Mind Tools Strategies to control stress : Think Positively
Mind Tools is a five-part series in which clinical psychologist Dr Mark Harrold outlines strategies to control stress, calm anxiety and master your mind.
Published 09/10/2013 | 05:00
I had just wiped down the weights machine after using it at the gym when the next guy to use it started earnestly cleaning the machine with his towel. My immediate reaction was to attempt a quick sniff of my armpits to see if I had remembered to put my deodorant on that morning!
Why do we do these things? Why did I not first assume that the person doing all the wiping had obsessive compulsive disorder or perhaps a sensitive skin condition?
We often negatively evaluate ourselves before thinking about a more rational explanation. This is what is known as grasshopper thinking. Imagine you are walking along the street one day and someone you know walks straight past you without as much as lifting their head.
Leap 1: I must have done something to upset them. Leap 2: I am always opening my gob when I shouldn't. Leap 3: It's no wonder I have so few friends. Leap 4: I am such a pathetic person.
We rarely seem to think that the person may just have been preoccupied. Or they may simply not have seen us.
There could be any number of reasons to explain what happened but we always seem to settle on the negative evaluation of ourselves. And you must realise that these pessimistic evaluations of yourself are just plain wrong.
Dr. Jim White, the Glasgow-based psychologist who developed the highly effective "Stress Control" course, gives us the following approach to combating negative self-talk: "Stand back. Pull back the blinkers. Wait a minute." Another psychologist, Dr. Hans Selye, is quoted as saying "It is not the event but rather our interpretation of it that causes our emotional reaction".
The main point here is that we must challenge negative thoughts every time. If we do not, our confidence will be eroded and our stress will be exacerbated.
A tactic for people who tend to worry is to nominate a time of the day to think about your worries. Confine your worry time to maximum 15-30 minutes, and then get on with daily living.
Thomas Jefferson asked: "How much pain they have cost us, the evils which have not happened?" We must make sure to treat irrational fears with the contempt they deserve.
Negative thoughts can take over if we do not face our fears. Imagine you have to attend a family gathering. You know the sister you are not talking to will be there. You decide not to think about it all week and by the time the day comes around you are a bag of nerves.
A far better strategy would be to gather all the facts about the event, develop a plan, steel yourself and walk tall throughout.
Even if it goes badly, make sure to review where it went wrong and this will inform what you will do the next time.
Remember, about 95pc of what we fear never happens. Marcus Aurelius, the great Roman emperor, once said: "If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it, and this you have the power to revoke at any moment."
So clearly, the strategies outlined above are not new – you just have to go out and practice them.
As part of Mind Yourself week. drmarkharrold.com