These days nearly everyone is exposed to some level of stress. Managing stress and reducing stress in your life is a good idea and a good practice. This is easier said than done in many cases. There are many different techniques out there.
The problem is not being aware of enough of them and practicing them on a regular enough basis so that the stress levels are kept as low as practically possible. Some techniques are easier to apply in your life than others. Everyone has a set of stress management tools that they use.
A big issue is that learning about different stress management tools is very informal and in a lot of cases, completely chance driven. Then another issue is that over time, as different stages in life are reached, the stress management tools used earlier may no longer be applicable.
For instance, a student living at home with parents has a different set of stresses than a student who lives away from home and away from parents. Once a student completes their education and finds a job, that person has another set of stresses set upon them. The stress management techniques for each may be different, even though it is the same person who is experiencing the stresses. A stress management technique that worked well as a student living at home with parents may not work well when that person finds a job living away from home and away from their parents.
First I am going to talk a bit about the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) cycle. The main point there, is showing how important our thoughts are, how they help determine our feelings, which in turn affects our behavior. If the cycle is “not good”, it can lead to a downward cycle. However, if the cycle is “good”, it can lead to an upward cycle.
Then I want to show an example of a simple everyday event experienced by a few different people and their different behaviors based on that event. Again, the main point here is showing the link between thoughts and feelings and behavior. This is an example of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Cycle in action.
Then I explain a behavioral technique to manage daily to do lists, scheduling and planning. This is an approach that is done on purpose and by design. By following this approach, writing tasks to do, assigning them to other people where possible, assigning the importance of the tasks and the urgently helps us to focus on the important tasks. By knowing that the unimportant non-urgent tasks are just that and are written down, helps us to focus on the important tasks. This is a great stress buster.
Then I explain another behavioral technique to reduce stress. This is an extremely simple and effective approach in a lot of cases, and is well worth knowing and using when required.
1. The Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Cycle
One set of stress management tools is to use behavioral techniques for stress. CBT which stands for cognitive behavioral Therapy shows that our thoughts influence our feelings which in turn affects our behavior, and the cycle continues.
For instance a “bad” cycle might look like this: The thought is “I’m unwell” which could lead to an “anxious” feeling which could lead to a “go into myself” behavior and so the cycle continues in a downward direction.
A “good” cycle might look like this: The thought is “I’m doing OK” which could lead to an “upbeat” feeling which could lead to “making choices” behavior and so the cycle continues in an upward direction which is good for reducing stress and is good for life in general.
One good practice when you have some time is to repeat silently to yourself positive affirmations that are applicable in your case and that can help create good feelings. I find repeating silently to myself one or two or three positive affirmations is helpful. Examples include “I’m doing OK”, “I’m doing fine” and “I have things to work on”.
Repeating them silently to yourself in a safe secure place where you do not need to be 100% focused on another activity and you do not need to be 100% alert is a good idea. Therefore, do not do this when driving a car or operating machinery or anything similar. A great place to do this is your bedroom.
2. Different behavior by different people based on the same event
When an event happens in life, different people attach different meanings to those events and as a result, they behave in different ways than other people.
For example say Mary invited Andrea, Bridget, Catherine and Debbie for a dinner party. At the last minute, one of Mary’s children had to be taken to hospital out of the blue. Mary had to jump in the car and get to the hospital quickly and she did not have time to phone her 4 friends to explain what happened and to cancel the dinner party with a ‘good understandable reason’. She gets to the hospital and is told her child is getting medical attention. She will be able to see her child in a few minutes. She is informed that the child is not in any danger and will be back to their usual self in a few days. Phew.
Mary at this stage, sends a brief text message to Andrea, Bridget, Catherine and Debbie canceling the dinner party with no explanation and promising to reschedule later. She does not have the time to phone each of them separately and provide a detailed explanation as the hospital staff inform her that she can see her child now. Mary goes in to see her child who is now doing OK.
Now, each person who got the brief unexpected text behaves in a different way based on their feelings.
Andrea says to herself “well, when Mary reschedules later, there is no way that I am going to go”. Andrea feels insulted that Mary did not give her a proper phone call to explain what happened. Andrea thinks that Mary sent the text message at the last minute on purpose to insult her.
Bridget says to herself “that is not like Mary. Something really important must have happened to make Mary cancels this dinner party at the last minute. I will give Mary a ring tomorrow afternoon and find out more”. Bridget is concerned about Mary and gives her some space.
Catherine who was thinking of not going anyway thinks that Mary somehow detected her reluctance to go. Catherine is feeling that she would have not been good company at the party and was feeling upset before she got the text message. Once Catherine got the text message, she was more upset. She was feeling sorry for herself. She decides to call it an early night and retreats to the safety of her bed.
Debbie is thinking of all the times she had Mary over to her dinner parties. Debbie is thinking that Mary did not appreciate the amount of effort to have a dinner party. Debbie has decided that she is not ever going to invite Mary over to one of her dinner parties in the future. Debbie is furious.
