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Think Straighter, Worry Less

If you can figure out how to reduce worry and transform your self-talk into something positive and sensible, your stress level will be lower. Worrying is a process that starts when you perceive an event, situation, or circumstance as potentially dangerous or threatening.

You think about that situation — at times unconsciously and automatically — and, depending on what you say to yourself about that situation, you create varying degrees of emotional stress.

On the other hand, if your self-talk is negative and irrational, you cause yourself to feel excessive worry. This worry manifests itself not only emotionally but also physically, producing all of the symptoms that characterize the fight-or-flight response. And the fight-or-flight response can result in even more worry.

There is a direct relationship between your thoughts and your worries, and more specifically the connections between particular thought distortions and worry. Here are three resources to replace your distressing thought patterns with more worry-resistant thinking.

Thinking errors cause stress

We’re at the mercy of that chaotic discussion in our heads that we call thinking. Too often, though, much of that thinking and feeling is the product of less-than-stable psychological dynamics, such as our insecurities, fears, and vulnerabilities.

This host of triggering thoughts can send us into a mental spiral, often with stressful results. The problem is that we believe that most of our thoughts are on the mark. We also believe that if we’re feeling something — any emotion — then this emotion is an accurate response that should be felt and acted upon.

Our cognitive distortions, also called thinking errors, are just that: distortions and errors. If we listen to them and accept them as the truth, we find ourselves sinking deeper into the quicksand of worry.

Stop feeding your worries

Just because you have a worry doesn’t mean you have to keep feeding that worry with more negative rumination. You can cultivate mindfulness and develop the skill of detaching from your worry, becoming more accepting of what is and less judgmental or fearful.

You give your worries too much power by ruminating about what has happened in the past or may happen in the future. If you can stop this process, you can feel less stress. Mindfulness can help you do just that. It allows you to detach, stepping away from your worry without feeding or escalating it.

With mindfulness, you can begin to notice the worry and be aware of the feelings it creates without adding to your distress. Don’t try to fix it, avoid it, deny it, or come up with any answers. Get in touch with the feelings the worry may have created.

Experience those feelings with a degree of curiosity, acceptance, and kindness. You’ll find that although the problem may still exist, you’ve found a way of living with that problem. And if the problem is solvable, you’re in a better place emotionally and cognitively to deal with it and come up with a solution.

Acceptance reduces stress

In life you’ll face many negative experiences that you’d rather not deal with. But you do have to confront some of those experiences not only death and taxes but also illness, accidents, job loss, financial instability, sexual difficulties, problem children, and difficult in-laws.

You have lots to worry about: Real problems do exist (although often our biggest problems are the ones we never thought to worry about). Much of our worrying is an attempt to either make the situation go away or make our feelings about the situation go away.

In other words, our worries are often our attempts to fight reality. You figure that if you fight hard enough, you’ll win. Alas, too often we have little control over our universe and other people within it. The worrying itself becomes the problem.

Sometimes it’s better to accept a situation rather than fight it mentally by worrying. The good news is, acceptance doesn’t mean you can’t solve your problem or discover a better way of coping with it.

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