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Stress and Self Sabotage: Are You Creating Additional Mental Stress For Yourself? blog: Stress Management
By Elizabeth Scott, M.S.

Though virtually everyone experiences stress, sometimes the way we react to stress amounts to self sabotage! We?ve all found ourselves being impatient with people or taking out frustrations on innocent bystanders, or causing unnecessary conflicts and mental stress because stress is clouding our judgment. And while some people find themselves creating this type of drama in their lives occasionally, others make this self sabotage a way of life, continually creating additional mental and emotional stress for themselves without being aware of their own role in this! The following are some of the most common ways that people create mental and emotional stress in their own lives. Carefully think about whether any of these self sabotage techniques apply to you, so you can make simple changes to reduce significant mental and emotional stress from your life.

Being ?Type A?:

People who move through the world in a Type A pattern of behavior typically rush frantically and treat others with hostility, among other things. If you react to life in a Type A manner, you?re probably bringing unnecessary emotional stress to relationships with aggressiveness. You may be missing simple solutions to problems because you?re rushing so much that you don?t pay close enough attention to details, and thereby creating bigger problems. The Type A pattern also typically brings health problems somewhere down the road. To assess your level of Type A behavior patterns, take the Type A Personality Quiz, and you?ll find an assessment and useful resources to help you stop the self sabotage.

Negative Self Talk:
Sometimes, the enemy is inside your head in the form negative self talk. The way we talk to ourselves, while generally formed during childhood, can follow us through our lives and color each experience like a ray of sunshine or a dark cloud surrounding us and blocking our vision. Those whose self talk tends to be negative may attribute malevolent intent to others when none exists, interpret potentially positive events as negative and missing important benefits, or create a self-fulfilling prophecy by believing that their stress level is more than they can handle. If you suspect that you habitually use negative self talk in your daily life, it?s not too late to learn positive self talk. By keeping a journal and using other tools to become more aware of your inner voice, using positive affirmations and surrounding yourself with positive energy, you can turn things around for the better, and experience much less mental and emotional stress in your daily life.

Poor Conflict Resolution Skills:
Do you tend to act aggressively with people when simple assertiveness will work better? Or do you passively let others walk all over you because you don?t know how to say no? Conflicts with others are generally a part of life, but how we handle them can actually strengthen relationships, or can cause loads of additional mental stress for all involved, and create bigger conflicts that take on a life of their own. Interestingly, many people who act aggressively aren?t fully aware that they?re doing harm in their relationships, and aren?t familiar with a better way of handling things. To get a better idea of how you react to conflict, take the Assertiveness Quiz, and you?ll get an assessment of your conflict-resolution style and resources at the end. You can also get ideas on how to handle conflict by reading my 10 Best Ways to Handle Conflict and 10 Worst Ways to Handle Conflict.

If you?re a pessimist, you may see things as worse than they really are, may pass up opportunities to better your, overlook solutions to problems, and cause yourself mental stress in many other ways as well. Pessimism is more than just seeing the glass as half-empty; it?s a specific worldview that undermines your belief in yourself, brings poorer health outcomes, fewer positive life events, and other negative consequences. (Read this article for a more detailed explanation of the traits of pessimists and optimists, with research on the benefits of optimism.) Because the traits of optimists and pessimists are specific and slightly elusive to someone who doesn?t know what to look for, many people with pessimistic tendencies are completely unaware of it and view themselves as optimists. To know your tendencies, take The Optimism Self Test, and get an assessment of your explanatory style and find resources for how to become more of an optimist.

Taking On Too Much:
Are you overscheduled and overstressed? You may be taking on too much, and putting yourself under undue pressure because of it. Whether it?s because you?re a type A type person or because you?re not sure how to say no to others? demands on your time, you can put yourself in a state of chronic stress if you habitually take on more than you can handle. To assess your level of balance, take the Lifestyle Balance Quiz to see if you may need a change.

