Stress Not

Say­ing good­bye to stress can be as sim­ple as chang­ing our neg­a­tive thoughts. Here are nine “mind traps” – and how to es­cape them

Women's Weekly (Malaysia) - - CONTENTS -

Re-wire your thought pat­tern

In our of­ten stress­ful lives, one sin­gle thought can make the dif­fer­ence. Th­ese were the find­ings ob­tained by brain re­searches in re­cent stud­ies, which showed there are nine com­mon “mind traps” that can con­stantly trig­ger stress re­ac­tions, even when the ac­tual threat level is low. We might live in a stress-filled world, but ex­perts say recog­nis­ing and chang­ing some com­mon neg­a­tive thought pat­terns can save us a whole lot of ex­haus­tion and un­nec­es­sary anx­i­ety. “Stress is like a gui­tar string. If it’s strung too loosely, it can only play flat, lower sounds, and if it’s strung too tightly, it pro­duces ex­ces­sively high, sharp tones, in­deed even snaps,” says stress re­searcher Jonathan S Abramowitz of the Univer­sity of North Carolina. “A gui­tar string must have the right ten­sion in or­der to sound good. And when it comes to stress, we too need to find the right ten­sion­ing to en­sure this stress plays out within a healthy range.” It might sound easy, but re­al­ity isn’t so sim­ple. Af­ter all, stress is de­fined as the sum of all our phys­i­cal and men­tal re­ac­tions to our en­vi­ron­ment and the daily de­mands placed upon us. This is the rea­son stress re­ac­tions are of­ten trig­gered too in­ten­sively and too per­ma­nently, and sus­tained ten­sion can make peo­ple ill.

And yet irk­some sit­u­a­tions only make up a small part of the trig­gers be­hind stress re­ac­tions, with 90 per cent of our stress trac­ing back to how we think about a chal­lenge be­fore­hand. Brain re­searchers have found mind traps we con­stantly fall into and which im­me­di­ately trig­ger stress. “If we recog­nise th­ese thoughts and are able to stop feel­ings of lack from aris­ing, stop think­ing in black and white, and stop al­ways want­ing to have con­trol over ev­ery­thing, we can use our abil­ity to give pref­er­ence to one thought over an­other,” says cel­lu­lar bi­ol­o­gist Dr Bruce Lip­ton. “Chang­ing our thoughts can im­pact on how our brain com­mu­ni­cates with the rest of the body. That is the safest way of en­sur­ing more calm­ness, and the great­est weapon against neg­a­tive stress.”

MIND TRAP #1 I Have To Do It Per­fectly

Per­fec­tion­ism means spend­ing at least 50 per cent of your en­ergy on the last (usu­ally dis­pens­able) 10 per cent of a task. This is pure stress. We get out of this stress by re­view­ing the de­mands we place on our­selves and our own per­for­mance. Anyone who fre­quently thinks “I must” or “I mustn’t” will be­come stressed more eas­ily than peo­ple who ac­cept their lim­i­ta­tions.

STRESS RE­DUC­ING MANTRA:

I don’t al­ways have to achieve 100 per cent; 80 per cent will suf­fice.

MIND TRAP #2 I Won’t Be Able To Do It By The Dead­line

I don’t have enough time. I’m not sup­ported, in­cluded, ap­pre­ci­ated enough. Psy­chol­o­gists have noted how the thought of not hav­ing enough of some­thing leads to neg­a­tive stress, which in turn in­ten­si­fies our feel­ings of lack. We keep re­peat­ing the prob­lem to our­selves, and it be­comes larger in our mem­ory than it is in re­al­ity. STRESS RE­DUC­ING MANTRA I can do it.

MIND TRAP #3 Noth­ing Can Be Done Any­way

A thought is like a be­havioural pat­tern, says stress re­searches Bruce McEwen. “So our brain doesn’t dis­tin­guish whether a thought is good or bad for us; whether we fear or yearn for some­thing. It un­crit­i­cally bases its de­ci­sions on what’s go­ing on in our head.” If, say, we be­lieve we have no con­trol over events, then we are in­deed pow­er­less, a feel­ing that trig­gers emo­tional stress.

