It might sound weird, “homemade” stress… But have you ever realised that a lot of the stress that we experience is actually “homemade”. We think that it’s the outside that puts the stress on us whereas in the end it’s often us and the way we deal with an event that turns it into stress.

This becomes obvious when two people are confronted with the same situation and for one it becomes pure stress whereas for the other it’s just easy peasy. The same situation results in different reactions. How come? Why is it perceived differently?

It’s our brain that translates the situation for us. It compares things going on with past memories, evaluates what this means to us, measures it with the capacities that we have to see if we can handle it… this thinking translates then in a feeling which activates physical responses.

Often this emotion is for the stress reaction something like overwhelm or fear, a feeling of not being able to handle the situation. It’s the thought that triggers the stress response and not the situation per se. Knowing how big of an influence our thinking is in this process, makes also that we know that we have influence on the stress reaction.

 

How to influence our thinking in stressful situations

Observe your thoughts when something stressful shows up

Catching the moment when stress hits you can be very helpful. What are the thoughts that you are thinking? Is that thinking negatively or positively biased? Chances are big that it’s negative. See if you are able to turn this into neutral or positive thinking. When we are in a flow state, we can handle so much more than with negative thinking.

 

Use intentions or visualisations to influence your thinking

Both we discussed earlier as successful means to handle stress. Intend or envision how easily you have handled the situation, despite all the con’s that you might have in your mind now. Both are really effective tools, not only for stress management. Successful sportsmen or navy seals use these techniques to win in the mind first.

 

Use a pattern interrupter

Have a sentence or word that makes it clear to your mind that you don’t want to proceed with the negative thinking. This can be “stop”, “hold on” or even “rabbit hole”, to prevent you from going down the rabbit hole of stress.

 

Create your positivity mantra

Find one sentence for stressful moments that is powerful enough to remind you of all the resources that you have to handle this. This can be “I’ve got this”, “Easy peasy lemon squeezy”, “I can nail this” or whatever. Something that convinces you that the situation is not a big deal for you.

 

Stressful thinking about planning

A lot of the feeling of overwhelm can be tackled with writing your actions down on paper. Often we try to handle our action list in our mind. This makes our to-do’s very blurry and lacks the overview in priority and time scope. Write down the actions and their priority that want to be handled in a day/week/month/year and the amount of time that they cost you.

 

Surely you won’t always be able to intervene straight away when stress shows up. Especially in the beginning, when you are not used to this technique, you can be glad if you catch a few of these thoughts. Still, it can be good to also reflect the ones that you didn’t catch in the moment they showed up.

 

What was the baseline thinking that made the situation to develop into a stress experience? Was it “I have never done this before, hopefully it goes well”, a “oh, one more task which I don’t know when to do it” or a general “I’m so stressed”?

If you do notice an overall stress pattern, you are able to establish a strategy for handling it. This can be a confidence strategy for the “I’ve never done this before thinking” or a planning strategy for the “when to do it”.

The “I’m so stressed” person needs to dig a bit deeper. In our society it’s well accepted and maybe even expected that people answer the question about how they are doing with “Good but very busy.”. What seems like a statement of “I’m important” has more consequences on our subconscious than we would want it to have.

 

Good luck with catching your stressful thoughts!