Strategies that address the cause of stress: Self-created stressors
Stress is a response to danger: No danger...no stress! The best way to manage stress is to take action to change the situation so that it is no longer a danger. Sometimes stress is created by how you see a situation (imagined danger) rather than the situation itself. Imagined dangers emerge from self-created demands, the inability to recognize resources, or minimizing the resources you have. Consider the stress provoked by these beliefs:
- "I must be perfect in everything I do".
- "I must win the competition".
- "I must look like the people I see in magazines".
- "I must be popular".
- "I must be happy all the time".
- "I must be better than others."
These thoughts and beliefs magnify demands, thereby increasing the chances of seeing a situation as a danger and experiencing stress.
An imagined danger can also result from minimizing the resources you have at your disposal. Examples include:
- "I'm not rich enough".
- "I'm not popular enough".
- "I'm not attractive enough".
- "I don't have the respect of everyone".
- "I don't have enough friends".
- "I don't have enough talent".
In cases where your thinking is the cause of your stress, changing the way you think is the most effective way to manage your stress.
How to modify stress-producing thinking
Changing the way you think is never easy. However, you can use proven techniques to change your stress-producing thoughts into helpful, stress-relieving ones.
Cognitive restructuring is a technique that has been used effectively to treat a variety of problems including depression, anxiety, back pain and more.
The technique involves several steps:
- Identify the situation that is causing your stress
- Identify the thoughts you have about the situation
- Identify how this way of thinking makes you feel
- Dispute the thoughts by looking for evidence that supports them as well as evidence that doesn't support them
- Identify an alternative, more balanced thought
- Identify how you will feel when you replace your stress-producing thought with the more balanced one.
See a few simple examples of cognitive restructuring.
Cognitive restructuring resources:
- Mind Over Mood: Change the way you feel by changing the way you think by Greenberger and Padesky
- Feeling Good: The new mood therapy by David Burns
- Change Your Thinking: Overcome stress, anxiety, and depression, and improve your life with CBT by Sarah Edelman
- TalkPlus provides an 8-page Cognitive Restructuring workbook that contains worksheets.
- An Introductory Self-Help Course in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, especially Step 4 and Step 5.
- Cognitive Behavioral Tools is a video delivered by a psychologist who "reviews several cognitive behavioral tools to deal with stress, anxiety and overwhelming emotions." These tools include objectively observing thoughts, shifting perspective, and recognizing that emotions and thoughts are information and not facts.
To change your thinking you need to challenge it. Socratic questioning is a type of critical thinking where you ask and answer questions to dispel irrational thinking and formulate alternative thoughts. Questions include:
- What experiences do I have that show that this thought is not true 100% of the time?
- If a person close to me knew I was thinking this, what would they say to me? What evidence would that person point out to me to show that my thought is not 100% true?
- What would I say to a friend in the same situation?
- When I am not feeling like this, would I think differently about the situation?
- In the past when I have felt this way, what have I said to myself to feel better?
- Have I been in similar situations in the past? How did I cope then? What did I learn from that situation that I could use now? Is this situation any different than what I experienced in the past?
- Five years from now, how will I look at this situation? Will I focus on different aspects of it?
- Do I have any strengths, skills or other positive aspects that I am ignoring?
- Am I blaming myself for something which I do not have complete control over?
- Am I focusing on the evidence, or are my thoughts guided by the way I feel?
- Am I assuming that this is the only way of looking at things?
- Am I making any thinking errors?
- Am I judging myself more harshly that I would judge others?
Changing Minds lists over 50 Socratic questions.