#4: Stress and Your Mind- How Stress Can Trap Your Thoughts

mind productivity stress Jan 28, 2020

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I created a 3 part series to help you pinpoint how stress is affecting you so that you can start to do something about it:

Part 1: How Stress Affects Your Body

Part 2:  How Stress Affects Your Emotions

Part 3:  How Stress Affects Your Mind

Welcome to Part 3 in a three-part series designed to help you learn more about how stress is impacting you - with action steps to help you manage stress right now!

As with all of my podcasts and blogs, I am scratching the surface of concepts and theories with a bunch of science behind them so that you can see if they might work for you. 


In this episode you will learn:  

  1. How stress can affect your mind and your thoughts.
  2. What thinking traps are and how they can distract you from getting stuff done.
  3. Three strategies to start to pull yourself out of a thinking trap.   

Stress + Your Mind

Stress can affect our mind in a variety of <fun and exciting> ways.  Stress can impact our cognition - which is basically our ability to think.  Stress can help us (which we will get into in a later episode, because stress can be incredibly useful), but it can also work against us.  It can make it harder to focus. It can distract us. It can slow us down.

Sound like something that’s important as an entrepreneur?  When our brains are working at their best, we are awesome. We manage everything.  We get stuff done. We come up with new ideas. We help people. When are our brains are distracted, when they are overwhelmed, when they are exhausted - that can be a real problem for us.

It becomes even more important that our brains are working at their best when you consider: entrepreneurs and business owners are usually in charge of EVERYTHING!!! Think about that for a second.  How am I supposed to juggle the chaos of running a business if my mind is distracted?

Remember, this is just one idea about how to consider how stress and your mind interact.  I curated some the concepts that I thought would get you the most benefit for your time.


What is a negativity bias

A negativity bias is the idea that humans are predisposed towards negativity.  If we assume the worst, if we are critical of something - then we will survive.  You can read more about it in this bookNegative thoughts come to us more easily than positive ones, especially when we are stressed.

This is also why we are so good at being mean to ourselves.  Negativity is easier than positivity.  This is why we are so great at being judgemental and critical.  


What is a thinking trap

A thinking trap is basically a thought that traps us - that becomes all that we think about - that takes on a life of it's own.

"That didn't go well" >>>"That sucked">>>"That was the worst">>>"I'm the worst">>> (spent the rest of the day thinking about how much I suck)

I was introduced to the concept thinking traps, and ways to avoid them, in a course I took with Karen Reivich, a leader in the field of positive psychology and general scientific bad-ass.  You can learn more about her extensive work on the topic in her book here

As an entrepreneur, I am totally into learning about how my negative thoughts might be distracting me from focusing on doing what I love.  I find the concept of thinking traps to be incredibly valuable because it gives me a context to understand what goes on inside my head more effectively, so that I can notice when I get distracted and then do something about it. 

Here are some more examples of possible thinking traps:

Example 1:  You are leaving your sales pitch.  You prepared for this for months.  You really believe in your product/service.  You were excited and nervous to go into that room to sell.  You are leaving the room and you are exhausted from the stress of the situation, all the pressure, and you start to think to yourself, “OMG, they hated me.  They are never going to hire me. I suck. I should have done x better.  What am I even doing? I didn’t do enough”

Example 2:  You are at a networking event.  And there is someone there you are actually excited to meet - maybe you listen to their podcast or they were the speaker at the event.  You go up to meet them and you think to yourself, “She is so awesome. Look how together she is. She has it all figured out. Her work is so powerful.  She's so successful!”   And the woman you are excited to meet is stuck in thinking trap: “What am I doing here?  I have no idea what I’m doing. What if they find out that I don't know what I'm dong? Nobody's talking to me.  Why did I even come to this?  I'll never be enough.”


How do I know I’m in a thinking trap?

Beginning to become aware of when our thoughts start to get a life of their own is the first step in getting back control.  One way to know that you are in a thinking trap is when you have “all or nothing” thinking, like:

“EVERYBODY hates me.”

“EVERYTHING I do sucks.”

“NOBODY likes me.”

“I have NOTHING to offer.”

"I'll NEVER be good at this."


3 Strategies for Real-time Resilience

Resilience is basically our ability to bounce back after crappy things happen (although Dr. Reivich defines it much better here).  Real-time resilience is the idea that you can bounce back in the moment - when you notice you are in a thinking trap, there are things you can do to try and get out of it.

Here are some strategies to help you get unstuck from thinking traps.  You might find one works for you most of the time, or that each one works for different thinking traps.  Try them out!

Strategy 1: Evidence.  What is actually true?  Use data to prove to yourself that whatever you are thinking is incorrect.

“That’s not true because <evidence, reasons that’s not true>....

Strategy 2: Reframe.  How could you reframe your thought?

“A more helpful way to see this is…”

Strategy 3: Plan.  So if whatever you are thinking were to come true, what would you do?  If you have thought out your plans, you might be able to let go of the thought.

“If x happens, then I will do y.”


Interested in more Health, Happiness, and Sanity?  

If you are wanting to learn more about how to manage your stress, be sure to check out Episode 2 (stress + your body) and Episode 3 (stress + your emotions)

Follow on Spotify HERE

Subscribe on Apple Podcasts HERE



The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor

The Resilience Factor by Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte

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