Emotional Wellbeing

Mental Health

Mandy Kloppers

How we create our own stress

We create our own stress more than we realise. Life is inherently stressful, there is nothing we can do about the external events, in that we can’t stop them. Debt, poverty, cruelty…there is a lot of injustice in the world and acceptance of this can help us deal with stress rather than resist and exhaust ourselves. However, apart from the external events over which we have very little control, we DO have control over the way we want to think about what has happened and how we decide to react.

We let ourselves down and create our own stress by the way we choose to think, what we choose to focus on and how we react. I know what I’m like. I use many errors in thinking that lead me down a path of despair.

Typical errors in thinking that we all use and that create our own stress:


Okay, this is a real common one. Have you ever gone off on a tangent in your mind? Have you ever focused on one negative thought that has sent you on a cray downward spiral of progressively worse thinking?

An example of catastrophising: You make a mistake at work (the trigger for the negative thinking)…and then you start catastrophising:

“I am going to be seen as incompetent. My boss is going to lose respect for me. He will probably tell the big boss and I will be given a written warning. If I don’t get a written warning, maybe they will just fire me. Then I won’t have money and I will lose my home. I will lose my home and end up homeless”. Catastrophising occurs when we think about the worst case scenarion that often has very little bearing on reality.

Catastrophising is a negative mental exercise that leads to negative feelings. and negative behaviour associated with the thoughts and feelings.

Cognitive behavioural triangle

Another way that we create our own stress is by mind reading. This is when we assume that we know what others are thinking. Say for example, your partner forgets your anniversary. We might assume that they don’t love us because they forgot, but this is just a thought and doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the reality. They may be really stressed or it may be that they just aren’t particularly sentimental. We mind-read and the thoughts often represent our insecurities and we start to make up in our minds what we believe is going on. It creates unnecessary stress. Don’t mind read. It’s dangerous. Instead, communicate. Tell your partner how you feel and find out what went wrong. Don’t assume. It will make you miserable.

Other common errors in thinking:

Predicting the future – “what if” thinking. No one knows what will happen in the future. Do risk assessments of course but don’t live in the future and predict every possible thing that might go wrong – that’s pure mental torture!!

Black and white thinking – something is either good or bad, right or wrong. Let go of the judgements. The more ‘rules’ you have for living, the more life will break them and in this way you create your own stress. Life has lots of grey.

Over generalising – we have one bad experience and then generalise this to every other example. Eg. one bad experience with a plumber and we tell ourselves that all plumbers are bad. That negative thought will increase our stress. Realise that generalising doesn’t help and it isn’t accurate. There is no evidence.

Personalising – blaming ourselves for something that isn’t our fault. Example: you have a party and some people don’t seem to be having a good time. Some people will blame themselves but you can’t be responsible for how others find their happiness or what they choose to focus on.

Emotional reasoning: I feel bad so it must be bad. Not necessarily. Where is the evidence?

Negative mental filter: This is when we focus only on the negatives and filter out the positives. This is unbalanced thinking. A more balanced approach will make you feel happier.

Compare and despair: This one creates huge amounts of sadness and anxiety. We live in an age where we are more aware than ever of what others are doing around us. It can lead us to feel we are missing out or that our lives aren’t as good as other people’s. Be careful of this thinking – you don’t really know what others are up to or what they are hiding from everyone else. Stop focusing on them and focus on finding your happiness.

Self criticism: We all have an inner bully that makes us fearful, fills us with self doubt and makes us feel we aren’t good enough. You don’t have to listen to it!

What to do:

Learn to dismiss thoughts. Just because you have an intrusive thought, it doesn’t mean that it is true or that you should focus on it. Acknowledge it – “Oh, that’s a weird thought”, then let it go. Another one will be along in a short while.

Watch your focus: where is your attention? Is it on what is wrong, is it on all your faults? How is that helpful? Learn to quieten the bully and focus on your strengths are. What do you like about yourself? That’s far better to focus on.

Remember that thoughts aren’t facts. They are chemical impulses, they are perceptions…not actual reality. Learn to separate yourself from them.

Ask yourself where’s the evidence? You will generally find that there is no evidence for your thinking. Unless someone actually tells you that they dislike you, stop assuming. Assume the best rather than the worst. If you’re self critical – how do you know it’s true? You may see yourself as incompetent but that is just a perception. Someone else may see you differently. It isn’t fact – your self critical voice – it’s a perception that can be challenged.

Ask yourself if there is an alternative way to look at the situation. You will find there usually is!

Stop creating your own stress by not always believing what you think. Ignore those silly thoughts. use the good ones, ignore the irritating begative ones – they don’t help you in any way.

Mandy X