Befriend Your Stress

Befriend Your Stress

Most Stress Is Optional

It’s hard to admit this, and you may not believe it, but for most of my life I have allowed stress to get to me. I blame my Scottish ancestry! And my perfectionism didn’t help matters. In my work role, I was always pretty chill, but in other parts of my life, especially relationships, stress would sometimes take over, and I would get angry and upset and overwhelmed.

I hated getting stressed, but I honestly thought that it was just a part of life. A normal reaction to stressful events. I didn’t realise how much I could do to reduce my stress response. Things started to change when I started to really understand what stress is, how it impacts the body, understand my own stress triggers and learn ways to manage my reactions. I’m happy to report that over the last decade I’ve gotten a lot better at managing my stress. And now I truly believe, most stress is optional. 

In fact, I wrote a more detailed article about dealing with stress which you can read here: Befriending Stress. Some of the research I wrote about in that article was informed by a book called The Upside of Stress written by Kelly McGonigal. You can watch a short video of her speaking about Making Stress Your Friend hereI also found this 30-min video really fun & helpful: How To Deal With Stress & Anxiety – by Srikumar Rao.

My Year Without Stress

Inspired by my research into stress, I set myself a challenge at the beginning of 2020 – before Covid was even a thing – that I was going to try and have a “stress-free” year.  Of course, I knew that stressful events would still happen. And I knew that my body would initiate the stress response when stressful stuff happened. But basically I wanted to see if I could get really fast at recognising when the stress response was activated in my body and immediately make a mindset shift to embrace whatever was coming at me in that moment.

Basically, I wanted to see if mindfulness and emotional acceptance could transform stress, overwhelm and frustration. 

Well, the Universe sure served up a great year to run this experiment!! It was a hectic, challenging and change-filled year… and Covid was only a part of it. There was plenty of moments where I felt the stress-response kick-in. But armed with my new approach, I was, for the most part, able to re-centre myself and move through the stressful situation without feeling “stressed” or too bothered by it.

Mentally, the mindset shift was something like this: “…okay, here’s a stressful situation, I might not like this, but this is what’s happening right now, just breathe, accept things as they are, and use your brain to figure out a way to handle it…” Of course, I can easily call to mind a number of times where my old familiar stress reaction took a hold of me, and I became frustrated, upset or overwhelmed (like when I was prepping to move, packing, cleaning, and working full-time across 3 different locations).

But that’s okay, I wasn’t expecting perfection. I just wanted to see improvement. And overall, setting this intention to “not allow stress to take over”, made a huge difference to what could have been a massively stressful year.

I found myself able to handle situations that previously I would have allowed myself to get stressed in. I found myself approaching situations, looking out for triggers, anticipating the physical changes of the stress response, and being prepared to calmly handle whatever came my way. I had the attitude of “let’s work with our stress, rather than letting stress take over”.

This showed me that it is possible to manage our stress differently. Like anything else, it is a skill we can develop, with the right knowledge, training and lots of practice.

If stress is something that is affecting your quality of life, then check out the videos and articles I have recommended, and always know that you can come in for a chat with a specific focus on your stress triggers and better ways to manage them. Follow my lead and change your mindset about stress, and learn everything you can to learn to handle yourself better when stressful stuff happens.

Michelle xx

Live a Happier Life: Change How You Explain

Live a Happier Life: Change How You Explain

Have you ever thought about how the way you explain things in your life can affect your happiness? According to Abraham Lincoln, “Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” Therefore, it’s crucial to understand the power of your explanatory style to transform your life for the better. Your explanatory style is how you tend to explain outcomes or results in your life, and it can either be optimistic or pessimistic. In this article, we will discuss how to shift your explanatory style towards positivity to lead a happier and healthier life.

What is an Explanatory Style?

Explanatory style is how you tend to explain the outcomes or results that happen in your life. It includes the meaning you make of things and your self-talk, which is what you think about yourself in response to events. This style can be either optimistic, pessimistic, or depressive and you may have a mixture of these styles.

Optimistic vs Pessimistic Explanatory Style

Let’s look in more detail at the three explanatory styles. The optimistic style sees positive outcomes as personal/internal, permanent/stable, pervasive/global and negative outcomes as personal/external, permanent/unstable and pervasive/specific. The pessimistic style is linked to clinical depression. It sees negative outcomes as personal/internal, permanent/stable and pervasive/global, and positive outcomes are seen as personal/external, permanent/unstable and pervasive/specific.

