Stress Recovery: Psychological Strategies
If you recall, we’ve discussed recovery as a key component for being good at stress. In this lesson, we’ll review cognitive strategies for letting go of stress-related thoughts so your mind and emotions can recover and heal.
Change Your Mind to Change Your Stress
The formula for stress is Arousal + Value Judgement = Stress. Whatever the situation, it’s not the circumstance itself that’s stressful, it’s our perception or interpretation—our value judgment—of the circumstance that creates our stress. The most effective way to cope with stress (although perhaps the hardest strategy to implement) is to change our perception. Changing our perceptions is the heart of stress management.
One effective strategy to battle the stress monster is cognitive restructuring. Cognitive restructuring is a process where we make a deliberate effort to change our thoughts and even more importantly, to change our way of thinking. In practice, this may mean taking a psychological step back from the stressful situation so we can find another way to view and understand what’s going on and see new and different solutions. One specific strategy of cognitive restructuring is called cognitive reframing. This is a process where you try to see something through a new perspective—a new perceptual frame.
You didn’t get the promotion you wanted? That’s stressful, and you may be feeling hurt and worried. Maybe you need to rethink your career direction or take more time at home with your family. What is a different way at looking at the situation to help you work through the stress and find a new frame?
Put Stress on Your Calendar
If you have a tendency toward anxiety, those anxious thoughts can take over your day, spilling over into everything you do. One effective strategy is to give them the time and attention they need by penciling them in on your calendar.
Dr. Robert Leahy, psychologist and author of The Worry Cure, suggests making a daily appointment for worrying, perhaps 15 to 20 minutes. Keep a running list, and when you begin to worry or ruminate (having the same worry run over and over in your mind), write it down on your list. Tell yourself: “I will worry about that during my worry time.” When the worry appointment shows up on your calendar, stick to it, and allow yourself to focus completely on your fears, worries, and anxieties.
This technique has several key benefits: First, by penning your worries into a specific worry time, you’ll free up psychological space in the rest of your day. Second, you’ll find it gets easier to push the worries off to your allotted time, since you know that you really will be able to focus on them. And third, sitting and stewing in your worries for an extended period will start to get boring. When you give your worries center stage, instead of just letting them bother you from the sidelines, you’ll find they run out of things to say.
Being resilient and using a positive cognitive approach doesn’t mean you’re always happy and in a good mood. It does mean you choose to be optimistic in your perspective. Dr. Martin Seligman, family professor of psychology in the Penn Department of Psychology, has coined the term, flexible optimism, to reflect that even if you’re not always optimistic, generally speaking, being optimistic is a better approach to most situations. And research indicates that optimism is good for your health.
Optimism does NOT mean thinking that only good things happen—that’s just fantasy. Optimism means choosing to focus on what you can do and control in a situation. It means understanding that setbacks can be overcome. Research shows that you can deliberately cultivate optimism. One key strategy for supporting an attitude of optimism is to know that you have the capacity to recover.
Your task: Keep repeating: Whatever happens, I can recover. I am resilient. I am good at stress.
Tomorrow, we’ll talk more about how to help your body rest and recover, to support your holistic well-being.
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