
The activation of this threat detection system commands attention and diverts resources that would otherwise be available for more creative thinking. In conditions of chronic stress or threat, this can result in an exponential degradation of your capacity to learn, innovate or deal with complexity. Being stuck in a chronic threat state can also cause you to rigidly adhere to old patterns that subconsciously seek safety.
When you feel threatened, even if the feeling is subconscious, your capacity for relating, revealing, learning and achieving is greatly diminished. If the feeling of threat persists for long periods of time, you may start to slip into a feeling of burnout, overwhelm and hopelessness.
Managing your threat response through a growth mindset
When you’re operating in endlessly uncertain circumstances where cause and effect have broken down, and stress never stops piling up, achieving clear outcomes or deliverables can be challenging.
On top of that, if you're stuck in a fixed mindset, trying to do things the way they've always been done, not achieving your outcomes can be immensely frustrating and overwhelming.
However, managing your threat response and leading effectively through these murky waters can be done if you adopt a growth mindset that focuses less on achieving specific goals and more on continual progress and improvement.
At first, adopting a growth mindset might be very confronting to your sense of status or expertise. A growth mindset pushes you to challenge your assumptions and move beyond your comfort zone, and it also forces you to step back from assuming that your personal bias and viewpoint are correct.
Remember, building an adaptive mindset isn’t a sprint you need to complete right now - it’s a marathon. And like any good marathon runner will tell you, the first thing you need to do before you even start training is shift your mindset towards what you want to accomplish.
You're already beginning the process by telling yourself that you’re ready to work on building an adaptive mindset.
Think through the questions below. They will help you to get a sense for where your mind is at now, help your subconscious frame where you want to go, and set the stage for a growth mindset.
- Think about the stories you tell yourself about your day and your work. Now take one of the stories you tell yourself and reframe it in a positive way.
- Consider if you view stress generally as helpful or as a hindrance. Now take one negative stressor from your life and consider how you might be able to convert it into a helpful stressor.
- If workplace stress is negatively impacting your personal life, confront this and think about how you would like that to change.
- Think about how you regulate your threat response in a stressful or unexpected situation. Is this the ideal way for you to react, or would you like to be able to respond differently?
- When an unexpected or stressful situation arises, can you move from a threatened, reactive state to a creative one where you are open to problem-solving?
- Do you feel as though you have the tools and techniques you need to manage stress when it pops up in your day?
- When something unexpected happens, how do you react? Is this how you want to react?
- Do you believe that you control your circumstances or that your circumstances control you? Even in the most uncertain of situations, the only thing you control is yourself. Can you identify a recent situation where you could have improved your reaction?