Change your thoughts

Stress and negative thoughts/emotions

Our emotions and thoughts are closely linked. If you feel stressed you will probably find that you are acutely away of your negative emotions and less aware of your logical thinking patterns. You may believe that it is a natural course of events to feel and think negatively when the pressure is on.

Some people even believe that the way they feel is due to their personality – that they are ‘ born worriers’. But you will be pleased to learn that his is just not the case. To a large extent you can choose your emotions – you do not have to be controlled by them.

In this article, you will be shown how to identify where your emotions come from and you will learn strategies for changing them so that you will be more able to combat stress positively.

Previous conditioning

A lot of behaviour is learnt and for most of us the chief point of reference is our parents. How your parents responded to pressured or difficult circumstances can explain a great deal about how you respond to similar situations.

Think about how your parents reacted to stressful situations when you were growing up. Were they anxious and fretful during uncertain times? Are you the same? You may also have grown up developing a host of beliefs that are ‘irrational’, such as the need for constant approval. You will be relieved to hear that there is much you can do to alleviate the negative stress caused by irrational beliefs and thoughts.

Approval seeking

If your parents encouraged you to be good and behave well to please them, you may be still seeking approval from others as feedback that you are doing well. Trying to do this as an adult can be very wearing on yourself and others. There may be times when you have to make unpopular decisions or take command of a difficult situation, and pleasing everyone involved would be neither possible nor appropriate. Managing people at work and managing family relationships are areas where this can apply.

Trying to please everyone can be stressful, even more so when no one seems to appreciate the efforts you are making on their behalf. It is also unrealistic to expect everyone to like you. Once you realise that that is what you have been doing, and once you decide to change your expectations, it becomes easier to function in a pressured environment and much of the stress of dealing with people and making unpopular decisions is removed.

Constantly trying to keep everyone happy can also be time-consuming and tiring. This kind of thinking is irrational and is loaded with problems. From the moment you learn someone does not approve of your actions, it can set up negative thoughts you start to think that you are not good enough or that nobody likes you.

Strategies for change

Think about the people whom you spend a lot of time trying to please unnecessarily or for too much of the time – your boss, for example, or your sister, or your partner – and re-evaluate your actions around them.

Identify the times when you have been oversensitive about other people criticising you and start to build an acceptance that it is natural that there will be some people who may not approve of you.

Striving for perfection

How many times in your childhood was the phrase ‘could do better’ applied to you? Parents and teachers give us this feedback with the good intention of getting us to do our best. But they sometimes forget the most important part of the message:  ‘Well done, for what you have achieved so far’.

Without necessarily criticising your parents or your teachers, this kind of upbringing may well have left you with ideals that are not always useful in pressured circumstances. If you have five important things to do in a short space of time, it is better to accept an adequate job for each of the five rather, than exhaust yourself trying to achieve the impossible perfect result for all of them.

Blaming others for unhappiness

You may have grown up with very caring parents who wanted to protect you from experiencing difficulties. Perhaps they shielded you from stressful situations such as being bullied or teased. Perhaps your parents even fought your battles for you in order for you to feel happy most of the time.

If this is the case, you will have developed your own coping strategies and you may tend to blame others for any stress you experience. If, for example, there are changes at the office which result in you having to do  more work, you might blame your boss because you feel stressed. Or, perhaps your partner has to relocate and you blame him or her for the emotional upheaval.

Blaming others when things go wrong means you are not taking responsibility for yourself. In time, this kind of thinking can leave you feeling helpless and unable to do anything for yourself. To blame others for your apparent misfortunes is, in effect t, an easy option and ‘passing the buck’ is never satisfactory in the long-term.

And, if you always point the finger at someone else whenever anything goes wrong, the chances are that they will not give you support when you most genuinely need it. In other words, you could find yourself increasingly isolated from work colleagues or even members of your immediate family.

Claire’s partner, Mark, is a successful civil engineer. He loves his job but it is one that takes him out of the country for half of the year. Claire misses him terribly when he is away, so much so when Mark is at home their time together is marred with arguments about lonely she feels.

When Claire comes to see me their relationship was at crisis point. In the course of time, however, she began to realize that neither Mark nor his job were to blame for the emptiness of her life and, if anything, she was at fault for transferring the responsibility for her unhappiness on to him. Claire has since joined an amateur dramatic society which fills in the time when Mark is away and which has also proved to be a good source of new friends.

Strategy for change

Think about the stress you are experiencing at the moment. What is causing it? Are you blaming everyone but yourself? If so, decide to take responsibility for your own actions and feelings and manage them differently. When you do take responsibility for your behaviour and actions, you will probably be relieved to discover that your whole outlook on life becomes more positive.

In the next section we’ll look at faulty thinking patterns and strategies for changing them.

Faulty thinking patterns >>

Text Copyright © Alix Needham
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