In this world of global competitiveness, increased efficiency and pace of life, stress inevitably builds up. If you are unable to handle the stress in you, it can cause severe health problems and, in extreme cases, can cause death. In fact, stress increases ‘risk of death five-fold’, according to an article by Telegraph.
Our experience of stress comes from our perception of the situation, not from the situation itself. To some people, that perception is often right, but to others, they often are wrong. This fundamental difference divides the less stressed from the highly strung folks.
Sometimes we’re unreasonably harsh with ourselves, other times, we instinctively jump to wrong conclusions about people’s motives and their perceptions of us. This can cause us to go into a cycle of unhappiness and negative thinking – causing us to become unfair or biased, speak unkindly or become more aggressive toward others.
There are a few possible ways to steer ourselves away from this pattern of thinking. Before we go into the steps of how to obtain better mental well-being, let take a look at what causes stress.
A commonly accepted definition of stress is this: It is a result of a person perceiving that demand exceeds what a person can mobilise (e.g. in terms of his/her personal and social resources) – hence the feeling of being overwhelmed.
This feeling comes about because they felt threatened by the situation. Then they must match what they have versus what is threatening them. It is somewhat like a RPG game where the “monster” has a maximum of 100 damage per attack, and your hit points are only 60 points. This means there is a pretty high likelihood you may died in this battle. However, if you have 2000 hit points, the situation would be different – you would have the confidence that you will not be threatened by this monster.
The situation, by itself, is strictly just a situation, and hence not stressful. Therefore, how you perceive and interpret the situation – is the main reason for your stress. The more threatening you perceive it to have on your livelihood or your life etc, the higher the level of your stress. In another word – You can decide your stress level.
Is stress good? Of course, naturally, stress is good, to some extent. Stress can lead to emotion, and actions that help us avert some dangers in life. We perceive that a car will knock us down and kill us if we cross a road carelessly before the green man lights up, and the “stress” from that perception drives us to wait for the green man before crossing. Hence, some stress is necessary.
However, we tend to be very critical of ourselves. Most times we may think we cannot meet the demands of the situation, and if we allow such negative thinking to replay, it can lead to intense stress and feeling of inadequacy which might not be true. Self esteem takes a hit, and you may gradually go down the road of depression.
There are some possible ways to help us stay away from these negative outcomes:
Part I: Know your thoughts (“You cannot manage what you do not know”)
It takes some self-awareness to know the moments negative thoughts are running in your mind. Example of such thoughts can include the fear of the unknown/future, feel of inadequacy, angry at yourself for mistakes made, fear of failure and sense of helplessness to change the situation. Such thinking erodes your confidence, reduce your ability to perform and can stop you in your track – mentally and emotionally, causing a paralysis of your ability to work properly. These thoughts might come in and out of your mind from time to time, but damage is made each time they “replay”.
The solution to this, is to apply a filter to our thoughts. Someone once said “You cannot manage what you do not know.” How true it is. The same apply to negative thoughts. Hence, first you must know what are your thoughts!
Think of a stressful situation and let your thoughts run. Try to write quickly the negative thoughts that appear, and see how they form up. You may notice that there are trends or strong replays of some of the thoughts. Those which replayed most are most terrible ones which inflict the most damage.
Work on these first. (See part 2 on how to work on them)
Part 2: Test these thoughts. (“Are they true at all?”)
Take these list of “high priority” negative thoughts. Look through the list one by one.
Is the statement true? Does it hold water? Can you find a situation in the past that prove it is not true?
For example: “I am not capable in my current work, I keep failing”.
Some questions you might wish to “test” the negative thought:
1) Did I brush up my skills reasonably?
2) I am provided the right training and skills to do it?
3) Did I plan and make arrangements to ensure success?
4) Did I reasonably cover the possibilities to ensure things go as planned?
If you have done the above, there is no reason to be too harsh on yourself. This is one common trait of a perfectionist at work. Are your goals realistic? Are you expecting yourself never to make a mistake?
One mistake does not make your a failure. A slip does not mean you are useless or bad at doing your work. Who does not slip from time to time? Look around you. Who never make mistakes?
Try and counter each negative thought statement with a response that is more rational than emotional. State the occasions when you were commended for a job well done. How often does your boss give your compliments? Or your colleagues?
The ability to handle stress has got to do with our mental ability to attack negative thoughts with positive rational thoughts, positive facts and affirmations. There are some people who might go into overdrive with their positive thinking until common sense is lost. Hence, be reasonable when coming up with the positive thoughts.
Now, suppose you have tested your thoughts, and found them to be true. Then the next step will be to tackle them – one by one. Have actionable steps to mitigate or eliminate these issues, then focus on solving them.
Hence, by knowing our negative thoughts, listing them down and tackling them by positive rational thoughts or fact, we can steer clear of the damage of the negative thoughts. Where there are truly room for improve, we can identify them, work on them, and emerge a stronger person.