Life can be stressful sometimes. This can be due to problems at work, a difficult relationship, or just being too busy. While we can accept this, it would be a bad idea to treat stress as an unavoidable problem that cannot be tackled. After all, colds are just as inevitable as stress, but you’d still take steps to prevent and deal with them.
So how can you prepare for stress, and get rid of it once it arrives? There are quite a few options, from meditation to aromatherapy, but today we’re going to focus on something you can do with no training or equipment: positive thinking.
Optimism is very important for your mental health, as long as you approach it in the right way. Thinking positively doesn’t mean ignoring your problems, after all; this is repression, and it’s much worse – and more stressful – for you in the long run. Here is how you can use positive thinking as a stress-buster and avoid burying your head in the sand.
A major part of positivity is not about forcing yourself to be happy, but instead recognising when your thoughts are unnecessarily negative. We all have an internal voice in our head that we “talk” to throughout the day; it’s just how human beings think. However, this self-talk can end up contributing to your stress.
For example, do you ever sleep through your alarm, realise you forgot to iron your work clothes, miss breakfast or have some other bad experience first thing in the morning and think: “That’s it, the day’s ruined”? This is fairly common, and is often referred to as catastrophising.
Of course, your day isn’t ruined, you’ve just had a few bad experiences. They aren’t connected to the rest of the day, and there’s no reason you won’t have an entirely positive time. However, if you start the day off assuming that everything is ruined, you’ll paint the events that happen in a more negative light and find yourself stressing out about minor things.
Similarly, you might find that your self-talk is ‘polarising’, in that you only see things as either entirely positive or entirely negative. Things are rarely 100 per cent good, so this tends to lead to seeing things as more negative than they are.
In the same vein, ‘filtering’ refers to the act of ignoring positive aspects of a situation and magnifying the negative ones. So you might have a really productive day at work, but focus on the two tasks you didn’t complete, rather than the eight that you did.
Now you know what sort of negative thinking habits to look out for, you can start to change them. It’s best to take one aspect of your life at a time; for example, you could apply this to how you think about your job at first, then when you have a handle on that, you can start altering how you think about your home life.
When you find yourself feeling stressed about a specific situation, try to spot negative patterns of thinking like filtering or catastrophising. Then you can try to tackle it by altering your self-talk, consciously changing how you are perceiving your situation.
For example, if you find yourself thinking you’ve had an unproductive day at work as in the example above, then recognise that you’re filtering and focus on what you managed to achieve. Try to congratulate yourself for every task you completed and think about how much easier it will make the rest of your week.
A major part of managing your thinking is altering your self-talk, and one of the best ways of doing this is to talk to yourself as if you were someone else. Quite often, people who are experiencing stress are perfectly willing to give good, positive advice to their friends that they are not following themselves.
Going back to the example of the unproductive day, imagine one of your friends came to you and said they hadn’t got enough work done and it was stressing them out. Would you respond by telling them that they’re right, and that’s going to make things really difficult for them, and how are they going to manage to get everything done before the end of the month?
Hopefully, you wouldn’t do any of that. Instead, you’d tell them not to worry, that they have more time than they think and they can always ask for help if things get overwhelming. If you would do that for someone else, why wouldn’t you do it for yourself?
This is the key to stress busting through positivity. Treat yourself as if you were somebody else. Be gentle, reassuring and kind. This doesn’t mean ignoring problems and brushing them under the rug, but instead approaching them from a rational yet positive place of encouragement.