He never saw it coming. He didn’t feel stressed, and the interviewer had given him positive feedback to his responses. The interviewer was engaging and friendly. She hadn’t even posed a gotcha! question some pesky interviewers ask. In fact, he felt this interview was one of his best. He felt confident answering the questions, unaware of the tension building. The monster tucked itself into the shadows, edging closer to its target. This was the moment. The monster crept around the corner, as the interviewer asked, “what would you say is one of your weaknesses?”
The man answered with a broad, self-assured smile tacked onto the end of his reply. The interviewer’s eyebrows raised sharply. She swept a few loose hairs behind her ear and cleared her throat, “ahem, we typically require our candidates to have extensive knowledge in that area. Do you think you could do this job without those skills?”
Now, the man could feel stress enclosing. The air in the room suddenly felt stagnant and suffocating. He wished, begged even, for a cool breeze to come and ease his discomfort, but no breeze came. He did feel warm, though. He could feel the stress hanging in the air. As the man’s smile faded, the monster struck.
The monster leaned in and whispered in his ear “you completely bombed the answer. Did you think she wouldn’t notice?” The monster was just warming up, “she can see you cracking under the stress.”
The man attempted to clarify his answer, but his thoughts were foggy and tough to follow. “Um, well…” The thought was right there. He just couldn’t find it.
He felt even more stressed now, as the Monologue Monster’s attack continued, without pause. “Why did you even come here? You know your resume is terrible and now you feel terrible.” The monster’s voice just wouldn’t stop. The man could feel his thoughts beginning to spiral.
“Don’t you feel stressed?” the monster smirked, digging its claws a bit deeper. “She would never choose you. You can’t even make it through an interview.”
The man began to feel sweat beading on his brow and flowing from his armpits. He closed his eyes, trying to stoke the engine of his train of thought. The monster’s attacks were relentless “well, you tried, right? You may as well give up. Just give up now.” The monster set the monologue – “You will never be good enough.”
The Power of Thought
While merely a fictional example of how our inner monologue can sabotage our performance, for many of you, this short story was your story. A story you have experienced. You know the Monologue Monster. You’ve fought it before. You may even be fighting it now. For some of you, reading this introduction may have even caused you to have a stress response. Your Monologue Monster may have found a way to feed using your own experiences and memories. In fact, you might have noticed that I emphasized “stress” with a different font throughout the passage. In doing so, your brain may have picked up on those suggestions to feel stressed. Your internal Monologue Monster began to feed on these suggestions, preying on your fears, flooding your subconscious with relatable “what if”s. This is the power of suggestion and your subconscious. Each time you listen to your Monologue Monster, feeding it “I can’t” or “Why did you” statements, it sinks its claws even deeper into your subconscious. Thus, as you read through the story, you may have noticed your heart racing. Perhaps you felt stressed. You may have even remembered a time you faced a difficult interview and felt the pressure of the situation bearing down on you now, despite reading this in your own home, office, or other place of safety. A physical response can be even more likely and intense to the extent that you empathize with the scenario above. That is, you understood the stress of an interview and have battled the inner monologue that pulls your focus away, making concentration difficult, even derailing your train of thought or casting self-doubt about how well prepared you were for the interview.
In the age of COVID-19, the Monologue Monster has ample time to invade your thoughts to plot, prepare, and manipulate how you feel – especially as you look for employment and seek out opportunities. The weekends you would normally spend at a friend’s house or the holidays with family may be sacrifices you’ve made to the pandemic. The stress of this situation may have you fearing that you, or a loved one, will get sick or even die. You’ve likely experienced a host of new stressors since the pandemic began, and your monster may be running amuck as the uncertainty of the coming months, and even years, may affect you. The chronic stress this causes may bring you back to your shortcomings or replay negative events. The Monologue Monster can persist from day to day, growing from week to week, destabilizing you emotionally. As the monster continues to feed, you may move into a depression, feeling unhappy, unmotivated, and exhausted as the relentless onslaught wears you down.
Your Body on Stress
But don’t lose hope. Job seekers can overcome and continue moving forward successfully. You can engage and repel the Monologue Monster. You can force it to return to the dark recesses of your mind, by using your body to influence your thoughts. Start by recognizing how the monster works: The monster can have you fretting over an interview to the extent that your body thinks you are on the brink of death. Sure, there is pressure, and not getting a job could be life or death, eventually, but at that moment, the interviewer is not hunting you. Still, your body can respond as if death is looming closer, and if you might die, your body naturally prepares to fight or flee. Your stress response produces hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline to prepare for the battle or full-scale retreat. Unfortunately, these changes also create the environment necessary for the Monologue Monster to evolve and thrive. These chemicals (hormones) energize your body, rerouting energy to needed body parts, but they can fog your memory, destabilize your emotions, and cloud your focus. Most detrimentally, the stress response revs your body’s engine – the nervous system. There are two parts to your autonomic nervous system, which controls automatic functions in your body, such as digestion, breathing, and heart rate. The fight-or-flight (sympathetic) system functions like a gas pedal, unleashing stored energy and ramping up the body. The other part, rest-and-digest (parasympathetic), opposes the former, functioning like a brake, saving energy and slowing down the body’s systems. As with a vehicle, you cannot floor the gas pedal and stomp the brake simultaneously without damaging consequences – the same goes for your body. Continuing with this analogy, just imagine if you revved your vehicle’s engine to the max every day, just going to work. How long would it take before something is damaged? While you look for work, your body’s engine may be constantly revved, and if you don’t take care of it, this could damage your system. This is partly why many people who are stressed struggle with sleep or relaxation; their body is still pressing the gas pedal when they are hammering the brake. Could you park your car with the pedal to the floor? It could be done, sure, but with great effort and possible damage externally, internally, or both.
