Everyone reacts differently to stress: Some explode with anger at the slightest opportunity. Others would like to hide under the duvet during stress. How we feel when we are under stress also depends on our thoughts. We can calm ourselves down with them, but also terrify ourselves.
Whether angry, aggressive, panicked, anxious, insecure or irritated: Our feelings have a lot to do with what we think. In the respective situation, but also in general about the world and about ourselves. On a particularly stressful working day: “My God, how am I supposed to do it?” you will have different feelings than if you stand in line in front of the checkout in the supermarket and moan inside: “My God, this is going slowly again!” It depends above all on your thoughts, experiences and attitudes whether stress makes you more anxious or angry.
Perceiving yourself helps
Check how you feel when you are under stress and what you think. You will find that your thoughts and feelings are similar even in different situations. If you do this systematically for a while, you will get to know your thinking habits better under stress. Not only that: You can then also check whether it is actually realistic, what you think or whether you are thinking that are actually completely pointless.
What is it useful, for example, if you are stuck in a traffic jam in the morning, hit the steering wheel with trouble and get upset: “What kind of idiots are these here in front of me! Can’t you even leave faster?” Or if you think: “Oh no, I’m late! Terrible! What will my boss think of me?!” and get into sweat? Does that change anything about the fact that you are stuck in a traffic jam? Does it help you get the traffic going again? And: Do you have to think that and thus create anger or fear in yourself? No. You could also say to yourself: “Crap, I’m stuck in a traffic jam. Can I change anything about it? No, not at the moment. So just take it easy. Call, let me know, and then listen to a little radio.” So you will survive the traffic jam with less stress.
Our inner drivers
Often we are our strictest drivers ourselves. With demands such as “Always do it perfect” or “Make sure that you are liked by everyone” put ourselves under pressure and deprive us of action. Such inner drivers are often not consciously present, but internally effective. We believe that we absolutely have to fulfill them. If not, we fear, something terrible could happen. Most of the time we don’t even know what that could be. But with a little inquiries about yourself, it is possible to find out.
Why our fears are so strong
Often it is very personal disasters that we fear. We share such fears with many people. But when we experience this fear, we believe that only we feel that way. For example, there is the fear of not being good enough, not being loved or being abandoned. We are social beings and depend on ties to others. That’s why such fears are created in us. Even children experience intuitively: Not belonging to the reference group or being rejected by it is life-threatening. That’s why real or threatened deprivation of love creates great fear.
We therefore develop strategies early on to avoid such dangers – especially if we find our environment and the affection of others to be uncertain. And often then it helps: Don’t make mistakes. Always be nice. Be careful. Or if the deprivation of love is already a reality: to learn to cope alone.
This means that our demands on ourselves are early learned ways to avoid such disasters. And because they have proven to be effective in the past, we usually do not question them as an adult. The price for this is fear and stress is situations in which we believe that we cannot meet these demands on ourselves.
A few examples of attitudes that can make your life difficult:
- Be perfect! Don’t make mistakes.
- Be popular! Avoid conflicts.
- Be strong! Don’t show weakness and don’t make yourself dependent.
- Just be careful! Ensure 100% security before you decide.
Do you recognize any of this in yourself? Then ask yourself how realistic these requirements are and whether you really have to meet them always and completely. Maybe you will discover that “always” only has to be called “sometimes”. Maybe you can see that the consequences you fear would no longer be so bad for you today. Find out where you can perhaps do without the demand and give yourself the freedom to act differently: to let five be straight. Or to clearly express one’s own opinion. Or accept help if it is needed.
In stressful situations, thoughts such as “I can never do that”, “That will go wrong” or “I am incapable” often appear. If you notice such thoughts, you can try to replace them with more encouraging thoughts. This requires a little practice and also a little preparation. This is how you proceed:
- Write down the thoughts that have gone through your head in a stressful situation.
- Divide them into positive and negative thoughts.
- Think about positive thoughts instead of negative ones. It is important that you can accept the positive formulations. So instead of “certainly I make mistakes” you don’t say to yourself “I’m definitely not making mistakes”, but rather “If I make mistakes, it’s not so bad.” It is important that you consider the positive idea you want to use to be largely true.
- Think about other positive thoughts with which you can support yourself.
- If the stress situation reappears, replace your automatically appearing negative thoughts with the encouraging thoughts as soon as you notice them.
“Do it step by step” instead of “I can’t do that”
Instead of saying “I can’t do that” or “That’s definitely going wrong” before a challenge, you could say to yourself, for example: “Try it first” or “Do it step by step”. If you are in the middle of it, you may come automatic thoughts like “Crap, I’m so nervous again” or “Oh God, I’ll fail” or “My heart beats like wild.” Maybe thoughts like “Just relax, relax” or “Well, you’re excited, that’s okay” will help you. And when the stressful situation is over, be kind to yourself, no matter how it ended. If everything didn’t go perfectly, thoughts such as “Great that I got through this” or “I did it as well as I could can help you. It’s okay that I’m not perfect yet.”
And if it really didn’t work out so well, treat yourself to a little self-compassion. Self-compassion, you treat yourself kindly instead of reproaching yourself, you will be more easily able to cope with stress.
What do I think about it in ten years?
Sometimes it also helps in a stressful situation to simply ask yourself: What will I think about this situation in ten years? This puts many things in the right light and creates distance.