How To Keep Stress From Ruining Your Career

Photo: Nick Starichenko /
Content, confident, relaxed woman walks in the city

What do you experience during a stressful situation in the workplace? 

It is quite likely you will find it difficult to think clearly, make decisions, and problem-solve. 

Why is this? When the brain senses a threat or perceives a threat, this triggers the fight-or-flight response even if there is no immediate danger. This is our survival instinct kicking in. The limbic system is responsible for the fight-or-flight response which is triggered by unhelpful thinking patterns during difficult situations.

Organizations often focus on productivity rather than prioritizing employee wellbeing. Stressful working environments reduce productivity because your overall physical and mental well-being impacts how you respond to stress.

It is our thinking patterns that drive the level of stress we experience. Our thoughts drive our emotions and actions. Let us take a moment to unpack this. 

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Have you noticed what you are thinking during a difficult situation?

For example, when you think about something someone has said to you which makes you feel upset, what do you do?

You can learn to build helpful thinking patterns during difficult situations by increasing your mental fitness. When you experience stress, you have weaker control over your thoughts because your brain is in a stressed state which is triggered by the limbic system. 

Increasing your mental fitness tightens the control of your thoughts. 

Instead of focusing on what someone has said to you which has made you feel upset, angry, or frustrated, you can control your response to what they said. Mental fitness is about taking control of how you respond by building tighter control of your thoughts.

Do you really want someone else to control how you feel? 

The prefrontal cortex is responsible for tighter control of your thoughts during difficult situations. Strengthening the prefrontal cortex is like building your physical fitness. Increasing your mental fitness takes practice and builds over time. This is because the brain needs to create new neural pathways to change the way it responds to difficult situations by building habits in mental fitness.

Reframing your perception of a difficult situation is an evidence-based technique and a great way to increase your mental fitness. 

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You can practice these 3 simple steps during difficult situations:

1. Notice your thoughts and write these down.

Are they negative? Are they positive? What triggered those thoughts?

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2. Challenge these thoughts.

Are they based on past experiences or facts? What influenced them and how can you identify the truth?

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3. Create a realistic alternative viewpoint.

What is your new realistic interpretation of the situation? What is really happening?

Try practicing this 3-step framework to increase your focus in the workplace. If you are seeking to build habits in mental fitness, please contact me to learn more.

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Catherine Wood is an executive well-being coach. She helps corporate leaders to build resilience and self-awareness, and increase their mental fitness through executive wellbeing coaching.