How to Handle Stressful Thoughts

April is Stress Awareness Month, so this guest blog is all about how to handle stressful thoughts. Stress can arise at any time and give rise to stressful thoughts. Whether it’s during a busy time at work, buckling under responsibilities at home, or even enduring long lines at the shops. Stress can shake the best of us. During turbulent times such as a global pandemic, it can feel like there’s no escape from stressful situations.

Luckily, there are ways to handle stressful thoughts and stress. The world might throw plenty of stress at you, but there are ways to control of your own thoughts and actions.

There are many effective ways to handle stressful thoughts. These include having and maintaining a good social network, building emotional strength, and adopting a positive outlook. While some of these might seem easier said than done, they’re good methods to keep in mind when stress starts to get to you. 

For example, if work’s becoming too much, how can you step back and take a break. all whilst letting off steam to your friends.

This kind of balance is the best way for most people to help handle and control stressful thoughts. However, for some, these efforts might not be so easy to exercise. Developing patience and emotional strength doesn’t happen overnight, and a lifetime of experience may make some jaded to a positive outlook.

This shouldn’t stop you from trying to adapt them though. It’s this endeavour, as well as several other helpful hints, that we are going to explore.

Consider unhelpful habits

It’s important to consider some of your go-to habits. Things that are helpful and things that are unhelpful. It can be natural to reach for a cigarette or a drink in times of stress. However, they are often short-term solutions. It’s understandable why these are natural support mechanisms for many.

Consider your environment and how you can change many unhelpful coping strategies. What could you do instead? How could you make that habit more attractive, easy to access and at the forefront of your mind?

The book Atomic Habits by James Clear is hugely helpful to reshape your mindset around your go-to habits. It will help you reshape what you do and how you do it.

Step back before you act

It’s tricky to simply ‘be positive’ or to ‘work on emotional strength’. However, it isn’t totally impossible, especially if you take things one step at a time.

A good method for handling stressful thoughts is the age-old technique of ‘counting to 10’, especially when angered. Better yet, taking a moment to stop and think can usually deter stress-induced actions. 

For example, getting mad at a football match not going the way you want it. Your team is losing, and someone on the other team just scored. Naturally, this makes you angry, and you might be tempted to shout out insults at the TV or get uncomfortably mad. Before reacting, simply take a moment to think about what you’re about to do. This may be the buffer you need to prevent anger overflowing. In this case, standing up and stopping before shouting would create the thought process of “wait, am I really about to shout out loud? The TV won’t care what I’m doing, nor will the team who’s playing. I will literally be shouting at nothing, for nothing”.

This kind of thought process can help put things into perspective. It might even seem a bit silly after some thought. Exercising restraint in stressful situations like this, where there’s little to no stakes to you personally, can help you keep your cool. This can then lead to you being able to handle stress better in times where there would be repercussions for shouting or reacting with rage.

The four A’s to handle stressful thoughts

Professionals who regularly handle stress discuss ‘the four A’s of stress’. They outline how to react to stress and stressful situations.

A white piece of paper with the words Worry Less in black bold font on a wooden table with a light W
Techniques to Handle Stressful Thoughts

The points are as follows:

Avoid

‘Avoiding’ relates to situations that you have control over. You have the ability to chose not to interact with stressful situations.

For example, a friend regularly calls you and does nothing but complain. Despite your best efforts, the friend never asks you how you’re are. They never seem to respond to any suggestions, and simply spend time complaining at you. 

It can feel mean to ignore someone in this situation, but if they’re behaviour is draining. It shows no respect for your feelings during these interactions. You have a choice, you can cease communication, or reduce the number of times you pick up the phone.

Avoiding can mean knowing when to say ‘no’ to things or people, or knowing when to avoid things like stress-inducing information (such as the news) and simply focusing on something else.

Alter

‘Altering’ considers elements of your life that you can change, no matter how big or small. You can apply this to yourself, others around you, and environments like your workplace as a whole.

