5 Ways to Think Stress Away
BY: Allen Elkin
Whether it’s money troubles, a difficult boss, a house that constantly needs fixing, or something else, we all encounter situations that cause us stress and can trigger stress-related symptoms, like headaches and heartburn. While you can’t always do a lot to change what’s happening, how you think about stressful events can make them better or worse. For example, if I’m running late for a meeting, I’ll say to myself, “May this be one of the biggest problems I have in life!” That gives me perspective quickly and helps keep my stress level from going up. Here are some other ways of thinking that can help you resist stress.
1. Ask yourself if your response is out of balance.
Look at a stressful event on a 10-point scale, with nine or 10 being a serious physical disease or a life-threatening situation. Next, rate your emotional reaction from one to 10. If the source of stress merits a two and your emotional reaction is a five or six, you’re having a $6 response to a $2 problem. Once you know that, ask yourself if this will really matter in three years, three months or three weeks. Chances are, the answer is no.
2. Stop yourself from imagining the worst-case scenario.
This tendency is called “catastrophizing” or “what-if-ing.” It’s basically taking something that probably won’t happen and escalating it into something that definitely will happen. When this occurs, step back and ask yourself what the probability is of your worst fears coming true. It’s probably much lower than you fear.
3. Look for shades of gray.
When under stress, many people engage in black-and-white thinking -- thinking a situation is all good or all bad. It’s important to avoid using words like “never” and “always” to describe the situation. These absolute words often create more anger and upset than there needs to be.
4. Don’t take things personally.
If your boss snaps at you for no apparent reason, don’t automatically assume it’s because of something you did. Consider the possibility that it could stem from something that’s going on with your boss. Try to accept situations on their own terms; so much of our stress comes from not accepting the world the way it is.
5. Look for the hidden lesson.
When something upsetting happens, consider whether or not you can change it. If you can’t, ask yourself what you can learn from it, how you can learn to live with it or what you can do differently in the future to prevent, avoid or handle it. These are much more effective coping strategies than beating yourself up or putting yourself down for what happened. In the meantime, focus on feeling gratitude for the great things that are happening in your life, because those can help you cope with the challenges life throws your way.
* As told to Stacey Colino
Allen Elkin is a psychologist and the director of the Stress Management and Counseling Center in New York City. He is the author of Stress Management for Dummies and a guest blogger for Live Right Live Well.