The same event and four different behavioral responses based on how the person understood the same event which was influenced by their feelings before and after they got the text message.
The primary takeaway here, is to note that the same event generated a number of different responses from each of the four people. We need to note the negative here and come up with positive ways of continuing on. If we can replace the false negative thinking process with a true positive thinking process it can help greatly. This is done by rephrasing the experience in a different way so that the outlook looks more positive. This is where CBT techniques can help.
3. Daily To Do Lists, Scheduling and Planning
This is one of the different behavioral techniques for stress to help you reduce stress. If you do not plan out in outline what you are going to do for the day, you could end up being more stressed than you needed to be.
It is important to spend a few minutes at the start of the day deciding on purpose and by design what you plan to do that day. It is also important to ensure that you plan in some relaxing or recharging activities into your daily plan and actually do these activities, no matter what. For instance, one of my daily tasks is to practice meditation every single day, no matter what. This is important time to me. You could consider doing it too.
Having a weekly routine can help greatly. Like every Saturday, do the washing and clean the house. Like every Friday evening, do a big shop. Like every Tuesday, do a small shop. These tasks just get done almost automatically on the assigned day.
Regarding the daily plan, simply write out the tasks, a few words for each task is enough. Going through the tasks, determine what tasks could be assigned to someone else, and assign those tasks to those people. For instance, a mother might assign the task of cleaning a bedroom to the person whose bedroom it is, as that person is now old enough to tidy their own room and it is also a reasonable request.
Back to the list of tasks, against each of the remaining tasks, assign a value of 1, 2 or 3. A value is “1” is important and is urgent. A value of “2” is important and is not urgent and a value of “3” is everything else. Then determine how much time is required to do these tasks. At this stage, you may determine that some tasks with a “3” against them, are just not going to get done today. At this stage, simply cross of those tasks off the list and write “not today” against them. Some of these tasks with a “3” against them are simply never going to get done, and as they are not important and not urgent, this is most likely OK.
Then roughly plan and schedule your plan for the day, remembering to plan in the activities that you need to do at certain times. If you are a parent who needs to pick up a child from the school, this is a task that needs to be done at a certain time.
Ideally as each task is completed, simply cross of the completed tasks as they are completed.
4. Ask yourself, Will this be important in 5 years time?
This is another behavioral techniques for stress to help you reduce stress. Whenever you are feeling stressed, ask yourself silently the question “Will this be important in 5 years time?”
Many times when you ask yourself this question the answer is No. If so, silently say to yourself “Oh, this is not important. Moving on” and move on.
If the answer is Yes, determine what you can do about this right now. You might need to give yourself some time, so deciding to think more about this when you have some time might be a good approach. Decide to allot some time to look at this in more detail and actually do this at the assigned date and time is a great idea.
A quote from Catherine Pulsifer
“When you find yourself stressed, ask yourself one question: Will this matter in 5 years from now? If yes, then do something about the situation. If no, then let it go.” by Catherine Pulsifer
I find that the concept behind this quote is mind-blowing. If something or someone is annoying you in such a way that you are becoming stressed, than just simply say to yourself something like the above question, for example “Is this really important, 5 years from you?” Quite often, if not always, you will find that the answer is “No”. When you do, see what happens to your stress levels. I find that they drop down a lot. Hopefully you will too.
Of course, if the answer is “Yes”, then like Catherine Pulsifer suggests, “then do something about the situation.”
This is a very simple and effective technique to manage your stress levels. You might like me, have been aware of this concept however just didn’t put it into use. Once you are aware of it very deliberately and very intentionally, you may find that you start to use this concept very much on purpose, and in the process, it may also help your stress levels go down.
5. Will You Practice These Behavioral Techniques For Stress?
Now that you know some things about the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) cycle, try to ensure when possible that you are in control of your thoughts. The moment you realize “oh, not a great thought”, just acknowledge it and move on. Meditation is useful here, as it helps with the process of acknowledging the thought and then you go back to the main focus of attention, so you do not get sucked into a “not great” Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) cycle.
You also understand how the same event was understood by four different people and you saw how potentially the same event could lead to different behaviors by different people based partially by their individual feelings at the time of the event. This is important to note. You may need to learn how to rephrase when necessary so that you do not get sucked into a “not great” Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) cycle.
You also now have a behavioral technique to manage daily to do lists, scheduling and planning. Of course, you may tweak the approach to better suit your individual situation, however you know that managing, scheduling and planning helps to reduce your stress levels and is well worth the few minutes at the start of the day to do.
You also know that when you get into a stressful situation, that asking yourself silently the “Will this be important in 5 years time?” question may reduce the stress. If so, great.
6. Your Next Step
If not, see if doing another stress management technique helps. This article is part of my Stress Management Techniques series of articles.