Recently, a coaching client of mine had an epiphany in the midst of a two-hour walk in nature. There, in the rare quiet of her busy life, she discovered she actually could hear herself thinking. What is more, to her surprise and amazement, the chatter she heard running like a soundtrack in her mind was cacophonous and negative. Not the ominous negativity of someone who is suicidal or homicidal. Rather, “little negatives,” as Normal Vincent Peale called them. She heard herself making insidious statements like, “I don’t think I’ll be able to do this,” and “I don’t seem to be able to get what I want.” Little did she know just how this realization would become a cornerstone to greater success, happiness, and productivity.

“Attitudes are more important than facts.” – Karl Menninger, M.D.


In our coaching session, she wondered aloud how changing her thoughts might help. She seemed to sense that this one, seemingly small, change could yield abundant results. She mused on the following questions. What if she learned to catch herself in the act of thinking negatively? Could she replace these corrosive, negative thoughts with positive ones? What would happen if she did?

She indeed had found an essential key to her future success and productivity. This story demonstrates how we create our own stress as well as our own energy, success, and happiness.

Stress Is a Verb

People commonly think of stress as a noun, as in “I have so much stress in my life.” However, in actuality, it is a verb, as in “I am stressing about this project or outcome.” An anxiety-provoking task, such as standing in front of the Board of Directors to present a report, may not be of our choosing. But we can choose to maximize or minimize our stressing by how we think about it.

Why People Create Their Own Stress

Who would seek to be stressed? Very few of us would, at least on a conscious level. However, below the surface, it may be a different story. We may find value in creating our own stress:

We may think of stress as a motivator. Without it, we fear we might lose our competitive edge or become slackers.

We may have learned it as children from adults in our lives who constantly fretted and worried — many of whom even “disasterized” that ruin surely was nipping at their heels. Before we were able to consciously choose, we developed that authority figure’s stressing habit.

We may have learned that ‘being perfect’ is the price of admission
to the hearts of important people. Because perfection is unattainable, we continually worry that we will be found out. This often leads to a compulsion for dotting every i and crossing every t. In the end, nothing is completed — or if it is, we insist it is unworthy.

We may have learned to expect the unexpected, often citing ‘Murphy’s Law,’ which has led straight to a self-fulfilling prophesy of inconsistency and even chaos. It, consequently, became the norm.

We may have became addicted to the adrenalin rush we get from always being stressed — sucking down coffee to fuel even faster speeds. We rationalize this keeps us on our toes. Maybe so. But how long can this pace be maintained?

What is the common denominator in all of these? Stress has become normal. And therefore, comfortable. We have difficulty recognizing it actually poses a problem. Harder still is contemplating giving it up. The most difficult of all is actually giving it up.

If you are preoccupied with thoughts that make you anxious, try these anti-stress methodologies, which can help you gradually learn to replace your worry habit with positive thinking.

Tips For Stress Busting

  1. When you hear yourself “disasterizing,” stop and do a reality check. Is it true that nothing ever works out for you, or that you never do anything right? Probably not
  2. Let go of the negative thought by actually watching it float away like a balloon
  3. Replace it with a positive, affirming thought, such as, I can figure this out, or I can ask for help if I need it
  4. Be patient with yourself while you are learning to practice this new perspective. Soon, it will become second nature
  5. If you continue to have trouble with this approach, ask for help of a trusted friend, coach, or therapist

As you learn this new orientation to stress, watch in amazement as your stress decreases and as your mood becomes more upbeat. And don’t forget to enjoy the steps along the way to a more relaxed and competent you.

Dr. Beth Erickson is Founder and CEO of Erickson Consulting International. She is an executive coach, business consultant, and professional speaker based in the Minneapolis, MN area. She has been a family and marital therapist for over three decades and is the author of three books. Her most recent published book is Longing For Dad: Father Loss and Its Impact.


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