ADVICE FROM A CITY PSYCHOLOGIST: How to change your THINKING and pull back from severe stress

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By Dr Michael Sinclair, City Psychology Group

Dr Michael Sinclair

Last week, we looked at how to modify your behaviour to pull back from severe stress. This week, I want to look at how you can modify your thinking to alleviate stress too.

By changing or reducing certain negative thinking patterns contributing to stress, you can more easily adapt to stressful situations and regain a sense of control in your life.

· Examine and modify your expectations (of yourself and others):

Setting high or rigid demands of what others "should" or "must" do can lead to unhealthy, counterproductive emotions and behaviours. Equally harmful are setting unrealistic or exceedingly high demands for yourself -- perfectionism can fuel stress, as perfection is an unobtainable goal and illusion. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others, and learn to accept that you are a fallible, less-than-perfect human being, like everyone else!

· Develop perspective:

Take a moment to step back from your situation and view it as objectively as possible. How critical is this task or situation to the "larger picture" of your life? Will it significantly and unalterably impact your future? Avoid "catastrophising" the event by keeping things in perspective.

· Adjust or reframe your perceptions:

Try to practice a "glass is half full" viewpoint to reframe stressors. For example, a long, potentially frustrating commute on the train can be viewed as structured time to catch up on reading, work or simply an opportunity to close your eyes and regroup.

· Remind yourself of the "good stuff":

Try not to let a stressful incident overshadow all the positives in your life. Sometimes a negative event becomes "larger than life" and the total sum of our being, resulting in amnesia for all the achievements or positive qualities in our lives.

· Be mindful of irrational messages:

Words such as "always," "never," "should," and "must" lead the way in creating stress in our lives, as they are hallmarks of self-defeating thoughts leading to negative, unhealthy emotions and behaviours.

· Acceptance

Acceptance is one of the most challenging concepts in our society. If the sources of stress are unavoidable or unalterable (e.g., illness, the loss of a loved one, a redundancy), the best coping response is to develop a level of acceptance.

Try "letting go"

When people, situations or behaviours are unchangeable, move on the things you can control. Ruminating, stubbornly "hanging on" or tenaciously insisting change may cause more stress than what it's worth. Try saying "this is ok for now; I can cope with this for now" and stop trying to convince yourself that life should be different or perfect!

Find a different meaning:

Search for opportunities for personal growth in the face of stressors. Sayings such as, "May you be blessed with failure earlier in life" may be counterintuitive but hold grains of wisdom.

Practice forgiveness:

Anger and resentment can hold us captive to stress.

Dr. Michael Sinclair is a consultant psychologist and clinical director at the City Psychology Group. Consultant to a number of occupational health departments in the City of London, he is the author of Fear and Self-Loathing in the City: a guide to keeping sane in the square mile and The Little CBT Book: a step by step guide to gaining control of your life.