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Clearing Brain Fog: How to Overcome a Mental Block in the Workplace

On the road to success, mental blocks often act like a sudden fog for employees, descending without warning and obscuring the path forward. As a result, this haziness can have a significant impact on one’s ability to think, innovate, and execute tasks effectively.

Virtually everyone has experienced this kind of brain fog to some degree, whether it’s feeling a creative block, forgetting to do an important task, or suffering from anxiety around starting one. In fact, a Miro report found almost 60% of workers experience a mental block on a weekly or even daily basis.

While the causes of these cognitive obstacles vary—ranging from external workplace stress to personal challenges and lifestyle factors—it’s crucial for organizations to understand the intricacies of mental blocks and support employees as they go through them. 

But before we dig into the signs, symptoms, and strategies to overcome mental blocks, let’s dive into why they happen in the first place.

Why Do Mental Blocks Happen?

Mental blocks are by no means uncommon, but that doesn’t mean they’re benign. 

Whether a mental blockage is a sign or symptom of burnout, 65% of employees agree it increases their level of burnout. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many employees and organizations alike are concerned about the impact of a mental block on performance, but to understand how to overcome or mitigate these barriers, it’s important to understand what causes them.

Contrary to popular belief, brain fog isn’t caused by a lack of fortitude or mental toughness. When a mental block occurs, the brain reaches a limit in terms of creativity, productivity, or motivation. This often happens as a result of a variety of factors, including heightened emotions from stress or fatigue, continuous work without adequate rest periods, or even monotonous routines.

Common Causes of Mental Blocks

Some of the most common causes of psychological obstacles—particularly as they occur in the workplace—include:

  • High-pressure environments: An employee working under intense pressure may eventually hit a mental barrier that inhibits further creativity and productivity.
  • Lack of sleep or breaks: Without sufficient rest, employees can quickly become fatigued and brain fog can set in—not to mention the irritability that can ensue as well.
  • Mental exhaustion: When employees face continuous cognitive demands, they can reach a heightened state of mental exhaustion, hindering their ability to focus and complete tasks effectively.
  • Poor communication: Misunderstandings and unclear instructions can easily become a mental blockage later on when employees aim to complete a task.
  • Anxiety or perfectionism: Whether it’s a fear of failure or imposter syndrome, this anxiety can lead to procrastination and avoidance.
  • Low motivation: Sometimes, an employee might simply lack the drive to complete a task, especially if it seems unmanageable or goes against their values.
  • Personal challenges: External stressors and personal issues can also serve as distractions in the workplace, creating a psychological obstacle that’s difficult to overcome.
  • Physical or mental health issues: Internally, an employee may be dealing with a health problem that they may or may not disclose, creating a significant physical and mental barrier when it comes to concentrating and completing tasks.

Identifying Mental Blocks: What Are the Symptoms?

As organizations grow to understand how mental blocks manifest in employees, it becomes easier to recognize the signs and symptoms. However, this does require paying close attention to employee behavior and taking note of anything that could be impacting performance.

To identify a mental block in your own workforce, here are a few telltale signs an employee might be experiencing one in the moment:

  1. A lack of creativity or the inability to generate new ideas
  2. Persistent self-doubt or negative thought patterns
  3. Difficulty focusing on tasks or getting motivated to start them
  4. A noticeable drop off in productivity and performance
  5. Struggling to make decisions through mental fog
  6. Avoiding responsibilities and procrastinating work
  7. A lack of motivation or enthusiasm at work
  8. Feeling overwhelmed or frequently operating at a high-stress level

Understanding the signs of mental blocks sets the stage for organizations to take action. But what action is required—and what responsibilities do managers have in navigating and mitigating these barriers?

The Manager’s Role in Overcoming a Mental Block

Managers play a pivotal role in guiding their teams through a period of mental barriers. As the ship’s navigators, they’re tasked with steering the organization toward its corporate goals—but, like a captain, they’re also in charge of their crew’s wellbeing. 

When mental blocks emerge, managers must shift gears from supervisors who oversee people to coaches who address obstacles head-on with both empathy and grit. Once they recognize key symptoms of a mental block in an employee, managers must then strive to address the issue with supportive interventions. This can take a variety of forms, from a quick one-on-one discussion to understand and tackle specific concerns, to providing relevant resources for managing stress, to adjusting workloads to alleviate pressure whenever possible. 

The goal is to not only help individuals overcome their immediate mental blocks, but also to develop and implement proactive strategies that create a more resilient and agile workforce.

Let’s take a look at 10 winning strategies managers swear by to help workers beat any mental barrier that comes their way:

1. Break Down Projects Into Smaller Tasks

One deceptively simple, yet surprisingly effective, strategy for overcoming a mental block in the workplace is to break an assignment down into smaller tasks

This approach can simplify seemingly complex or overwhelming projects, making them more manageable and less daunting. By focusing on one aspect of the project at a time, employees can minimize the cognitive load and stress associated with tackling the big-picture task. 