More Ways to Avoid Self Sabotage and Emotional Stress:
Stress and Perfectionism
The Benefits of Assertiveness
Healthy Habits for Better Sleep
E-Course: Live a Low Stress Lifestyle

Related Articles:


Self-Efficacy and the Perception of Control in Stress Reduction
by Harry Mills, Ph.D., Natalie Reiss, Ph.D. and Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Dr. Albert Bandura, an influential social psychologist, coined the term "self-efficacy" to describe people's internal beliefs about their ability to have an impact on events that affect their lives. Your self-efficacy is your belief in your own effectiveness as a person, both generally in terms of managing your life, and specifically with regard to competently dealing with individual tasks. In the context of stress, self-efficacy describes your beliefs about your ability to handle stressful situations. A large amount of research has demonstrated quite convincingly that possessing high levels of self-efficacy acts to decrease people's potential for experiencing negative stress feelings by increasing their sense of being in control of the situations they encounter. The perception of being in control (rather than the reality of being in or out of control) is an important buffer of negative stress. When people feel that they are not in control, they start feeling stressed, even if they actually are in control and simply don't know it. Another reason that people feel stressed is when they feel out of control because they do not possess the appropriate coping skills, resources, etc. to adequately cope with the situation.

When a given demand (e.g., passing an exam, winning a race) is perceived as something you can handle because you expect you will do well based on preparation or past experience (e.g., because you have studied for the exam or trained for the race), you are likely to perceive the demand as a challenge and as an exhilarating experience. After the event is over, you may even have a resulting boost in self-esteem because you worked hard to meet the demand and succeeded. If, however, the demand seems beyond your abilities, you will likely experience distress. Across time, feeling unable to respond effectively to stressful situations can further decrease your sense of self-efficacy, making you even more prone to experience distress in the future.

Coping Skills
A coping skill is a behavior or technique that helps a person to solve a problem or meet a demand. Coping skills are problem-solving techniques or tools; they make it possible to solve problems or meet demands more easily and efficiently than might otherwise be possible.

People who have learned a variety of different coping skills are able to handle demands and solve problems more easily and efficiently than people who are not as knowledgeable about how to cope. Because they are more easily able to meet demands, people with good coping skills are less likely to experience negative stress reactions than are people with more poorly developed coping skills. In addition, people with well-developed coping skills typically develop a higher sense of self-efficacy than do their peers who have poorer coping skills, and thus are less likely to suffer the negative impact of stress reactions.

Coping skills are something that can be learned. If you don't have good coping skills, you can study techniques that will allow you to get better at coping over time. All of the stress-reduction techniques that we will shortly be presenting in this document (in the sections below covering Stress Management and Stress Prevention strategies) can be thought of as coping skills. In essence, they are tools that you can learn and then "carry around" in your personal toolbox to help you become better at managing your stress.

Stressor Characteristics

Coping skills, self-efficacy, and appraisal are all characteristics that people bring to a stressful circumstance. They are internal to the person, meaning that they "reside in" the person who needs to respond to an activating event, rather than being a characteristic of the event itself. In contrast to these internal ways that people may react to stress, there are also characteristics that are inherent to the stressful event itself which have little or nothing to do with appraisals or coping skills. These external aspects of stressful events, which are listed below, also influence people's ability to meet stressful demands.

  • Intensity has to do with the magnitude or strength of the stressful event. The actual intensity of a stressful event has a lot to do with the context in which that stressful event is taking place. A dead cell-phone battery is generally a fairly low-intensity stressor when you have alternative ways of communicating, and/or your actual need to communicate is currently low. When your need to communicate is high, however, and your options for doing so are limited (e.g., if you have been injured in a car accident on a remote highway and need to call for an ambulance), it's an entirely different story. In this later circumstance, the same stressor quickly gains in intensity and ability to cause negative stress.
  • Duration has to do with how long the stressful event lasts. A short-term stressor such as a weekend house guest will tend to cause less stress than a long-term stressor like needing to become the primary care-taker for an older relative.
  • Number has to do with the total quantity of stressors occurring in your life at once. A minor stressor might not be much when it occurs in isolation, but it can become a "straw that breaks the camel's back" when you are already coping with several other stressors at the same time.
  • Level of expertise has to do with how skilled you are in handling stressful situations. It is easier and less stressful to deal with situations and events when we are familiar with handling them. Practice with a particular kind of stress-provoking situation tends to make that situation easier to deal with. The more you practice a skill (e.g., such as playing an instrument, or rehearsing a presentation), the more automatically you can perform and the less stress you are likely to feel when an event requiring that skill occurs.

