HOW TO OVERCOME THE STRESS OF NEGATIVE THINKING
Blisspot - Long-Form Blog Post
We all know what stress is—it’s a part of life you have to learn to live with, tolerate even. The Global Organization for Stress reports that 75% of Americans experience moderate to high stress levels. That’s over three-quarters of adults feeling stressed out! It affects your whole body. It isn’t just all in your head—although it can give you a nasty headache, along with clammy hands, tense muscles, a racing heart, and plenty of other unpleasant sensations too.
Interestingly, your stress level all depends on your way of adapting to a stressor. Empower yourself to change how you respond to stress with techniques such as mindfulness. Let go and be in the moment. Passively observe your thoughts and sensations, or do some mindful walking and a guided body scan. Try out some strategies like breathing. Keeping active is key, even if it’s a daily walk. If you don’t have time to hit the gym—no problem! Every little helps. Identify triggers in your life that lead to a stress response and recognize where you’re holding stress in your body.
When they drop in uninvited, let’s turn those pesky negative thought patterns on their head by recognizing, challenging and rebalancing them to make them less scary. It’s time to be your own best friend. It’s time to be kind to yourself. Stress is not some scary monster to cower away from, but a resource to be understood and harnessed. We’re here to help with that by holistically approaching stress through the body and mind, giving you tools for long-term support. Our purpose is to help you self-discover and understand your stress. We’ll help unearth the natural resilience inside your body and mind. We’re here to listen. We’re here to support you.
Swatting away NATs
Ever get those pesky thoughts that just won’t leave you alone? Perhaps they come at night just when you’re trying to settle down to sleep or a wave of worries hits you as soon as you wake up. The reality is that we’re prone to these nagging, negative thoughts at all times of the day. Sometimes when things happen, we assume the worst about what they mean or what others will think of us—even when that’s not true or very unlikely. It can happen to any of us, but we may not realize when it is happening. The good news is there are plenty of ways of dealing with these intruders. Negative Automatic Thoughts (NATs) share the following common features:
Automatic and Involuntary - You do not choose to have them, or when to have them. They just pop into your head uninvited, with no effort on your part.
Distorted - They do not fit all the facts—often selectively picking the bad bits.
Unhelpful - They are unlikely to offer solutions or answers. Instead, they can lead to self-doubt, anxiety, and low mood, which can contribute to the barriers standing in the way of you moving forward and achieving your goals.
Plausible - You accept them as facts, and it does not occur to you to question them. Their perceived plausibility makes them dangerous.
NATs can be about small things like “I misspelled a word in an email, now everyone will think I’m sloppy,”—or big things, “My child is disruptive at school and I have to go see a guidance counselor, everyone is going to think I’m a terrible mother!” It’s time to swat away those NATs buzzing around your head.
Being your own best friend
An effective way of tackling NATs when they ambush you out of nowhere is by being your own best friend. You have to turn those thoughts on their head by recognizing they’re not true—they’re irrational, untrue, and unhelpful. Stand back from your thought and think, “Would I say that to someone else I cared about?” Think about what you would say to someone like a close friend if they expressed a similar thought about themselves. You’d offer support and advice. You’d tell them they’re talking nonsense. It’s time you apply the same care for yourself—self-care. Once you realize a NAT is unreasonable, you can start to challenge it.
Challenging and Rebalancing NATs
NATs hit us emotionally, but they rarely stand up to questioning when you bring them to account. Once you recognize a NAT, you can pick it apart, and voilà, it will tear apart at the seams. You see, these NATs are all talk. As loud as they are, they’re not tough and will fold easily under scrutiny. Then you can lock them away outside your head and throw away the key!
Explore any evidence you have that the thought is true and you’ll see that often there will be very little evidence to stand up in court. Consider how the thought makes you feel. It might be sad or worried.
