Let’s say, for example, that you’re meeting a friend for brunch. You have agreed to meet at 11:30am and you arrive at 11:15 to get a good table. You’re excited to see your friend since it’s been far too long since you’ve had a chance to catch up. As you scan the room you notice some couples and a group of friends, all chatting away and enjoying themselves. Feeling a little uncomfortable that you’re the only person sitting alone, you check the time and notice that it is 11:35.
Your first thought might be something like, “wow, I even made an effort to be a bit early, I wonder what’s keeping him?” Thoughts along those lines might continue for a few minutes. The more time that passes, however, the more your thoughts may start to take on a different tone as the voice in your head starts making comments like, “people always do this to me, I’m fed up with being the only person who’s ever on time!” or “he obviously doesn’t have much respect for me if he doesn’t value my time enough to be here when she said he would”.
All the while, with each negative thought, your body and emotions are reacting in the same way as they would in a genuinely stress-producing situation, dealing with a hurt child or fender-bender, for example. Your brain is telling you a story and when you buy into it, your stress continues to rise.
Often a situation triggers a memory of another time in the past where we may have experienced something similar and did not have adequate coping skills or our feelings got hurt. We may not realize that is happening and think we’re in the here and now, but we’re really not.
We're filtering the present situation through the lens of our past experiences. If it is actually a new situation, our minds may start questioning, again on a subconscious level, whether we have the ability to handle it, or worry about the impact it will have on other areas of our lives, etc. In most cases, it is the messages our brains are telling us that trigger the stress response.
There are several ways to make some changes when it comes to this type of stress:
In the example above, you might remind yourself that your friend could be stuck in traffic or perhaps misplaced his car keys, or that he is dealing with a family emergency - all things that have absolutely no reflection on how much he values or respects you. Truly, at that point it has nothing to do with you except that you are sitting by yourself at a table in a restaurant. Then, take a deep breath and let those emotions pass by, without allowing the thoughts continue that are fueling your stress response.
Being aware of your thinking and its impact on the level of stress you experience is one of the most helpful things you can do to help minimize its effect on you. To learn more about Stress Management, you can also check out another write-up on stress here
Bobbi Beuree, Certified CAN Coach + Facilitator is located in Halifax, NS, and provides interactive 1:1 coaching services, as well as corporate workshops.