Threat vs. Challenge

Threat vs. Challenge blog: Stress Management
By Elizabeth Scott, M.S.
August 7, 2008

It's long been known that the way you look at a potentially stressful situation can alter whether or not it ends up being stressful. In other words, a significant part of your stress is created by how you look at things! This is a common thread that I've written about in optimism, maintaining a sense of humor, and even using the Law of Attraction.

New research out of Dartmouth College reinforces this principle in relation to job stress. In two different experiments, researchers studied how people respond when they go against the grain at work, and are thus more noticed and scrutinized. For many, being the focus of attention at work can be a stressful experience, but this isn't universally true. What factors affect whether being a standout is stressful or affirming?

Perhaps not surprisingly, the level of resources people had to do a good job had a major impact on whether or not they were stressed when finding themselves the center of attention at work. Researchers deduced that the key ingredient here is whether subjects felt threatened, or challenged.

This is a key distinction, because it's perceived threat that triggers the stress response--not necessarily actual danger. Once the fight-or-flight response is triggered, a cascade of changes occur in the body, and if this happens often enough to constitute chronic stress, your health can be affected in ways both minor and major.

In contrast, a challenge can create eustress--the type of stress that makes you feel vital and alive. Challenges at work can stir creative juices and give you a reason to look forward to going to work in the morning.

While you can't always control what type of experiences you encounter, you can make a conscious decision to try to view situations as challenges instead of threats as much as possible. Viewing something as a challenge automatically gets you looking for solutions, rather than getting buried in feelings of stress.

How do you get into the "challenge, not threat" point of view? Here are a few resources to get you started:

How To Be More Emotionally Resilient
Tips On Maintaining a Sense of Humor
Develop Positive Self Talk

Oh, yeah; and it never hurts to be prepared!

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Re: Threat vs. Challenge

This reminds me tnagentially of Hans Selye's notions from the 50s about negative stress, positive stress, and total stress load.

Re: Threat vs. Challenge

From a new blog post:

The key to whether we see a situation as a threat or a challenge? Simple thought patterns--"I can't handle this!", "This shouldn't be happening!" or "Yikes, what a disaster!" can lead to fear and stress, while other thoughts like, "I can handle this!", "These things happen," and, "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger!" can lead us to feelings of confidence, and enable us to handle more challenges without feeling stressed.

"Don't Believe Everything You Think!"

Boost your self-efficacy with these relatively simple steps:

1. Recognize which tasks or situations pose the greatest challenge for you.
2. Identify steps in those tasks or situations from easiest to hardest.
3. Practice at the easy tasks until you feel comfortable, then move up the hierarchy.
4. Ask for support when you feel that you're not making progress.
5. Evaluate your success at each step until you've reached your goal.

excerpted from: Self-efficacy and Internet use - Psychology Today

Stress Proofing Yourself

Some ways in which you can make life easier for yourself in the long term:

1. When you do get anxious, don't run away. Instead, welcome the opportunity to practice and improve your skills of control. Breathe slowly; relax; distract yourself...

2. Practice relaxing every day, especially before a difficult situation. Be prepared.

3. Don't let stress build up. If something is worrying you, seek advice. Find out where to go for support.

4. Look forward and not back. Don't dwell on past difficulties, but plan to make the future better.

5. Avoid getting overtired. Make sure you have a break from work and don't take on too much.

6. Do as many pleasurable things as possible.

7. Remember to recognize your achievements and praise yourself. Don't downgrade yourself.

8. Don't avoid what you fear. If you do find something is becoming difficult for you to face up to, approach the situation in small, safe steps.

Remember: You will have setbacks, and these are only to be expected. They are a normal part of progress and should not be allowed to interfere with your practice.

excerpted from: Managing Anxiety: A Training Manual by Helen Kennerley (1990)

""Among the mechanisms of personal agency, none is more central or pervasive than people's beliefs in their capability to exercise some measure of control over their own functioning and over environmental events. Efficacy beliefs are the foundation of human agency. Unless people believe they can produce desired results and forestall detrimental ones by their actions, they have little incentive to act or to persevere in the face of difficulties."

~ Albert Bandura
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