American research has yet to catch up with the need for a greater understanding of stress: its causes, effects and how to prevent and resolve it. Yet, as the current literature stands, Dr. Mike Evans of the American Institute of Stress offers one tangible, practical solution for stress that each of us can try. Though clearly not a catch-all answer, Dr. Evans’ novel approach puts the onus on the stressed rather than the stressors. That’s right: your stressful job is not the problem; you are.
Simply put, Dr. Evans suggests “change your thinking style” to find yourself living a less stressful life. In an informative and entertaining visual lecture on Stress.org, Dr. Evans elaborates on the common misconceptions of stress. He says, “Most people think stress is something that happens to us, like a piece of steel on bridge that is constantly being stressed and then eventually snaps.” Seems reasonable, but for one crucial fallacy: unlike the physical stress that directly affects the steel bridge, our stress first passes through our brains. It seems fairly self-evident, but it argues that unlike the bridge, the stress is not happening to us, rather, “we create the stress in our brains.”
Your attitudes directly affect your stress management skills; thankfully, these are not predetermined values over which we have no control. We can learn to change the way our brains work using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (a formalized regiment that teaches practical techniques to problem solving, relaxation and altering thought patterns). But you do not have to visit a therapist to reap the benefits of CBT. Dr. Evans outlines four common “traps” that often lead us to feel stressed:
- A Negative Filter: one disproportionately focuses on the negative rather than the positive.
- Fortune-telling: making negative assumptions or predicting negative outcomes that have little legitimacy.
- Mind-reading: imagining negative thoughts or opinions in others.
- Polarizing: Moving from one extreme to another instead of inhabiting the middle ground.
Using simple mindfulness techniques at home can drastically improve your ability to manage stress and thereby, your overall health – it can even lower your risk of heart attack and death. Think mindfulness is only for granola-crunching hippies? Think again. Doctors across America are beginning to prescribe mindfulness courses as part of treatment regimens for patients with heart disease and other chronic conditions. Its emphasis on letting go of worry and refocusing attention can help patients to cope with high pressure situations, hostile people and other stressors. Just follow the “90-10 Rule”: 10 percent of stress derives from outside forces (things that happen to us) and 90 percent of stress originates from within (our attitudes, our thoughts, our behaviors). The responsibility is on us to reduce our own stress, because we are the ones who create it.
For more information on mindfulness and his three Cs of changing your thought patterns, we highly recommend Dr. Evans’ lecture at www.stress.org.