by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghDecember 22, 2020 albert ellis, holidays stress reduction, irrational beliefs, stress, stress management, Uncategorized0 comments
Cut Down on Stress by Cutting out These Two Words
Stop Stressing Yourself Out!
The Holidays are an easy opportunity to let stress bubble over and become full blown anxiety. Stressors are a fact of life, but a majority of the stress we experience is actually a result of the things we tell ourselves. Often, our anxiety is rooted in the unfortunate human tendency to take our hopes, goals and desires and morph them into what are called absolute demands. We take our wants and then mistakenly, and usually without realizing it, turn them into needs. Inevitably, we come up short and the result is a mix of shame, guilt, and anxiety. We fail to meet the rigid demands we place on ourselves, and then we beat ourselves up for not meeting these unrealistic and unachievable standards! The most common way we do this is by using the words “should” and “must.” Without realizing it, you are probably causing yourself a lot of unnecessary anxiety with these absolute should’s and must’s. If you want a stress-free holiday one simple and effective trick is to replace “should,” and “must” with flexible language.
When your thoughts are flexible and rational, you experience positive and negative emotions in a healthy and balanced way. Rigid and inflexible thoughts set unachievable standards, and when these standards aren’t met the result is extreme and dysfunctional emotions. With plenty of things to do, places to be, and relationships to manage, the holidays are a prime time for high standards and rigid beliefs to run wild. How often do you tell yourself you, should, must, have to, or need, to do something? If you find yourself using these words a lot, it might be a sign that you are stressing yourself out! The good news is that you can stop most of your worryin
g by recognizing your irrational beliefs, when we notice that we are making statements that begin with ‘should and must’ we know that we are using irrational beliefs, instead we should alternate those statements by replacing them with flexible and rational thoughts.
Should’s and must’s fall into a category of common mental mistakes that we all make called absolute demands. They are rigid forms of thinking that result in unhealthy negative emotional states like shame, guilt, anxiety and depression. Without realizing it, we take our preferences, hopes, desires, and goals, and turn them into needs. The fact is your wants are not needs. We say things like, “I need the approval of other people.” “I should be more successful.” Or, “I must be perfect in everything I do.” The result of our illogical jump in thinking is that these thoughts are not rationally based. When our thinking is not based on reality, things can quickly get out of hand! If our need’s for approval, success, or perfection are not fulfilled we experience it as a total catastrophe. Our rigid musts lead to extreme, and unhealthy beliefs, overgeneralizations about ourselves, other people, or the world. Everyone will express these must’s and should’s in slightly different ways, but here are some basic examples of what this might look like:
The absolute demand, “I must/should do well,”
Leads to the extreme conclusion “or I am no good.”
The absolute demand, “You must/should treat me well,”
Leads to the extreme conclusion, “If you don’t, you are worthless.”
The absolute demand, “The world must give me what I want, when I want.”
Leads to the extreme conclusion, “If not, it a horrible place.”
If we didn’t create these absolute must’s for ourselves, we wouldn’t experience most of our unhealthy emotional reactions. Other examples of absolute demands are have to’s, ought to’s and need to’s, but the two main forms of absolute demands are our should’s, and must’s. The fact of the matter is that there is no logical reason for these must’s and should’s. They are actually illogical, and the result of rigid and illogical thinking is more rigid and illogical thinking, leaving us in an emotional mess. If you think about the words literally, and from a rational perspective, anything that should be already is. If something must be then literally it already is that way. When we use should and must we don’t always literally mean what we say. The issue is that our brain doesn’t know that, and it reacts to the logic we use, thinking those things like success and approval are needs. We believe what we tell ourselves. The desires for approval and for success are very good and healthy human desires, but they are wants, not needs. The real need’s humans have are food, water, and oxygen, almost everything else is a preference or desire. The result of turning these preferences into should’s and must’s in our self-talk is unhealthy negative emotion, and dysfunctional behavior.
Respond to Your Should’s & Musts
In order to replace your should’s and must’s with flexible beliefs the first thing you have to do is pay attention to your thoughts. Try to notice all the times when you use these should’s and must’s. After you catch yourself, there are two steps to responding to your should’s and must’s with flexible beliefs. The first step is to tell yourself what your want is, and the second step is to acknowledge that you do not have to get what you want. For example, If I thought to myself “I should have woken up earlier today.” The effect of this thought is that I feel ashamed and guilty. I may even make the extreme conclusion, “I’m lazy and no good for not waking up earlier, this just proves that I am a failure.” The result of my thinking is unnecessary shame and guilt. I can respond by telling myself what I would have preferred to happen, and then acknowledging that I am still okay even thought that didn’t happen. I might say to myself, “I would have liked to wake up earlier this morning, but just because I slept in, is no justification to say I am no good.” I could even add, “On top of that, just because someone sleeps in once, does not mean they are completely lazy or no good! That is a huge overgeneralization.” This is an example of using this flexible and preferential language to address my should, and to dispute my irrational thought. The result of my flexible thinking is that I feel much better and feel motivated to do better next time.
