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It seems that life keeps handing us one stressful thing after another. We barely resolve one problem when ten others pop up, demanding immediate attention. Stress now becomes a constant battle, a way of life that keeps our thoughts and emotions in turmoil.
According to Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis, renowned scientists and psychologists, it isn’t situations by themselves that determine how we feel, but rather the interpretations and perceptions we make.
While it is important to pay attention to our emotional responses, we also need to pay attention to what we are saying to ourselves about these incidences. We can blow events out of proportion by how we think. These become thought distortions or irrational thinking that increases our stress levels.
Beck and Ellis compiled a list of thought-belief distortions or irrational thinking that create major problems for us and compounds our stress.
If you purchased my book, Make Stress Work for You: 12 Steps to Understanding Stress and Turning it into a Positive Force, you also received a worksheet that describes these irrational thinking patterns or thought-belief distortions.
The assumptions we make about our world and ourselves become absolute beliefs, and everything is evaluated by them. These core beliefs form unbreakable rules that everybody must or have to follow and influence how we think and act, how we treat others, and include our attitudes, expectations, and assumptions.
Before we can eliminate or reduce unnecessary stress, we need to address the thoughts directly associated with those events.
Stressful Life Events
Let’s take a look at some of the things that can create high levels of stress in our lives:
Family pressures: spousal conflict, daily chaos, lack of structure and routines, single parent household, workload imbalance, etc.
Poor time management: inability to manage personal time, establish routines and dependable schedules, set goals, and follow through.
Unhealthy lifestyle: eating on the run, lack of exercise, poor diet, lack of self-control or self-management, etc.
Psychological: unhealthy and negative thinking, consistent devaluing of your worth, biased comparisons, lack of temperance and moderation, negative outlook on life.
Inability to be assertive: passive-aggressive, aggressive instead of assertive.
Short-term coping strategies vs long-term strategies: alcohol, overeating, drugs, anger/rage, escape through the internet, fantasy, pornography.
Inability to identify and resolve problems: Continue to focus on symptoms without working on the problem, criteria not established, prioritize, problem-solve.
Ongoing conflict: problems at work, disagreements with co-workers and bosses, inability to work together, poor communication skills, family pressures, inability to negotiate.
Go over the list.
Do you recognize some of them?
Take one situation and imagine yourself working with it. What can you change that could lower stress levels?
How could you change your responses to make it more manageable?
Discovering Your Personal Patterns of Thinking
To better understand whether your responses to life’s challenges that are creating additional stress, you need to first become aware of your characteristic patterns of thinking and acting.
Keep a record for a week of your typical responses to situations. You especially want to know whether anger, anxiety, worry or fear is predominant.
Use a separate piece of paper for each day. Jot down the time of day and write next to it any intense emotions you felt and the situation that triggered it. Then record the automatic thoughts you had. What were you thinking? What did you believe about yourself and your abilities to meet that challenge? What rules did you have in place that dictated that others must or should follow?
Here is an example of what such a recording might look like.
7:30 – feeling really irritated – the kids are still not up, and I have to get to work. Why can’t they do what they are told?
9:00 – angry – the traffic is worse than ever – if the kids did what they were supposed to do, I wouldn’t be leaving home late.
10:00 – angry and upset – I was handed a project and told to complete it before noon. How am I supposed to get this done when I have other work to complete? I never get appreciated or respected for any of the time I put in and everything I accomplish.
6:00 – really angry – my husband walks in the door and wants to know why dinner isn’t ready? Really!! Doesn’t he know what a bad day I have had?
At the end of the week, review your notes and how you typically responded to circumstances throughout your day.
The purpose was to discover patterns of negative or irrational thinking that added unnecessary stress to your life. After your review, ask yourself the following questions:
- Did you recognize a predominant or typical response pattern?
- Why do you think certain emotions were triggered so often?
- How accurate or rational were your thoughts in relation to what was actually happening? Did you find yourself filtering out anything positive?
- What unbreakable rules were in place that others did not follow? They usually contain the words, must, should, or have to.
- What did you believe about yourself and the world in relation to what was happening?
- Was your response reasonable or helpful given the circumstance? How did it help resolve any problems? How did it add to your problems?
- Could you have chosen a more tempered response? If you had, would you have felt less stressed with a more positive result?
Remember, initial responses can be altered. Once a negative pattern has been recognized that is not helpful, it can be changed.
Do you want to turn your stress into a positive force?
My Make Stress Work for You bundle will help you:
- Identify the personal stressors that create high levels of distress in your life
- Learn how to identify problems and find ways to solve them
- Replace unhelpful thinking with constructive and practical ways to lower levels of fear, worry, and anxiety
The book bundle includes:
- audio recording of each chapter’
- companion Study Guide & Personal Application Workbook
- Four bonus guides
Click here for details and to order