Stress is a Choice

You are nervous, anxious, uneasy, wired, frazzled, and possibly even scared. How can it be that this is your own doing? We often engage in thought patterns that contribute to and exacerbate stress.

Catastrophizing

Catastrophic thinking is when you imagine the worst case scenario. This is especially damaging when you allow worries related to the worst case scenario to nag you over and over. Some people even take this to the extreme and let a series of what-ifs or worst case situations create a hypothetical chain of events that might, but are very unlikely to, occur.

Catastrophic thinking is not all bad. It allows us to plan ahead and prepare for events that might cause actual damage. When you find yourself engaging in catastrophic thinking, take the following steps:

  1. Take it as an opportunity to prepare for the worst case scenario.
  2. Make a list of all the reasons why the worst case scenario is unlikely to happen.
  3. Rationalize why the worst case scenario might not be all that bad—and might even lead to something positive.

Personalizing

In relation to stress, personalizing can take several forms:

  1. Worrying about things you have no control over.
  2. Thinking you can avoid or impact an event you have no control over.
  3. Blaming yourself for an event that was caused by external circumstances.

The same personality traits that make you successful at work are usually to blame here. Planful, smart, strategic, conscientious people tend to put stress on themselves the most. This is where self-awareness about your personality and behaviors becomes very useful. If you have a strong sense of accountability and responsibility, you may be at risk for personalizing and catastrophizing.

Stress is a Cycle

Becoming stressed out causes automatic reactions throughout our body, affecting our cardiovascular and immune systems. Over time, this stress reaction changes our bodies and our brains in a way that we become more sensitive to future stresses. When we don’t deal with stress well, we are less able to deal new stresses effectively in the future. This magnifies over time, as the body becomes accustomed to pumping out stress hormones. If we don’t acknowledge the stress and cope with it effectively, it will take the form of physical pain such as headaches, ulcers, and fatigue. This takes a toll on your performance, productivity, and quality of life.

Managing the Stress Cycle

If you routinely wait until you are stressed out, it’s too late. To manage stress proactively and raise your tolerance for stressful events:

  • Recognize what events, situations, and which people cause you stress.
    • Learn to predict periods of stress.
    • Manage your emotions during that time proactively.
    • Stress has physical consequences; take time to recover.
  • Learn about techniques that manage your stress level.
  • Examine your thought patterns leading up to and after stressful events.
    • Be brutally honest with yourself: do your thinking patterns help or make things worse?
    • Avoid quick fixes such as alcohol and food, especially as a long-term solution.

Eva Rykrsmith

Eva Rykrsmith is an organizational psychology practitioner. Her passion lies in bringing a psychology perspective to the business world, with the mission of creating a high-performance environment. Follow her @EvaRykr.

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