In this day and age if you are not familiar with being “stressed out” on occasion, you better check your pulse because you may not be breathing. Nonetheless, most of us experience stress as a consistent, pesky little unavoidability that follows us around throughout the day, gnawing away at our nerves and testing our patience. Others experience it as severe anxiety which can become serious and often debilitating. But no matter how you slice it, unless you are living in a cave somewhere, stress will always find you.
Now, what if at times we had some say over how stress affects us? What if we could alter our perspective and see things differently? What if we could develop new eyes despite our current circumstances remaining the same?
The late Wayne Dyer said, “When you start to change the way you look at things, the things you are looking at start to change.”
For example, let’s take the “glass half-full/glass half-empty” analogy that everyone knows unless you’ve been living under a rock. For me, when I am stressed out and the daily ups and downs of life are getting under my skin, trying to look at the “glass half-full” is not adequate enough. It fails to alter my viewpoint. So, maybe there is something wrong with the concept itself. Perhaps, pouring the water into a smaller glass might be a good start.
What does that mean?
If we can experience the “water” of our lives sitting in a smaller glass –meaning the ratio of liquid to vessel is differently proportioned –then, for a change, the glass would look full. Pretty obvious.
Therefore, what if every morning you started the day with your glass filled to the rim? Same water, just a different sized receptacle to keep it in. I bet your stress levels over time would decrease considerably.
Changing your perspective and seeking alternative viewpoints as a means to reduce stress is not new. Although it’s the cornerstone of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and one of the most effective tools to treat stress and anxiety, it’s also been around since ancient times. The Greek philosopher Epictetus said: “It’s not the things in life that trouble us, but our interpretations about these things.”
Here are some sustainable tips to managing stress. I say “sustainable” because you can replenish them often simply by practicing them on a daily basis:
1) Identity Self-Adopted “Abstracts”
Start seeing your negative thinking as “abstracts.” Abstracts are unverifiable facts or theories that are not necessarily real or true. Our personal negative beliefs are often unfounded and based on imagined fears and distorted views of ourselves. We have been carrying these self-adopted abstracts about ourselves since childhood. They were innocently placed there by our parents, school, religion, the media, society, etc.
If you DO believe your abstracts, your glass will feel half-empty because you will always be trying to measure up to a false and intangible standard. Remember, thoughts are not facts. Sometimes, thoughts have no essential value. Period.
Examples of self-adopted personal abstracts are:
I will never be respected unless I have a lot of money. I will never be loved unless I am perfect. I will always be a failure because I’ve made many mistakes, etc.
A good mantra to repeat is: “Don’t believe everything you think.” And, “Not every thought I have is important enough to take seriously.”
2) Externalize Your Negative Thoughts
Start relabeling your negative thoughts as something outside of you. In other words, “Externalize” them by separating you, the individual, from the distorted thoughts. Hence, the perspective changes to: The manner in which I am thinking is causing the pain, not some imagined weakness or inferiority.
Examples of negative labeling:
I am pathetic because I can’t overcome my stress. I am so weak for letting this get to me. There is something seriously wrong with me. I am a disappointment. I am a depressed person.
Instead, start saying things like: “That’s my stress talking” or “That’s my anxiety talking.” And, “Failure is an event. Not a person.”
3) Stop Comparing Yourself to Others (When you compare, you despair)
Another way of managing stress is not comparing yourself to others. When you “compare you despair,” plain and simple. It’s easy to think that others are happier than you or better off because they don’t have the kinds of problems you have. The truth is you don’t know what personal battles people are fighting. On the outside, people may seem happier than you or look like they are “handling” life better. Chances are they are not. No matter how small or large your problems are, qualifying them via comparison to others is personal suicide. Hence you will always feel in deficit.
Examples of ill-fated comparison:
I should be more productive. I should have a bigger house. I should be making a lot more money. All of my colleagues and friends seem so happy, why aren’t I? Why is life so much harder for me? Why don’t things come easy to me?
Repeat to yourself: “I will not compare my insides to other people’s outsides.”
4) Install a Dimmer Switch to Your Life
When you are living life in a “glass half empty” perspective, you may be so stressed out that you are burning the candle at both ends. We all do this via high expectation of ourselves and trying to be perfect. We do this by residing in an “all or nothing/black and white” thinking world. Meaning, we live in a domain of extremes. There is no gray area in this way of thinking which is ironic because all of life is gray area. There are very few absolutes in life, except for death.
So, imagine that you are a light switch. When your switch is in the “ON” position, maybe you are too “ON” and you are operating at say, 110%. Since we can’t ever turn the life switch “OFF,” because you could become indifferent and neglectful of your responsibilities, try to install a dimmer option to the light switch.
Instead of attacking life at the unrealistic 110% level of intensity, dim it down to a more realistic level of 88% to 92%. This gives you breathing room to explore some of the gray areas of your day.
Examples of “all or nothing” thinking is:
I am a success or a failure, I am right or wrong, I am good or bad. I am smart of stupid. I am strong or weak.
Remember: “There is no such thing as failure. Only varying degrees of success.”
5) Avoid Overgeneralizing
It’s easy to fall into the distorted thinking trap that because a single negative event or a series of negative events took place in the past, that a future pattern of the same will continue. Remember, life is like a river. Therefore, you can’t swim in the same river twice. The water that you encounter in the river is always flowing. It’s never the same water. So, just because bad things have indeed happened, it does not necessarily mean they will again despite the evidence.
Examples of Overgeneralizing:
I’ve been hurt so many times that I don’t trust anyone. Love has failed me so often that I have given up on finding happiness. Every new job/career I try leads me to nowhere, so why bother? I have never been able to finish and/or complete anything, so I give up.
An alternative inner dialogue might be:
“I cannot change my past, but let me take a personal inventory and see if I can do things differently next time.”
“My past is not a series of failures, but instead, teachable examples of what I can improve upon.”
6) Practice “Process Orientation” Instead of “Results Orientation”
Switch your thinking to a “Process Orientation” instead of a “Results Orientation.” Process means I am taking time to work the small steps at achieving goals, I am trying to accept things as they are. It means being less controlling and learning to embrace some uncertainty. It means letting go of always needing guarantees.
Examples of Results Oriented thinking:
I need to know the outcome of everything all the time. If I am late for an appointment I will be in big trouble. If I make a wrong decision about anything, I will be seen as a loser. I have to be in control at all times otherwise bad things will happen. I have to worry all the time to prevent negative things from happening to me and my loved ones.
In conclusion, call it what you want, making “lemonade from lemons” or turning “breakdowns into breakthroughs.” Either way, the glass does not have to be half-empty if you don’t want it to be. It’s time for new glassware.