How to Think Clearly and Critically Under Stress

April 21, 20201:22 pm799 views
How to Think Clearly and Critically Under Stress
How to Think Clearly and Critically Under Stress

Stress has always been part of people’s lives. However, it has always been associated with having negative effects on our body, as it often comes with an anxious feeling that makes us unable to think clearly. Stress also leads to fatigue, chest pain, and other illnesses.  

Framingham Heart Study published that most people, especially those in their 40s, have higher levels of stress-related hormone cortisol which performed worse on tests of memory, organisation, visual perception and attention. Surveying more than 2,000 individuals, the study found that stress is normal –  it is the body’s natural defence against danger. When the body perceives danger, it releases stress hormones to prepare systems to evade or confront danger, it explained. The problem is, while stress could protect oneself from danger, it also impacts the ability to think clearly.

See also: Leaders Should Be Quiet About These Things, Advised Liz Ryan

How stress affects decision making 

Nobel prize-winning economist, Danial Kahneman suggested that our brains process information in two ways: fast and slow. The fast brain is highly efficient and able to make decisions automatically by focusing on a few details that are important and based on past experience. Meanwhile, the slow brain uses control processing in order to make decisions and it takes into account more information. It is also the slow brain that helps create better decisions due to its ability to think critically. 

According to Kahneman, when we are under stress, the brains spend almost all of the time in fast mode, leading to fast uncritical decision making. Whilst the fast brain helps create making a fast decision, the accuracy to the output of the decision is questionable. He said that it is our fast brain that is responsible when we fall for phishing emails and other scams because the fast brain is in survival mode that leads to rush decision making. 

Thinking clearly and critically is vital 

In terms of business, rushing to make a decision could lead to a huge loss that not only affects one person but the whole organisation. That being said, it is vital for leaders to think critically and clearly by using more of the slow brain in order to create an effective and soluble decision. But how to do that? Psychology researcher Lisa Penney shares the following tips to think calmly in a critical situation. 

  • Pay attention 

In most cases, leaders will use their fast brain to make a decision in a stressful situation. This, as mentioned earlier, will not give an accurate and top-notch solution. Therefore, leaders need to pay attention the next time they find themselves in a similar situation, advised Penney. 

For instance, your business is not doing well and the rumour has spread within the workforce. Knowing this, you might be worried that there will be a talent exodus since employees feel they have no future in the company. Before you fall into a spiral of rumination and worry, Penney advised to check yourself first. Tell yourself something like “I know I’m under stress right now, and it is affecting my thinking.” This will help calm your nerves and think clearly amid the crisis. 

  • Take some deep breaths 

This might sound cliche, but taking a deep breath does help as a way to tell your body that you are safe. When we are stressed, part of our brain goes offline as our bodies go into fight or flight and we cannot see things clearly. In this case, taking a deep breath can help us feel secure. Penney advised to try “coherent breathing” which has been shown to help calm the nervous system. 

  • Be curious 

Last but not least, you should ask yourself questions that can lead you into a calm state. The questions can be like: “What evidence do I have to prove that the employees are going to move out? Do I have other stories that might also make sense? Do I give enough effort in this situation?” The more you can take the time to question your thoughts, the wiser decisions you can make for yourself and the organisation.

Read also: Leadership Characteristics to Successfully Manage Crisis