Defeating the Monologue
There are many scientifically validated methods for reducing stress – but just as many “snake oil” cures or treatments, which, in all actuality, cause a placebo effect or have no effect at all. Each method works differently for every person. In my opinion, one of the most effective methods of reducing stress and anxiety, stopping the Monologue Monster mid-sentence, is breath-work.
Breath-work. Controlling your breathing actually allows you to influence which hormones your body produces. You can turn off your fight-or-flight response and turn on your rest-and-digest response. Slowing your breathing to approximately 5 to 6 breaths per minute, for 5 to 15 minutes per day can help you fend off your Monologue Monster and rest more easily. This is especially helpful for people that have a rapid rate of breathing (over 20 breaths per minute), or those that breathe with their chest, instead of their stomach. So, as you’re waiting to be called in for an interview, calm yourself and build confidence through this technique. Maintain a state of calm by regularly and mindfully controlling your breathing, keeping the Monologue Monster at bay.
Yoga and yogic traditions. These exercises, including such things as meditation and interoception (noticing what is going on inside the body), are also excellent ways to use your body to increase resiliency of mind. Studies have shown that practicing yoga twice a week, 180 minutes total, provided many health benefits. These include increased physical strength, endurance, flexibility, cardio-respiratory fitness, memory, and focus, while reducing anxiety and repetitive thoughts, like the Monologue Monster.
Psychophysiology. Also called psychobiology or biological psychology, psychophysiology is the study of how the mind and body interact to create or alter behavior. Sometimes your needs may be immediate, which makes yoga or 5 to 15 minutes of breathing exercises difficult. For those moments, researchers have discovered that positive self-talk (You can do it! Remember the job you landed before? Have confidence and believe in yourself!) is effective at increasing mood. Posture can play a significant role, as well. Right before an interview, stand in front of the bathroom mirror and raise your hands above your head. Make yourself as big as possible for 15 to 30 seconds and your body will begin to produce hormones associated with confidence and strength. Simply treating a job interview as a competition, which it is as the first place winner gets the job, can increase hormones related to dominance and confidence.
Exercise and Physical Activity. Lastly, the Monologue Monster’s greatest fear is exercise. Exercise is a tool that we should all have in our tool bags. Exercise decreases the production of cortisol and adrenaline and increases your heart rate and blood flow to your brain, which increases cognitive clarity. Exercise also stimulates your body’s production of endorphins, your body’s natural painkillers (pain can intensify depressive symptoms), while giving you good feelings. In doing so, when you finish your workout, your body seems to say,
“whew, the danger is over!” Exercise appears to put the brakes on your fight-or-flight response, allowing your rest-and-digest response to take over, while you’re still benefiting from the endorphins. It is similar to merging onto the highway and needing to increase your speed, but as you exit the highway, letting off the gas and then using the brake to slow you down further. This important mechanism will allow you to use your body to empower your mind. The correlation between exercise and stress relief has been replicated in countless studies. Research has shown that 30 to 40 minutes a day of light/moderate exercise, such as walking, or 15 to 20 minutes of vigorous exercise can have an incredible impact on mood, health, and stress levels.
Finding a technique and routine you are able to stick to will not just help you relieve stress, but quell the Monologue Monster. These environments are unfavorable for its existence, creating the biological and psychological factors that decrease its ability to hijack the mind. This can help you feel better day-to-day, increase your clarity of mind and memory, and give you the upper hand to blow away an interviewer and secure your next job. Thus, maintain your resiliency by keeping a positive frame of mind. Quell your inner monster by utilizing a routine, and employing techniques to continue the positive momentum. These methods may not exile the monster, but you can deport it, showing it, and yourself, the power of your mind.
About the Author
Jeremiah is a Doctor of Cognitive Psychology with over 15 years of diverse experience working with people of various ethnicities, cultures, and ages. He specializes in stress and stress management, African-American psychology, mind-body medicine, and altered states of consciousness. A Special Project Associate for Saybrook University, Dr. Pearcey also serves as Faculty at the Institute for Spirituality and Health (https://www.spiritualityandhealth.org/), and owns a personal business, The Bright Connection (www.brightconnection.me).
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