Completing smaller tasks can also provide a sense of achievement and momentum with each passing milestone, boosting morale and motivation. Managers should work with employees to identify natural progress points and set realistic, achievable goals for each segment within a project while providing guidance and support as needed.

2. Declutter the Workspace

A cluttered desk or work environment can be a mental and visual distraction, making it harder for employees to concentrate. By encouraging everyone to keep a tidy workspace, managers can help their teams minimize physical and mental clutter, providing the space for clear thinking.

This might involve organizing items and putting things away into cabinets and cupboards, but it can also take the form of managing digital clutter on desktops and homescreens. All of this serves to create a clean, minimalist workspace organized to increase productivity, reduce stress, and enhance mental clarity.

3. Encourage Mental Breaks to Reset the Mind

The mind and body are like a fine-tuned machine—if they’re pushed beyond their limits, they’re going to break down. 

Employees need time to reset every now and then. While integrating nap time into the workday may not be the most practical option, taking short, regular breaks throughout the day can have a transformative effect on mental health and burnout.

Whether employees go for a five-minute walk to get some physical activity, take part in a brief meditation session to get in the right headspace, or engage in non-work related activity to relax for a moment, all these breaks can serve as a mental reboot. When time’s up, they’ll be ready to tackle their work with renewed energy and perhaps a new approach.

4. Provide Templates as a Jumping-Off Point

Templates offer a structured starting point from which employees can jump off to overcome the hurdle of writer's block and start generating new creative ideas. Sometimes, the initial effort and uncertainty involved in starting a new task or project can feel unsurmountable, but a template can provide a basic outline or guideline, allowing employees to focus more on substance than form. 

This approach is especially helpful for tasks that can be highly repetitive or require a standardized format. With a ready-made framework, managers alleviate the pressure of starting from scratch while ensuring consistency and quality.

5. Encourage Employees to Seek External Perspectives

Mental barriers are just that—in the mind. While that certainly doesn’t mean they’re fake, it does mean that it can take another mind (or minds) to help remove the obstacle. 

Getting external perspectives is a great way to combine brain power, whether it’s discussing an issue with peers or exploring existing content on the topic. Of course, employees should always steer clear of plagiarism, but using external sources can inspire creative ideas and innovations of their own.

6. Practice Mindfulness to Foster Positive Inner Dialogue

Negative thoughts and self-talk are common signs of a mental block, further impeding an employee’s ability to concentrate. Unfortunately, flipping this inner dialogue isn’t as simple as “thinking positively.” 

However, mindfulness can be a powerful tool for employees, allowing them to observe negative thoughts as they occur without holding onto them. Through techniques like meditation or deep breathing exercises, employees can calm their minds and refocus their thoughts on positive self-talk and problem-solving.

7. Focus on Building Skills and Confidence

In addition to building mindfulness as a personal skill, managers should empower their employees to grow professionally as well. Through ongoing training, education, and development programs, employees can hone their skills, enhance their abilities, and gain the confidence they need to tackle any psychological obstacle.

However, that also means managers must play an active role in identifying new training opportunities and encouraging continuous learning. As employees grow within their roles and the company, regular positive feedback and recognition will be essential in building their self-esteem and laying the groundwork for resiliency in hard times.

8. Schedule Flexibility Into Deadlines

Deadlines can be a huge contributing factor in the build-up of a mental blockage. Incorporating flexibility into schedules can significantly reduce stress for employees, as the additional time to complete a task can lift some pressure, allowing space for greater creativity.

Some organizations may see flexible deadlines as a slippery slope to slacking off, but it’s also important to acknowledge how peak productivity varies from person to person. Wherever possible, managers should assess project timelines and offer extensions to reduce stress and achieve a higher-quality final product.

9. Promote Stress Reduction Techniques

Elevated stress is a significant barrier to productivity and creativity, and prolonged periods can have adverse effects on employees’ performance and overall wellbeing. Promoting stress reduction and management techniques serves a vital role in helping employees navigate their mental blocks in the moment. 

From mindfulness practices to physical activity or exercise, there are numerous ways employees can alleviate stress. Managers should work to support employees with relevant wellness resources, training exercises, workshops, and other initiatives that minimize mental fatigue.

10. Ensure Employees Get Adequate Sleep and Rest

Finally, organizations must do their best to ensure employees get enough sleep each night. Lack of sleep can lead to difficulty focusing, impaired memory, and poor problem-solving abilities—all hallmarks of a mental block. 

To combat these symptoms, managers must advocate for work-life balance and lead by example. That means encouraging everyone to disconnect from work communications after hours or leave the office by a certain time. 

When employees have the time to unwind after a long day of work, they’re able to come back the next day feeling rejuvenated and ready to succeed.

Break Down Mental Barriers in the Workplace with WellRight

At WellRight, we understand the challenges organizations face in breaking down mental blocks. Our holistic approach to workplace wellbeing ensures employees are supported across all aspects of their lives, from their physical and mental health to their financial wellness and personal purpose.

Discover how a tailored wellness program can help your team overcome mental blocks in the workplace by reaching out to an expert today.

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