For example, a co-worker regularly slacks off, causing you to feel that you’re doing an unfair amount of work. Altering this situation doesn’t mean “telling on them” to your manager. An alternative option could be asking for the topic of team workload to be added to the team meeting. This can include training on time management or with the tasks that the co-workers are slacking off on. 

By requesting this as an agenda item, you may ‘inadvertently’ affect how your co-worker acts and raise their consciousness. On the other hand, if they continue to be work shy, you know you tried. It may then be time to talk to them or your manager about their behaviour.

Altering can relate to changing your own stress-inducing behaviour, such as bottling up your feelings. It can also relate to attempts from those who wish to alter things with you, such as asking you to stop certain things.

Adapt

‘Adapting’ to stressful situations simply means you change how you interpret or approach them.

For example, due to a sudden change at work, you’re asked to take on more responsibilities. It can be very easy to feel overwhelmed in this situation. It may be helpful initially to reframe the situation. You could view as a vote of confidence in your abilities

A ‘can-do’ attitude to more work coming your way doesn’t say that you’re a pushover. It shows your managers that yes, you’re a team player who is happy to help where they can. However, adapting to this situation includes more than just a positive outlook. Realistically it does require a time limit, so you know how long you can expect to perform these extra duties. If there is no time limit, you can discuss compensation such as a pay rise or a promotion.

Adapting in this sense also provides opportunities to gain some perspective. If a stressful situation is getting to you. It is also worth stepping back and understanding how it fits into the big picture as a whole. What causes stress for you today may be less impactful in a week. Indeed, after a year, it may not even be a blip in your memory! Asking yourself the questions will this matter in 5 days’ time, 5 months’ time or 5 years’ time can be a useful technique.

Accept

‘Accepting’ is about recognising that some situations are beyond your control, and all you can do is accept them. 

For example, being stuck in traffic can be incredibly stress-inducing. The frustration of being confined to one spot or fear of being late to work. However, it’s these times that you simply need to take a deep breath, remain calm, and exercise some patience. 

Short of requesting a bulldozer to smash through long queues, there’s nothing that can be done to resolve traffic jams. Therefore accepting this and attempting to remain calm, contacting who you need to and taking deep breaths is the best way to handle this kind of stress.

Accepting means more than just patience. It can also include learning to forgive those that have made you angry, or simply accepting your feelings and being open about them with those around you.

Stress Counselling to handle stressful thoughts

For anyone who finds handling stress overwhelming or anyone who encounters stressful situations on an almost daily basis, a more proactive approach may be required. When stress becomes too much to handle, it can be comforting to know that there is professional help available. Ignoring stress is not a good idea and support it available.

Expert counsellors support those who seek counselling for stress. They have years of experience handling, dealing with, and addressing stress issues. For stress arising in the workplace, work-related stress affects employee morale, productivity, engagement and more. Many employees in large organisations can turn to their employers for help and support with counselling.

Large to medium organisation usually have their own employee assistance programmes (EAPs) that provide services like counselling for stress and other mental-ill health conditions. These professionals can support employees with anxiety, financial troubles, and depression. When problems like these crop up in your day-to-day life never feel like you can’t ask for help and support.

These EAPs won’t just be for workplace stress either, they usually support employees outside of working hours, and cover topics unrelated to work. The best way to find out about these is to talk to your manager, union representatives or you HR Team. If your workplace doesn’t offer EAPs, it might be worth talking to your employers about enlisting their help. Alternatively, speak to your GP and check your Council’s website about self-referral to talking therapies. You can also check our Diverse Minds Address Your Stress Tips here.

About the Author of this Guest Blog:
This guest blog was co-authored by David Price. David Price is CEO of Health Assured: the UK’s leading health and wellbeing provider. He advises employers daily on how to encourage and develop a healthy workplace, whilst outlining best practice guidance on how to combat and control workplace stress. This is not affiliate content.

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