What Happens To Your Thinking When You Are Stressed Out?

During this past week a number of my clients reported being stressed out at work.  I was surprised that tensions were so high given that it is summer, a time usually filled with patio networking lunches, and catching up with clients and colleagues.  This year it seems that many of my clients are going through mergers, company-wide systems integrations, or they are being pushed outside their comfort zone due to a recent promotion.  The lazy days of summer are long gone, or never quite arrived.
As a coach it never fails that when stress at work runs high, so do my client’s thinking distortions.  It is a time when clients become convinced that everyone in the meeting is going to laugh at them when they fumble their way through a high pressure presentation, or they become worried that they don’t have what it takes to live up to their excellent reputation now that they are promoted into a new role.  Or, they become convinced that their perspective is absolutely the right way to do things, regardless of all the resistance they are encountering.
So, what happens to your thinking when you get stressed? Take a quick inventory of these common cognitive distortions.  It is helpful to know your thinking distortions because they usually exacerbate yours stress.  If you understand them, you can catch them before they throw you off your game.
• Mind-reading: In this type of thinking, you assume you know what another person is thinking (or will think) even though you have no clear evidence to back up your assumptions. When you’re mind-reading, you almost always assume that what someone is thinking about you is negative. For example, are you sure you know what your boss thinks of you?  Or, are you guessing?
• Minimization: If you use minimization when making sense of events, you tend to shrink the importance of some events, which deserve far more weight than you give them.  For example, if you get your 360 feedback results you may minimize the positive feedback, or your achievements, and only focus on the development gaps.
Emotional reasoning: This is probably one of the most common in my analytical clients.  Here, you draw conclusions from how you feel which may not be accurate. That is, you interpret your emotions as evidence of some general truth.  For example, if you feel anxiety about your job, you may believe there is a genuine threat, instead of understanding that your anxiety is due to how you are interpreting your feelings.
Black and white thinking - Here, you look at people or situations as all good, or all bad.  You are a total success, or a total failure.  You are 100% right, or 100% wrong.  In reality, there is usually more complexity to the situation.  You may have part of it right, and part of it wrong, or you may have been successful with some part of the assignment and not others.
• Fairness Error - In fairness error we tend to judge peoples actions by what we think is fair or not fair.  We feel resentful when someone does not act towards us in a way that we think is fair.  Their version of what is fair is probably different from our version of what is fair.  For example, "If my boss really cared about how employees, he would implement our ideas."
Source:  Cognitive Biases, Harvard Edu, PDF Handout