Now challenge the perceived evidence—are these real ‘facts’ or just your assumptions? The chances are these NATs hold little to no weight when making a viable case. How could someone else view this neutrally or more positively? Is there a different way to think about it that actually fits the evidence? Consider how you feel about the thought now you’ve rebalanced it and replaced it with a positive alternative. Here’s an example.
Original thought - “I am no good at public speaking, I’ll never get a promotion to a more senior role.”
Rebalance thought - “I speak to my colleagues one-on-one or as a team every day. What’s the difference between speaking in front of them for a presentation? With a little practice and confidence, I’ll be able to bring my public speaking skills up to the required level to get a promotion.”
You can really nail them by writing your NATs down in a log. This can be very effective in showing them the door as it externalizes the thoughts from inside your head and onto paper.
Calling out NATs
Labelling types of NATs is another great way of dealing with your negative automatic thoughts so that we recognize them as they follow a few common patterns. Recognizing the type of thought you are having and giving it a label can give you some power over your thought patterns and help you understand the best way to deal with them. For example, “I’m late for work, they’re going to fire me! I should just give up and go home now!” To which your cognitive response could be, “Oh… that’s just fortune-telling – maybe I should just ring the office to say I’ll be late instead.”
Labeling the types of NATs makes them less scary. They’re false and called ‘cognitive distortions’ for a reason. Let’s look at ten commonly recognized NATs. Maybe you know some of them.
All-or-nothing thinking: Extremes, black-and-white thinking, no shades of grey, only absolutes - “If I can’t get slim enough to fit my favorite bathing suit, I can’t go on holiday.”
Discounting the positives: Ignoring the bright side - “People say my work is of a high quality, but they are only trying to make me feel better.”
Personalization: Blaming yourself for things that are not your fault or responsibility - “My husband Mike is in a terrible mood. It must be something I’ve done.”
Emotional reasoning: Believing something because you feel it – “I feel ugly, so I must be.”
Mind reading: Believing you know the thoughts of others - “My mother-in-law doesn’t like me.”
Labeling: Attaching a negative label to a person (including yourself), a situation, or a thing so that you cannot be viewed differently - “I didn’t land the contract, so I must be a useless employee.”
Imperatives: Musts and shoulds, rigid rules - “I must join the gym by next week.”
Fortune-telling: Predicting the future - “My stress level will never get any better.”
Overgeneralization: Making sweeping conclusions, based on little information - “The staff on the front desk were young. I won’t apply there as I’m too old.”
Catastrophizing: Assuming the worst of situations and your ability to cope - e.g. “I’m sure I’m going to get ill with all the work and family commitments - and I won’t be able to cope.”
Identifying and Managing Triggers
Dealing with stress triggers might sound scary, but there are ways of dealing with them. Some of these include:
Rationalization – As with NATs, think about whether the trigger is rational. Challenge and rebalance the trigger by pulling the trigger apart, questioning it, and bringing it to account. Challenge any evidence you have that the trigger is true and has any bearing on the here and now?
Alternative coping strategies – Problem solve to find a way to deal with the trigger that gives you a sense of control. You have control, not the trigger. You’ve got this.
Emotional control – Use your breathing, body scan, or positive visualization techniques in response to the trigger. As you practice these more and more, you can hopefully build in a positive automatic response, making those triggers a lot less scary—remember, they’re not real.
Here are all three different types of strategy applied to someone who gets stressed out by receiving bills in the mail.
Rationalization – “All bills will be dealt with eventually. I have a budget and I know how much money I have. Delaying the bill will not make it go away and therefore I need to open and deal with the bill. Am I going to end up destitute or on the street? No—I will manage it, pay it and move on.”
Alternative coping strategies – “How can I deal with this in a way that makes it more manageable? I will open my bills after dinner with my partner, so we can deal with them together. I am not alone in this - everyone gets bills.”
Emotional control – “Any time I get a bill, I will do a breathing exercise before I open it. Here goes…”
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