The Last Stress-Survival Guide You'll Ever Need
Rethinking Your ReactionsStep 3: Rewrite Your Script
Whatever you discover, use this new broader perspective to rewrite your internal script in a way that reduces the potency of your stress response. Take that always-late ex, for instance. Try thinking: "There he goes again! It's not worth wasting my emotional energy on why he's late. How do I get on with the rest of the day?"
What's changed? You've reframed his behavior as a recurring annoyance, not a major battle you need to fight over and over. Reflecting on the situation away from the heat of a stress-producing moment gives you a cooler, less-stressed-out baseline from which to view -- and respond to -- your ex's behavior next time, says Dr. Ostrow.
Reconceptualizing stressful situations into irritants helps reduce the intense emotions they formerly aroused, says Dr. Fausel, and lessens their power to rule your emotions. Then you can respond to the situation matter-of-factly, instead of angrily.Step 4: Rehearse Your Next Encounter
Now, practice your new emotional script: In the sister scenario, for instance, whenever you think of her, ditch the old stress-inducing reaction ("She's only ever cared about herself") and bring in the rewrite ("No matter what she does, I know what I need to do").
Next, rehearse how you're going to handle your next hot-button encounter. To keep the very thought of it from adding to your stress, begin with a relaxation technique; it could be as simple as slowing down your breathing. If writing things down helps, try actually drafting a script. Either way, consider trying your approach on a friend. Exposing yourself to these less-intense versions of an uncomfortable encounter helps build your coping skills and improve the way you deliver your comments. Both make you more immune, less vulnerable to stress triggers.
Practice saying things like a simple "I missed you today" -- and nothing else -- the next time your sister doesn't come through for your mom. With your perpetually late ex, Dr. Ostrow suggests that you rehearse keeping exchanges nonadversarial: "I really worry when the kids get back later than I expected them. It would really help me if you could give me a call if you're running late," and then waving good-bye and going on with your evening.Step 5: Stay the Course
You may still feel nervous or angry -- but you know that's natural because you've anticipated those feelings in your dry runs and now have a handle on how to keep your thoughts, as well as your behavior, from spinning out of control. As with the rehearsals, try starting with a little deep breathing to enhance your feeling of calm control.
As you proceed you may find that the encounter becomes less stressful. The conflicts that led to the stress in the first place may even begin to resolve. With your ex, for instance, you can make your own expectations clear: that he will call when he's running behind schedule. You can build in time cushions by giving yourself permission not to worry for at least an hour. Or you may decide to choose your battles: In the scheme of things, squabbling about being an hour or two late is less important than working out a way for the kids to spend conflict-free time with both of you.
Perhaps the best benefit is that, once you've solidified your use of the technique in one area, you can begin to think about ways to apply it to other stress situations until the process is close to automatic.
"Imagining the situation, feeling the stress, practicing ways to cope -- that's the psychological flu shot," Dr. Ostrow says. Just remember that, as with any vaccine, you may still come down with a milder case. You may still need boosters along the way to keep your resistance strong. But you've also learned to rethink challenges in ways that can make you tougher and more resilient.
You're not just managing your stress. You're building your resistance to it.
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