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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

10 Things You Need to Know about Stress Management: Part I (Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

    This is one of three parts to the stress management series. Since stress management is such a vast area of discussion, writing it in one post would result in a very lengthy article.  Understanding that verbosity can lose an audience, will chunk it. Main focus here will be on the two types of stress, the power of positivity, and the A-B-C theory of how stress develops.  When people usually talk about stress management, they seem to automatically talk about good nutrition and exercise. Although these practices are important in reducing stress, the objective here is to give you a different perspective on how to understand and manage stress. By the end of the series, you will know ten things about managing stress!

1.    There are two types of stress. For simplicity sake, eustress is the “good” kind whereas distress is the “bad” kind.  Sort of like good and bad cholesterol. This does not represent stressor types, but rather our perception about the stressor that determines whether it is good or bad for us.  Therefore, a stressor can result in both eustress and distress. It pretty much depends on how the individual perceives the stressor to be. A positive challenge or a negative threat?

     For example, getting a new job is a stressor.  John may view this as an exciting opportunity to learn new things and be challenged in which case this would be considered eustress. Joe, on the other hand, may perceive the new job as a negative threat where he will have to get out of his comfort zone and learn new things...argh! This creates anxiety for Joe, so this same stressor, would now be considered distress.  As you see from this example, how the same stressor has different effects on two different people depending on one's perception. 

2.    The power of positivity.  When we feel better, we do better.  Positive attitude reduces stress and improves relationships. When we send positive messages to our children, it elevates, encourages, and fosters growth.  Conversely, negative messages eat away at their self-worth. 

     Imagine that you are a child for a minute, and your parent wants you to first finish your homework before going outside.  Your parent either says “You can’t go outside unless you finish your homework,” or “When you finish your homework, you can go outside.” Which sounds better? The underlying message is the same, but one presents it in a negative fashion and the other in a positive way.  Regardless of age, presenting things with positivity will be less threatening and likely to yield better results.

     Another power of positivity is this idea called the law of attraction. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, is a book that later inspired a movie, is based on this principle. It derives from physics which basically states that people are like magnets. They are attracted to positive forces.  If you know of anyone who attracts a lot of people in their lives, then they are probably operating under this principle. They tend to be positive people and people want to be around them. The flip side being is that negative people ward off people.  I'm sure you know some of those folks too! This has implications for reducing stress as it will be discussed later.  When it comes to our children, they just need to understand that positivity wins more friends and results in better outcomes in many situations.

     Lastly, another concept related to positivity is what is called in psychology as a self-fulfilling prophecy. This basically means that our beliefs about our self and others will determine our actions towards self and others. In other words, we live up to whatever is expected of us.  A classic example of this would be when a teacher hears negative or positive things about an incoming student from a past teacher, then the new teacher’s expectations for that student will be influenced by that information.  Hence, the student will live up to those expectations, negative or positive. As parents, it becomes key to communicate the positive qualities about our children to their teachers along with qualities they may need to improve.  When I worked as a school-based clinician, I heard too many times from parents that they cannot think of a single, positive quality about their child.  This speaks volumes. The more we practice positive attitudes and behaviors, the quicker we can draw them from our memory!

3.    A-B-C Theory of Stress. Below is a pictorial representation of how stress develops. In any situation (A=Activators) a person has certain beliefs (B=Beliefs) about that situation. Depending on those beliefs, the person will either feel eustress or distress (C=Consequence).  The good news is that we have control over our beliefs! Understanding this process will help us to better manage our stress. This will be a good segue into the second part of the stress management series.
            A > B > C

A= Activators (any situation)
B= Beliefs (positive/negative self-talk)
C= Consequences (positive/negative outcome)


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