Gary Gilles is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in private practice for over 20 years. He is also an adjunct faculty member at the University
Everyone talks about stress and knows it is not good for us but far fewer seem to know how to manage the stress in their lives.
The key to effective stress management boils down to two principles:
1. Being proactive with the things you have control over
2. Learning to let go of those you don’t have control over
Sometimes it’s very difficult to know which variables you can and can’t control.
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We tend to think of stress almost exclusively as events that press in on our lives from the outside, such as car accidents, unreasonable bosses or financial troubles. But, the majority of our stress in contemporary life is psychological in nature, In other words, it isn’t the events that cause us stress but how we respond to stress. The stress response is triggered by our perception of the situation.
Types of stress
There are two kinds of stressors:
1) Acute stressors: These are situational triggers that cause us to feel anxious. For example, on a nice day while walking in your neighborhood a dog threatens to bite you and chases you up a tree to avoid getting hurt. Your heart is racing, you feel angry and you utter a few choice words to the owner when he goes to retrieve the dog that should have been on a leash. But, within a few minutes you are feeling less upset and able to go about your walk. The anxiety peaks quickly and then subsides.
2) Chronic stressors: A chronic stressor is one that lingers for a long time. Sometimes chronic stressors are prolonged naturally, such as when a loved one is seriously ill in the hospital for a long period. But most of the time chronic stress stems from our preoccupation with a situation. For example, your boss yells at you because a deadline was missed. You know he is a hot-head but still it bothers you that he singled you out from the rest of the group. The more you replay the scene in your mind the more upset you become. Now, the stress is not being triggered by the actual event but by your inability to let go of it. And this is what the majority of stress is about.
Changing your response to stressful situations
There is an approach called the ABC method that many counselors use to help people combat their distorted thoughts that lead to unnecessary stress.
In the ABC method the “A” stands for:
Adversity – it represents the person, situation or event (your boss yelled at you). Adversity can be almost anything-a traffic jam, a difficult relationship, financial problems, etc.
“B” stand for:
Belief – this is your belief about yourself, others or the circumstances (the boss doesn’t like you). The beliefs are how the adversity is interpreted. They are the automatic thoughts that go through our minds when adversity, or what we think to be an adversity, has happened to us. It isn’t the adversity itself, but it’s the perception of the threat or failure associated with them.
And “C” stands for:
Consequence or your reaction to the event (you feel you might be fired). At first glance it appears that A causes C (your boss yells at you and therefore you fear being fired). But, it is actually your beliefs and perceptions about A determine the outcome in C and create a lot of chronic stress.
So, how would you proactively handle the stress in this situation?
- Recognize automatic thoughts or beliefs (the boss doesn’t like me) that are going on when you feel stress.
- Dispute the automatic thoughts by gathering evidence to the contrary. Does the boss really have it out for you or was he just upset on that day? Assume the role of defense attorney and try to rebut your own incriminating thoughts.
- Evaluate what is objectively true about the situation and compare this to your automatic thoughts.
- Change unrealistic, demanding assumptions to realistic, flexible ones.
It may not sound easy but with practice you can learn to proactively manage the stressors in a much more effective way.
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