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Monday, May 7, 2012

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

     Welcome back to Part II of the stress management series! Here, we will discuss the role of self-talk in our stress process. This concept is so important that only this topic will be covered at this time. If you understand this concept and have faith in it, you will have the secret to significantly reducing stress in almost any situation!

     In our last point in the previous post, we understood how stress develops in our body according to the A-B-C Model.  In particular, the critical role our belief system plays in perpetuating the stress cycle. When we talk about our beliefs, we are basically referring to what is called self-talk.  Yes, we all practice self-talk and No, we are not crazy for doing so! Everybody does this, whether it is silently or aloud. There two kinds of self-talk: positive and negative. For example, let’s say your child is trying out for a sports team. Your child can either engage in a positive self-talk like “I can do this” or a negative one such as “I can’t do this.”  Which do you think will result in better outcomes?

     Going back to the A-B-C model, when our beliefs (B) consist of positive self-talk, the consequence (C) is a positive outcome.  Conversely, when we practice negative self-talk, the consequence is a negative outcome (e.g. distress, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, etc.).  The good news is that we have control over our self-talk! If someone practices negative self-talk on a regular basis, they can learn to reprogram themselves to use positive self-talk to yield positive results.  It is not an easy task at first, but with practice it will become second nature.  The first step is to identify what kind of negative self-talk is the culprit.  There are four main types: the worrier, the critic, the victim, and the perfectionist.

      The Worrier constantly worries and imagines the worst-case scenario. You can spot a worrier because they often use “What if...?" self-talk. This way of thinking promotes anxiety.  The Critic focuses on the negative qualities of self and others. Mistakes often mean failure, which promotes low self-esteem.  The Victim often feels helpless or hopeless and perceives obstacles get in the way of achieving a goal. Understandably, this fuels depression.

     Lastly, ah The Perfectionist! For many reasons I cannot get into here, this is my favorite one so will devote two, whole paragraphs on this type.  Many people strive to be one, but cannot be! Our society seems to admire and cultivate this type of thinkers, but what they do not realize is that not only is this an unhealthy goal, but unattainable as well. Simply because no-one-is-perfect! This type of negative self-talker pushes and provokes self to do better. Sure, wanting to do better is a good thing, but when it crosses that line and drives you to the point where you cannot function in your daily routines effectively then it becomes unhealthy. You can easily recognize The Perfectionist because they often use words like “should, have to, must, etc.!” 

     Additionally, The Perfectionist tries to convince his or herself that their self-worth is based on external factors such as money, social status, designer clothing, acceptance by others, etc.  This undoubtedly promotes chronic distress and burnout. Furthermore, when someone becomes that stressed out, their performance will be negatively impacted. This is why schools recommend that you get plenty of rest and good nutrition rather than studying hard the night just before the big test. It is a close cousin of The Critic, but not as concerned with putting themselves down. Don’t lose hope because it is possible to learn alternative ways of believing!

     Negative self-talk is a behavior. Like any behavior, you can unlearn and replace with new ones.  Countering is a therapeutic technique used in cognitive-behavioral therapy to challenge your negative self-talk.  You basically ask questions such as: “What is the evidence for this?” “Is this always true?” “Am I being fully objective?” After you pose countering questions, you then would use counterstatements to replace your negative self-talk. 

     Counterstatements are positive statements in your belief system to replace negative self-talk. This is why the power of positivity is so important to understand and practice.  At the end of the day, the validity of negative self-talk has nothing to do with how attached you are to them or how ingrained they might be (Bourne, 2000).  In other words, just because you say the negative things over and over, does not make them true!  Rather, the validity depends on whether they hold true under careful, objective scrutiny. This is a powerful way of thinking! 

     There are some things to consider when you use counterstatements. These are The Rules:

1.    Avoid negatives.
DO: “I am confident and calm about taking the test.”
DON’T: “I’m not going to panic when I take the test.”

2.    Keep them in the present tense.
DO: “I can breathe and let these feelings pass.”
DON’T: “I will feel better in a few minutes.”

3.    Whenever possible, keep it in the first person.
DO: “I can do this.”
DON’T: “You can do this.”

4.    Have some belief in your positive self-talk or it’s not effective. Simply replacing a negative self-talk with a positive one just because it is positive is not going to work.  We all have to first believe that we can do it before we can actually do it.  Okay, since I am not a huge fan of telling someone not do something without providing alternatives, here are some examples of counterstatements to get you started!

Examples of Counterstatements
So what, I can handle this.
I’ll get used to this with practice.
This may be scary, but I can tolerate a little stress.
This too shall pass.
I can retreat if necessary.
I’m O.K. the way I am.
I’m a unique and creative person.
I deserve the good things in life as much as anyone else.
I am worthy of the respect of others.
I don’t have to be all better tomorrow.
I can continue to make progress one step at a time.
I gave it my best efforts.
It’s O.K. to make mistakes.
I am a good parent/daughter/son/husband/wife/etc.
Change can be good.
It’s never too late to change.
I'm taking deep breaths to calm down.
I accept and believe in myself.

Bourne, E.J. (2000). The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook (Third Ed.) Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.


  1. I can't tell you how well written this entry is! In striving to become a parent that gives the ultimate useful lessons in life, I think this one ranks up there for us. You are so right on the perfectionist front - what society wants, what our networks expect etc. and how to tune that out to focus on our own needs...hmmm...Pooja.

  2. @Anonymous/Pooja: Thank you for your kind words! So glad you found this post helpful. Fostering children to do their best is far healthier than promoting perfection. Thank you for your keen observation!