See diagram below for a clarification on these and then we’ll cover more specific examples below:

Personal, Permanent, Pervasive

Let’s consider how the classic pessimistic explanatory style tends to see negative outcomes as “my fault” or “I am to blame when things go wrong” (personal/internal). But when things go well, the depressive style externalises the good. They might say “It was easy, any idiot could have passed” or that good outcome “had nothing to do with me” (personal/external). They will also see failure as permanent/stable: “I’m stupid and that won’t ever change” or “My father was right, I am worthless.” On the other hand success will be viewed as permanent/unstable: “Oh, I was just lucky. It was a fluke.”

Not only that, but those with severe and long-standing depression have a tendency to assume that negative events and failure “are my lot in life” or pervasive/global, for example: “I never do well in job interviews and I will never get this job”, “No one has ever loved me, and they never will” or “Nothing goes right for me ever.” But when they have some success, they explain things with permanent/specific thoughts, such as: “All I’m good for is that one small thing” or “Big deal, the rest of my life is still crappy.”

This is an extremely pessimistic approach to life and it’s summarised in the tabled below.

Pessimistic

Positive Outcome – Dismiss As

Negative Outcome – Accept As

PERSONAL

EXTERNAL

Success is due to external factors outside my control
I didn’t play a role in the outcome
It was an easy test, any idiot could have passed

INTERNAL

Failure is due to internal factors
It’s all my fault this has happened
If only I wasn’t such a bad person

PERMANENT

UNSTABLE

Success does not last
I fluked it this time; It’s just a once-off win
I won’t be this lucky again

STABLE

Failure due to enduring elements
I ‘m stupid and incompetent and that’s never going to change
This just proves how worthless I am and will always be

PERVASIVE

SPECIFIC

Success is limited
All I’m good for is this one thing
Big deal, the rest of my life still sucks

GLOBAL

Failure is my lot in life, I can’t stop it from happening
I never do well at interviews
Nothing goes right for me ever

The Impact of Explanatory Style on Your Life

Your explanatory style has a significant impact on your life. The pessimistic style is linked to reduced immunity, higher morbidity, poor self-esteem, and an inability to solve problems effectively. On the other hand, an optimistic style is linked to better physical and psychological health, as well as better problem-solving skills. Therefore, changing your explanatory style can improve your happiness and overall well-being.

How Explanatory Style Affects Your Mood

Your explanatory style affects your mood by shaping how you perceive the world around you. Pessimistic explanatory styles tend to see negative outcomes as their fault and blame themselves, while externalizing positive outcomes. This is an extremely pessimistic approach to life that can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression. However, you can improve your explanatory style by recognizing these patterns and taking steps to shift them.

Shifting Your Explanatory Style

To shift your explanatory style, you must first recognise the style you currently use. Then, you can take steps to change it by shifting negative thoughts to positive ones, questioning negative assumptions, and reframing negative events in a positive light. You can also cultivate positive self-talk by focusing on your strengths and achievements.

OPTIMISM

Positive Outcome – Accept As

Negative Outcome – Dismiss As

PERSONAL

INTERNAL
Success due to internal, inherent factors
I really worked hard and it paid off for me
My happiness is up to me

EXTERNAL
Failure due to external factors
I have done my best, this couldn’t have been avoided
It’s a really bad outcome, but the markets have played a big role

PERMANENT

STABLE
Success due to permanent, reliable factors
I’m always on the winning team
Good things will keep happening for me

UNSTABLE
Failure due to temporary factors
This too shall pass, these things happen from time to time
Just a minor setback, just a bad day or unlucky this time

PERVASIVE

GLOBAL
Success due to pervasive circumstances
I always succeed regardless of the workplace
When one thing goes well, everything goes well for me

SPECIFIC
Failure due to isolated incident
I didn’t succeed because this work environment was not a good match
The rest of my life is awesome!

Conclusion

Your explanatory style can have a profound impact on your life. By shifting from a pessimistic to an optimistic style, you can improve your physical and psychological health, as well as your problem-solving skills. Recognising your negative patterns and taking steps to shift them can help you lead a happier and healthier life. Remember, you have the power to control your thoughts and beliefs, so choose to explain things in a way that serves you positively. If you find yourself struggling with pessimism or depressive thinking, then consider attending a series of CBT-focused counselling, to help you straighten out those unhelpful thinking styles.

If you would like some homework then over the next week or two, just try to be mindful of the way you explain events to yourself and notice if you tend to be more positive or negative. Perhaps keep track by writing down what thoughts your mind produces straight after any significant good/bad events. Or observe how you “explain” such events to others in your life. Jot down those examples and bring them to counselling.

Warm wishes,

Michelle