Here are a few more examples of possible Holiday should’s and must’s:
Holiday Should’s and Must’s & Alternative “Preferential Thinking”
|Rigid Thoughts||Extreme Conclusion||Flexible Thoughts||Rational Conclusion|
|The Holidays are a time where everyone in the family should get along.||If not, it will completely ruin the celebration.||I would really like for everyone to get along, BUT there is a chance someone might not get along and it will be okay.||If there is a fight, it will be difficult, but it won’t completely ruin the celebration.|
|The Holidays are a time where everyone in the family should get along.||And, If not, it will completely ruin the celebration.||I would really like for everyone to get along, BUT there is a chance someone might not get along and it will be okay.||If there is a fight, it will be difficult, but it won’t completely ruin the celebration.|
|I must complete my holiday to-do list||And, If I don’t, I won’t be able to enjoy myself.||I want to complete my Holiday to-do list, But the world will not completely stop if I don’t.||If I don’t complete my holiday to-do list, I will be a bit disappointed, but I will still be able to enjoy my holiday|
|I must get the perfect gifts for everyone.||And, If I don’t my family will have a terrible Christmas and I couldn’t stand myself.||I want to get the best gifts I can for everyone, but It couldn’t possibly get a gift that is perfect in every way.||Even if I don’t get everyone the most perfect gift, I will be able to enjoy Christmas and I will be able to accept myself.|
|My significant other must appreciate the time and effort I put in to find their gift.||And if they don’t, it means they are a terrible partner.||I would very much like for my significant other to appreciate the time and effort I put in to find their gift, but I don’t have to.||If my significant other doesn’t appreciate the time and effort, I put in to find their gift, it doesn’t mean they are a terrible partner.|
|I should be more organized with Holiday planning.||And, If I am not organized, I am a failure.||I would like to be more organized with Holiday planning, but there is no universal law that says I must be more organized.||If I am not organized, it does not mean I am a failure, it just means that it is an area in my life that could be improved upon. It does not change my value as a person.|
|I must cook the perfect meal for my household or loved ones.||And, If I don’t, Christmas will be ruined.||I would like to cook the best meal I can, but there is no perfect meal. A good meal will be just as good!||Even if I don’t cook the perfect meal for Christmas, my family will still be able to enjoy the celebration, and I will still be able to be happy.|
We Stress Ourselves Out
We mostly upset ourselves by adopting dysfunctional and rigid standards and then when we don’t meet these standards, we beat ourselves up. We take our preferences, hopes, wants, and desires which are usually all good and healthy, and we turn them into absolute demands. For example, It is perfectly rational to want things to be easy, but when this desire for leisure becomes a need for everything to be easy, we can get overwhelmed when things are difficult. This type of rigid thinking creates extreme beliefs and dysfunctional emotional reactions. When we think irrationally, we upset ourselves. When it comes down to it, and we evaluate these demands on a rational level, they actually don’t hold much weight. This is a common mental mistake that we all make, but in order to stop our unhelpful thoughts, we have to pay attention to our self-talk, and adopt flexible language.
Unhealthy Self-Talk Makes You Stressed, Depressed & Anxious
Thinking is a habit, and learning new habits of thinking that are flexible and rational will result in decreased stress, and increased life satisfaction. This holiday season try to replace your demands with desires. Preferential language is flexible and accurate, and it helps us feel the way we want to feel, and really enjoy our experiences. Rational Thinking provides us with healthy and accurate interpretations of ourselves, the world, and others. Now that you know that your feelings are caused by your thoughts, you have to actually practice noticing and responding to these unhelpful thoughts. You have to start to stubbornly refuse to upset yourself! This is what is called thought disputation. If you want to be happy, healthy, and stress free, stop telling yourself things that aren’t true. Inflexible rules and demands result in unhealthy emotions, and create guilt, frustration, and unhealthy negative emotions. Pay attention to your thoughts, ask yourself “do I really “need” to do this?” “Is this thought really true?” “Is this thought Helpful?” If it is not, try to respond with a more flexible thought. By recognizing your inflexible, rigid thinking and replacing it with accurate rational thoughts you will create a climate of healthy self-talk. It’s especially easy to be hard on yourself around the holidays, but you deserve a break! One simple and effective trick you can do to lessen stress, and cultivate healthy self-talk is to replace your should’s and must’s with flexible, preferential language.
By John-Paul Dombrowski