Long-Term Stress Relief

Liberating Insight
Untrue, illogical, or overly negative thoughts just increase your stress - and insight into them is like waking up from a bad dream, usually to good news, as one mother found out: I got a message at work that the day care staff had phoned me. I called them and called them, but their line was always busy, so I left and drove over. It's true - I usually assume the worst. I was sure Jasmine had gotten hurt, and I worried about all the horrible possibilities the whole way. When I got there, they said she was fine, they'd had some trouble with their phones, and they just wanted to ask me about my payment last week. I felt a little silly about getting so worked up.

Seeing stresses as opportunities. Let's say your fifteen-month-old squirms and fusses when you try to put him in his car seat. It's natural to feel frustrated and annoyed. But it's also possible to regard the situation as an opportunity for learning new skills, developing greater patience, enjoying a feeling of accomplishment, deepening your sense of compassion and love, and even experiencing spiritual growth. Even though it's a cliché, it's still true: seeing both sides of the coin - the challenges and the opportunities - will improve your well-being and how you cope.

Talking back to the voice in your head. Just because a thought arises in your mind does not mean it's worth believing. All you have to do is catch the unrealistic thoughts that are making you stressed and replace them with true, logical, and positive ones. Many studies have found that this kind of self-talk is one of the most powerful ways to handle stresses effectively. You are sticking up for yourself inside your own mind by focusing on the objective facts, defending against unfair attacks, and giving encouragement.

Most of the time, you'll stand up to stressful thoughts inwardly, within your own head. But it can also help to put it in writing: Just draw a line down the center of a piece of paper; write an untrue, illogical, or negative thought on the left side; and then list two or more true, logical, or positive ones on the right side. Whether it's in your mind or on paper, try to make a strong case for yourself, arguing actively with negative thoughts, refusing to let them defeat you. With practice, you'll be talking back to them so quickly and naturally that you'll hardly notice it.

Let's try this method with some different categories of stressful thinking. When you start becoming able to recognize the type of thought that's raising your blood pressure, you've got a jump on letting go of it.

Exaggerating the Problem

    Negative Thought
  • Baby-sitters never work out.
    Positive Alternatives
  • So far, there's been a problem only one time in five.
  • Even when that one flaked out, all it meant was that Bob and I didn't get to go out.
  • Maybe an older person would be more responsible, like a college student.
Focusing on the Negative
    Negative Thought
  • The teacher said Johnny was "rambunctious," and I feel so embarrassed.
    Positive Alternatives
  • She also said he was sweet, smart, helpful, friendly, creative, and liked by everyone. Almost everything she said was positive.
  • Nobody has ever complained about Johnny being aggressive, wild, or mean. So what if he gets rambunctious, that's normal for a three-year-old.
Discounting the Positive
    Negative Thought
  • It doesn't mean anything if people like me at work because they're still mad I took time off for the baby.
    Positive Alternatives
  • If people like me, it means I am likable. No one is forcing them to like me.
  • Every woman at work told me she thought it's great I took the time off.
Dooming the Future
    Negative Thought
  • I'm going to have to put the baby in day care forty hours a week because I'm never going to find a good part-time job.
    Positive Alternatives
  • Good part-time jobs do exist. I've seen them advertised.
  • I know people who have them, and they have less on the ball than I do.
  • I've only been looking for three weeks.
  • I can try changing my resume, working with a personnel agency, or doing temporary work.
  • Men don't listen.
    Positive Alternatives
  • Okay, my dad didn't listen, but that alone does not mean my husband doesn't.
  • All men are not alike - just like all women are not alike.
  • I can remember times when men listened to me.
  • My husband listened to me when ____ , and when ____ .
  • I chose my husband in part because he is different from my father.
  • I can talk to my husband about listening, and I couldn't do that with my dad.
Attributing Negative Intentions to Others
    Negative Thought
  • My kids are trying to manipulate me.
    Positive Alternatives
  • They just want what they want and are trying to get it.
  • They are not old enough to be crafty and manipulative. It's okay that they are trying to persuade me, and it's okay for me to say no.


From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit amazon.


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