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Stress At Work - Cognitive Dissonance

Updated: Feb 10, 2022

The workplace can be an environment where we feel the most stressed for a multitude of reasons. Although this is common it is definitely a factor that comes with many solutions if we take the time to learn exactly why we’re stressed and how to combat it. In this blog, we’ll discuss cognitive dissonance in depth, which can be a major stress inducer in the workplace. First of all, the definition of cognitive dissonance according to google is “Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (CD) describes a condition of stress, or a feeling of internal discomfort caused by conflicting ideas, values, beliefs or practices. Essentially, this is a situation where two or more opposing thoughts are causing psychological discomfort.” This means that cognitive dissonance occurs when someone’s behaviours and beliefs do not align which then causes stress due to moral conflict. This theory suggests that the conflict causes an inconsistency in our minds which then leads to fears, not the type such as a fear of spiders that makes you jump up and scream, but more internal fears we may overthink and try to avoid, this also contributes to stress at work. These fears can be things such as losing your job, fearing your boss or any higher up positioned employee, being afraid of themselves and their own mistakes or even having distrust in their co-workers, having a fear that they may have hidden agendas. Fears are simply false evidence appearing real, we should not be allowing these things to cause such huge amounts of stress on our lives, yet many people have developed the attitude that your job is going to make you stressed on unimaginable levels and that's that. This attitude is a dangerous one since stress has an awfully large impact on us not only mentally but physically too, when looking specifically at the brain, It can disrupt synapse regulation, resulting in the loss of sociability and the avoidance of interactions with others. Stress can kill brain cells and even reduce the size of the brain. Chronic stress has a shrinking effect on the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for memory and learning. Tourou also states that the build up of cortisol in the brain can have long-term effects, meaning that chronic stress can lead to health problems. So it’s clear that cognitive dissonance is an issue that needs to be solved and definitely earlier rather than later before those fears begin to develop further and stress levels near their peak. You may be wondering, if cognitive dissonance is such a negative thing why does it happen in the first place? When looking specifically at the workplace and knowing that one in four employees fear being yelled at by their boss, it is quite clear that the power dynamic can be the cause of cognitive dissonance in employees. The decision not to challenge uncomfortable instructions is a natural human tendency towards avoiding a confrontation with an authority figure. All personnel in positions of leadership need to be aware of this when looking at their leadership style and the ongoing effect it will have on all workers. It is disheartening to see how many articles have been written on how to overcome a fear of your boss or how to stand up to them, when all employees should be a team working together, not working in fear. To deal with cognitive dissonance at work, take a look at why you are feeling conflicted. Is it because of your own values and opinions or someone else’s? It may help to make notes on what is making you feel negative and why. Think about where these beliefs are coming from and how strongly this situation may or may not impact your life. Additionally, realise the behaviours you exhibit when you are put in an uncomfortable situation or struck with a conflicting decision in order to realise the severity of what is going on. You may find yourself realising that certain situations are causing far more stress and discomfort than needed, in these cases it is important that you either schedule a meeting with a boss immediately to discuss the issue at hand or alternatively take the time to do some self-realisation. It is possible that you will have been overthinking and that the stress levels are far too high for such a small problem. Take the time to reassure yourself, realise perhaps how little impact it truly has or how manageable the issue is. There are many examples and scenarios which can cause cognitive dissonance in the workplace, ranging from having to observe inappropriate and poor leadership practices to being asked to perform tasks that are not in line with procedures, norms, training, organisational or personal values. Each of these will come with a different needed solution, but in general, there tend to be three options to resolve cognitive dissonance according to SimplyPhsychology which includes; changing your existing beliefs, perhaps you are feeling conflicted over a small issue that in fact isn’t as controversial as you may have already assumed, you can always ask for the perspective of a co-worker in order to be sure on your final feelings towards the situation. Similarly, the second suggestion is adding to your own beliefs. It’s important to stay open-minded as there is always a chance to learn and develop as a person when the world is constantly changing. Most situations come from a perspective that causes us to have such different opinions. It requires emotional intelligence to be able to begin to understand and accept others’ perspectives even when you may think differently, if you can understand the reasoning behind certain decisions then you may feel less conflicted yourself. Lastly, when giving the benefit of the doubt it may be a reasonable solution to reduce the importance of certain beliefs, be sure to question why you hold certain beliefs so closely, who influenced those and what do you truly think of them? Perhaps they have even become outdated or can be seen as less important when it comes to the working world. Whatever the case may be, make sure that your beliefs are truly yours and you stand by every word, and if you find yourself still being certain then do not be controlled by fear to not live up to those beliefs.


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