We all have a voice in our head that talks to us. This "self-talk" includes the internal dialogues or silent conversations that go on within our minds most of the time and can be either positive, negative, or neutral. These dialogues often create self-fulfilling prophesies. For example, if you tell yourself you are relaxed and happy, we will start to feel better. In turn, if you continuously tell yourself you are stressed out, you will feel frazzled. In other words, we create our own stress! Some people don't like to face this truth; they prefer to blame their feelings on the external world (e.g. my boss/spouse/kid/etc makes me feel...my job is so awful/ boring/ unfulfilling etc.).
How Self Talk Affects Stress (17 KB)
Identifying Your Stress-Inducing Self Talk (14 KB)
The good news is that we can "reframe" negative thoughts into more positive, helpful ones. For most of us, our minds won't readily accept a new, positive thought, especially if the existing negative thought is well entrenched. So we need to design meaningful thoughts and practice them regularly until the new thought becomes the norm. Here are a few suggestions to guide you:
Create a positive affirmation or mantra of the new thought, post it somewhere very visible, and repeat it many times until your mind starts to ‘buy into' the reframed thought. For example, imagine you've been telling yourself that your dissertation is just too big for you to manage and you'll never finish on time. The outcome is that you start to feel overwhelmed, procrastinate, and avoid using effective time management. Instead, try saying: "I can take one small step each day" "I am capable of completing this task well". Repeat this statement over and over, as a mantra.
Developed by psychologists Dennis Greenberger and Christina Padesky, the Thought Record helps you identify problematic thoughts or images, assess the veracity of the thought, and develop a more adaptive, balanced thought. The Thought Record has proven over the course of time to be a very powerful tool in helping people reframe negative thoughts and improve mood.
Stress Inoculation Training (SIT) was developed by psychologist Donald Meichenbaum in 1977.
While other stress reduction programs aimed at mastering anxiety, Meichenbaum felt that being anxiety-free is unrealistic; anxiety can creep back in over time or new anxieties can form. Instead, he taught people how to cope with their anxiety, anywhere, anytime.
SIT involves learning how to relax deeply and use coping thoughts as you visualize anxiety-provoking scenarios, starting from your least stressful scenarios and working up a hierarchy to your most feared. In traditional SIT the client would stick with the stressful situation no matter how unpleasant.
However, in recent years Meichenbaum's technique has been modified so that people can shut the scene off if their anxiety goes too high (see The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, 1995). It is the combination of relaxation and coping thoughts which makes this technique most effective. For a full description of the SIT procedure, a list of coping statements, and an example go to the TOOLS.
We can all learn a new pattern of thinking or behaviour by observing and imitating others. Ideally, try to find a good role model who effectively manages life's stressors. Is there someone in your department who, although he/she has so much to do, always seems to be calm and in control? Ask what strategies he/she uses. Try testing these strategies in your own life.
Unfortunately, good models are sometimes hard to find. A technique called "covert modelling" involves imagine yourself as a model of stress management. Once you can SEE yourself relaxing and being in control in your mind, you will be able to translate this into real life behaviour. Due to its unfamiliarity, you might find this difficult and awkward at first, so start with an easy scenario and work up to the really difficult ones. For example, if meeting your supervisor face-to-face causes huge anxiety, then start by imagining yourself calmly interacting with the supervisor over the phone.
When we can't change our situation, learning to let go will reduce your stress considerably. The serenity prayer encapsulates the wisdom of acceptance:
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can and the Wisdom to know the difference.