How to Practice Mental Flexibility in Times of Stress

How to Practice Mental Flexibility in Times of Stress

What is cognitive flexibility? How can mental resilience help me deal with stressors or distractions in my daily life? Let’s find out. 

Ever been tasked with an assignment at work, only to feel pressured or too stressed to focus on the task at hand? You’re not the only one. 

Many people deal with daily tasks or events that test their mental flexibility, and everyone reacts to these in different ways. While some people can get through a difficult moment or demanding task with ease, others have a harder time. 

Let’s discuss what cognitive flexibility is and how it can help you deal with everyday disruptions or stressful tasks. 

What is Cognitive Flexibility? 

Cognitive flexibility is “the ability to adapt behaviors in response to changes in the environment.” Simply put, it means being able to adapt to change, new information, rules, or events. It also deals with the ability to change your thinking process or to look at a well-known situation in a different way. 

You use mental flexibility every day, such as when you switch tasks or when you multitask. It requires imagination and creativity, as well as emotional regulation. You may struggle with cognitive flexibility if the following sounds familiar: 

  • You get frustrated when distracted at work 
  • You have difficulty adapting to a change in schedule 
  • You have trouble switching to a new activity 
  • You may be arguing the same point over and over 
  • You get stressed when something doesn’t go as planned, and can’t get past it 

    3 Tips to Improve Mental Flexibility 

    If you’re struggling with mental resilience or cognitive flexibility, particularly in a stressful situation, there are ways to “flex” your mental muscles. In fact, the more you practice mental flexibility, the better you will become at it. 

    1. Start with small things

    Since the goal is to expose yourself to a new situation, you can start with something small like eating a new meal at your favorite restaurant or trying a new activity on the weekend. By making that small change, you begin “flexing” your mind to adapt to new things. And you might even find a new favorite dish while you’re at it! 

    1. Put yourself in other people’s shoes

    Not literally of course! When we say this, we mean imagine yourself in other people’s lives, in new situations. This builds empathy and allows your mind to look at things from a different perspective. A fun way to do this is to read fiction. Another is to ask for help from another colleague at work. Listening to how they would approach the task or problem helps build mental resilience. 

    1. Redirect your thoughts

    Ever felt like you’re going down a rabbit hole, mentally? Perhaps you’re feeling worried about a presentation at work, and your mind is starting to spiral with negative thoughts. This is the perfect moment for a distraction. Try interrupting your thoughts with a new topic. If that’s not working, try changing your physical environment. Use this moment to go for a walk or talk to a friend. Changing your thoughts in this instance is forcing you to stop worrying, which helps with mental flexibility. 

    Don’t Forget to Rest 

    As you work to help your mind become more adaptable and stronger at dealing with stressors or new situations, don’t forget that rest is also important. Rest and relax your mind by winding down with a favorite activity (like reading) or trying fun fall activities with the family. 

    Feel like your mind needs extra support? Keep your brain prepped and ready to perform in a mental crunch with Brain Pep!

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