Welcome to Day 8 of HuffPost Healthy Living's 14-Day Stress-Less Challenge! In honor of National Stress Awareness Month, our goal is to use these two weeks to focus on becoming less stressed and more calm. Today's expert is Frank Ghinassi, Ph.D., vice president of quality and performance improvement at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC and the UPMC Behavioral Health Network, who will be explaining the best ways to mentally reframe stressful situations into manageable ones. Read through today's challenge, then tell us -- either in the comments, on Facebook or @HealthyLiving -- how it's going. Just joining us? Catch up on what you've missed here and sign up to receive future newsletters for the rest of the challenge here.
When you're stressed, it's easy to think if only: If only my friend didn't treat me as inferior. If only I had a job I enjoyed more. If only my kids were better behaved.
This way of thinking may feel rational in the moment, but it isn't productive or helpful for stress. The basic principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help.
"Our thoughts are really the primary mechanism by which we feel things -- but most people experience this the other way around: They don't realize they can choose their feelings," Ghinassi says.
What can you do? "You can elect to reframe your experiences," Ghinassi says, explaining that this is the premise of CBT. While you're not in control of all of life's realities (the weather, your taxes, mortality), you are in control of many of them (the schools you apply to, the jobs you interview for, the hobbies you pursue). And most importantly, you are in full control of how you choose to respond to the events in your life. Want to put some of these CBT tools into practice? Check out these three techniques you can start today:
1. Mood Monitor:
Start with a piece of paper -- even a napkin will do. Make three columns. In the first, list the time and day of the events that you are currently finding to be stressful. In the second, add one word descriptions of what you're feeling (stressed, angry, sad) and rate these feelings 1-100 (100 meaning the emotion is overcoming you). In the third, write down all of the automatic thoughts you're having in that moment of stress and anxiety.
Once you're done writing (give yourself no more than two minutes), fold the paper in half and don't look at it until the next morning. When you revisit the paper, ask yourself: "How many distortions or unhelpful rules do I see?" You'll be able to realize your responses to particular events may have been overreactions; next time, it will be easier to course-correct in the moment.
2. Cognitive Flip:
This mental trick will take you from fired-up to feeling calm in just a few moments. Commit to only looking at aspects of a stressful situation of which you can control. Ask yourself: "What are the levers that I can pull to improve this situation?" You can't control the weather, but you can put on a hood or buy an umbrella. The cognitive flip will switch your position of perceived helplessness into a position of agency: You are in control.
3. Miracle Question:
Ghinassi says this a great technique to implement when you find yourself "awfulizing" everything -- you're struggling to see any positive in a situation. Ask yourself: "What would life look like if I went to bed tonight and something magical happened? What would that look like? What would I be doing?" Now, ask yourself: "How many of these things can I change right now?" Often, Ghinassi says, we create barriers that don't actually exist. This prompt helps you to see beyond the artificial barriers you create in your head and to bring clarity to actionable, real options. Now that you've figured out what you can change, get going!
Stress-Less Fact Of The Day: Have an ego-sucking or stressful thought? Write it down, crumple it up and toss it in the trash! