Simple Tools to Counter the Stress of Negative Thinking

While dealing with all the challenges that are before us each day, it is easy to feel stressful. Quite often, our experience of stress comes from our perception of the situation which can send us into a downward spiral of unhappiness and negative thinking, and can cause us to be unfair or aggressive with others.

A popular definition of stress is, "a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.”
In becoming stressed, people must make two main judgments:  First, they must feel threatened by the situation, and second, they must judge whether their capabilities and resources are sufficient to meet the threat. How stressed someone feels depends on how much damage they think the situation can do them, and how closely their resources meet the demands of the situation.

Perception is the key to this as most situations are not stressful in their own right. Rather it is our interpretation of the situation that drives the level of stress that we feel.

Sometimes we are right in what we say to ourselves. Some situations may actually be dangerous, may threaten us physically, socially or in our career. Here, emotions are part of the early warning system that alerts us to the threat from these situations. Very often, however, we are overly harsh and unjust to ourselves in a way that we would never be with friends or co-workers. This, along with other negative thinking, can cause intense stress and unhappiness and can severely undermine self-confidence.

Thought Awareness, Rational Thinking, and Positive Thinking are simple tools that help you to change this negative thinking.  They will help you manage and counter the stress of negative thinking.

Thought Awareness helps you to understand the negative thinking, unpleasant memories and misinterpretation of situations that may interfere with your performance and damage your self-confidence.

Rational Thinking is the technique that helps you to challenge these negative thoughts and either learn from them or refute them as incorrect.

Positive thinking is then used to create positive affirmations that you can use to counter negative thoughts. These affirmations neutralize negative thoughts and build your self-confidence. It is also used to find the opportunities that are almost always present to some degree in a difficult situation.

Thought Awareness
You are thinking negatively when you fear the future, put yourself down, criticize yourself for errors, doubt your abilities, or expect failure. Negative thinking damages confidence, harms performance and paralyzes mental skills.

A major problem with this is that negative thoughts tend to fit into our consciousness, do their damage and flit back out again with their significance, having barely been noticed. Since we do not challenge them, they can be completely incorrect and wrong. Yet, this does not diminish their harmful effect.
Thought Awareness is the process by which you observe your thoughts and become aware of what is going through your head.

One approach to it is to observe your stream of consciousness as you think about a stressful situation. Do not suppress any thoughts: Instead, you just let them run their course while you watch them, and write them down on paper as they occur.
Another more general approach to Thought Awareness comes with logging stress in a Stress Diary. One of the benefits of using a Stress Diary is that, for one or two weeks, you log all of the unpleasant things in your life that cause you stress. This will include negative thoughts and anxieties, and can also include difficult or unpleasant memories and situations that you perceive as negative. By logging your negative thoughts for a reasonable period of time, you can quickly see patterns in your negative thinking. When you analyze your diary at the end of the period, you should be able to see the most common and the most damaging thoughts. Tackle these as a priority.

Thought awareness is the first step in the process of managing negative thoughts, as you cannot manage thoughts that you are unaware of.

Rational Thinking
The next step in dealing with negative thinking is to challenge the negative thoughts that you identified using the Thought Awareness technique.  Look at every thought you wrote down and rationally challenge it.  Ask yourself whether the thought is reasonable: Does it stand up to fair scrutiny?

As an example, by analyzing your Stress Diary you might identify that you have frequently had the following negative thoughts:
•Feelings of inadequacy.
•Worries that your performance in your job will not be good enough.
•An anxiety that things outside your control will undermine your efforts.
•Worries about other people's reactions to your work.

Starting with these, you might challenge negative thoughts in the ways shown:
Feelings of inadequacy: Have you trained and educated yourself as well as you reasonably should to do the job? Do you have the experience and resources you need to do it? Have you planned, prepared and rehearsed appropriately? If you have done all of these, are you setting yourself unattainably high standards for doing the job?

