Rethinking stressful situations and feel more in control
Bring your mind to a situation that you find stressful and identify how you’re thinking about it. Do you notice negative thoughts? Are you wondering whether you can get your work done?As you notice these thoughts change your point of view. Instead of focusing on the problem as something that you cannot manage, think about it being a situation that matters to you and that the feelings you are experiencing are because you care about things working out. Focus your attention on finding ways to manage it well. Remind yourself that the body reactions you are experiencing are the body’s normal response when we feel under threat or challenged. So, instead of viewing this as a threat, change your focus and view it as a challenge, where the tension you are experiencing is there to help to do something about the situation.
Kelly Mcgonigal (2015) described the stress paradox: on the one hand it is harmful when we we have high levels of stress for a prolonged time. And at other times, when we view it as something that we can manage and we see ourselves as capable of managing it. When focus on what is meaningful then we can use the energy to act and deal with the situation.
Another strategy is to focus on our values, as these help us to reconnect with what is important to us. It helps us to find meaning so that we can sustain our efforts and manage the challenging situation. This can help us to feel stronger so that we can think of ways to cope with it. It is important not to avoid them because it will make it worse increasing the stress symptoms and our feelings of distress and powerlessness.
These are techniques that research shows can have a positive effect, and can help to prevent the development of burnout. It is essential that we talk to others (trusted friends, colleagues or mental health professionals). Talking is beneficial because when we connect with others we feel part of humanity, and it prevents feeling isolated. As we describe our experience we create a narrative that helps us to understand and make sense of what’s happening, even if it is a very difficult experience. It helps us connect with what is a human experience.
Other strategies such as Mindfulness and exercising are effective in providing our body with ways of relaxing and help us to feel more in control. We can take a step back from our thoughts. regulate our breathing and we do this we can ground ourselves
As we build our resilience, or hardiness (Maddi, 2005) – our ability to deal with challenges and become stronger. It is like doing sports, in order to build our strength we need to do many exercises repeatedly to build muscle and endurance. When the exercises are difficult we break them down into smaller steps and practise them in incremental stages. We know that the harder ones may test our determination to persevere, but we continue because we know it is part of the process of developing skills.
When we are engaged in a difficult task, like taking exams, having to go for job interviews or face a difficult meeting where we have to present a report which could lead to some challenging questions, we can remind ourselves that we are able to cope and that remember that we have been preparing for the task. When we take into account the difficulties, and we prepare for the obstacles that we might face, we can view these as part of achieving that goal.
So, in summary,, to manage stressful events and regain a sense of control, transform your view of the situation, focus your attention on steps you can take to manage the tasks and use the energy to boost your motivation to persevere and notice how you make progress. Remind yourself of all those challenging situations you have dealt with in the past, and when you achieved something that was meaningful to you. Did they involve hard work, periods of uncertainty and frustration? Probably, and it probably felt more rewarding because of the hard work. We develop our strengths and we grow from stressful situations, provided that we view them as manageable, and that we allow time for recovery afterwards.
Maddi, S. & Khoshaba, D. (2005) Resilience at work: How to succeed no matter what life throws at you. New York: Amacom Books.
McGonigal, K. (2015) The upside of stress. Why stress is good for you (and how to get good at it). London: Vermilion.