STRESS RE­DUC­ING MANTRA We’ll find a so­lu­tion sooner or later.

MIND TRAP #4 Why Do Things Al­ways Turn Against Me?

If we gen­er­alise states of stress, we get stuck in a neg­a­tive thought pat­tern. “We sud­denly see ev­ery­thing as be­ing bleak and start to be­lieve the stress, which in re­al­ity only af­fects one area of our life,

“Our brain doesn’t dis­tin­guish whether a thought is good or bad for us; whether we fear or yearn for some­thing. It un­crit­i­cally bases its de­ci­sions on what’s go­ing on in our head”

will sooner or later end up con­sum­ing our en­tire life,” says psy­chol­o­gist Kelly McGoni­gal. Our emo­tions are skewed so “we be­lieve each of our thoughts to be true, no mat­ter how ab­surd.”

STRESS RE­DUC­ING MANTRA To­day wasn’t that great but to­mor­row is a new day.

MIND TRAP #5 My Life Is Too Stress­ful

Our per­cep­tion fo­cuses only on that which fits with our as­sump­tions. “What we see is a mini ex­cerpt, and we call it re­al­ity. We should ac­tu­ally be call­ing it our own re­al­ity,” says psy­chol­o­gist Ilona Burgel. Once we’ve ze­roed in on the fact our work is stress­ful and an­noy­ing, it will be stress­ful and an­noy­ing be­cause we only no­tice th­ese as­pects. We only no­tice the stress, be it men­tal or phys­i­cal, be­cause our thoughts do not per­mit any other truth. STRESS RE­DUC­ING MANTRA There’s a lot to do, but I’ve got it all un­der con­trol.

MIND TRAP #6 It’s Ex­actly As I Say

This mind­set is a hall­mark of tun­nel vi­sion, where we only take on board in­for­ma­tion which fits with our be­liefs. This leads us to re­peat old pat­terns and make poor de­ci­sions which put us un­der stress. “The very fact we were so sure of our­selves re­sults in our brain set­ting off a loud alarm in the event of an er­ror, even when a quiet warn­ing tone would have suf­ficed,” says neu­ro­bi­ol­o­gist Ger­ald Huether. STRESS RE­DUC­ING MANTRA There is a lot I can’t con­trol.

MIND TRAP #7 I’ve Al­ways Done It This Way

Our brain likes to be com­fort­able. If we don’t urge it on, it of­ten sticks with solutions it has found be­fore. While rou­tine can some­times be ef­fec­tive, it of­ten fails to help us progress. And if our ha­bit­ual thoughts get off kil­ter, we come un­der pres­sure. It is pre­cisely in stress­ful sit­u­a­tions that we need to men­tally run through al­ter­na­tives to calmly find solutions to the prob­lem.

STRESS RE­DUC­ING MANTRA I’m open to ev­ery­thing.

MIND TRAP #8 I’m A Win­ner Or A Loser

The world is beau­ti­ful – the world is hor­ri­ble. If we think in black and white, we think in stereo­types. We don’t see any greys; no re­la­tion­ships, no al­ter­na­tives. There is only an “ei­ther-or” not “both-and”. That’s why ev­ery shade of grey cre­ates stress – be­cause we don’t be­lieve in flip­ping our views, and are un­able to fo­cus on what works in stress­ful sit­u­a­tions. STRESS RE­DUC­ING MANTRA I don’t tie my­self down.

MIND TRAP #9 I’m Afraid Of Fail­ing

If we’ve learned to as­so­ciate feel­ings of stress with a feel­ing of fear, we’ll ex­pe­ri­ence ev­ery stress­ful sit­u­a­tion as fear – even panic. It’s a mix-up that can cause us to avoid stress­ful sit­u­a­tions in the hope of es­cap­ing the fear. Re­searches call it “avoid­ance be­hav­iour re­sis­tance”. “Anyone who re­sists will grad­u­ally lose strength. Be­cause re­sis­tance means fight­ing what is, and that’s the great­est way to lose en­ergy,” says stress man­ager Mir­riam Priess.

STRESS RE­DUC­ING MANTRA It won’t be easy, but I wel­come the chal­lenge.

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