Worries about performance: Do you have the training that a reasonable person would think is needed to do a good job? Have you planned appropriately? Do you have the information and resources you need? Have you cleared the time you need and cued up your support team appropriately? Have you prepared appropriately? If you have not, then you need to do these things quickly. If you have, then you are well positioned to give the best performance that you can.
Problems with issues outside your control: Have you conducted appropriate contingency planning? Have you thought through and managed all likely risks and contingencies appropriately? If so, you will be well prepared to handle potential problems.

Worry about other people's reactions: If you have put in good preparation, and you do the best you can, then that is all that you need to know. If you perform as well as you reasonably can, then fair people are likely to respond well. If people are not fair, then this is something outside your control.

A few things to remember:
Don't make the mistake of generalizing a single incident. OK, you made a mistake at work, but that doesn't mean you're bad at your job.

Similarly, make sure you take the long view about incidents that you're finding stressful. Just because you're finding that new system, or new responsibilities stressful now, doesn't mean that they will always be so for you in the future.
Often, the best thing to do is to rise above unfair comments. Write your rational response to each negative thought on paper.

If you find it difficult to look at your negative thoughts objectively, imagine that you are your best friend or a respected coach or mentor. Look at the list of negative thoughts and imagine the negative thoughts were written by someone you were giving objective advice to, and think how you would challenge these thoughts.

When you challenge negative thoughts rationally, you should be able to see quickly whether the thoughts are wrong or whether they have some substance to them. Where there is some substance, take appropriate action as this may be an early warning system showing where you need to direct your attention.

Positive Thinking and Opportunity Seeking
Where you have used Rational Thinking to identify incorrect negative thinking, it can often be useful to prepare rational positive thoughts and affirmations to counter them. It can also be useful to look at the situation and see if there are any useful opportunities that are offered by it.

Affirmations help you to build self-confidence. By basing your affirmations on the clear, rational assessments of facts that you made using Rational Thinking, you can use them to undo the damage that negative thinking may have done to your self-confidence. Your affirmations will be strongest if they are specific, are expressed in the present tense and have strong emotional content.
Continuing the examples above, positive affirmations for these feelings might be:

Feelings of inadequacy: "I am well trained for this. I have the experience, the tools and the resources I need. I have thought through and prepared for all possible issues. I can do a superb job."
Worries about performance: "I have researched and planned well for this, and I thoroughly understand the problem. I have the time, resources and help I need. I am well prepared to do an excellent job."

Problems issues outside your control: "We have thought through everything that might reasonably happen and have planned how we can handle all likely contingencies. Everyone is ready to help where necessary. We are very well placed to react flexibly and effectively to unusual events."
Worry about other people's reaction: "I am well-prepared and am doing the best I can. Fair people will respect this. I will rise above any unfair criticism in a mature and professional way."

If appropriate, write these affirmations down on paper so that you can use them when you need them.
As well as allowing you to structure useful affirmations, part of Positive Thinking is to look at opportunities that the situation might offer to you. In the examples above, successfully overcoming the situations causing the original negative thinking will open up opportunities. You will acquire new skills, you will be seen as someone who can handle difficult challenges, and you may open up new career opportunities.

Make sure that identifying these opportunities and focusing on them is part of your positive thinking. In the past, people have advocated positive thinking almost recklessly as if it is a solution to everything. Positive thinking should be used with common sense. First, decide rationally what goals you can realistically attain with hard work, and then use positive thinking to reinforce these.

Get the tools you need to excel in your life by working with Denise Dema, a Business and Life Management Coach who has over 20 years experience empowering individuals, executives and business owners to attain self-defined success in their professional & personal lives. Denise’s passion for personal development is at the core of her business and life philosophy and she is committed to helping others achieve their full potential in order to live richer, more fulfilling lives. To learn more book a complimentary session at to discuss your current objectives and goals. On-site, phone, e-mail coaching available.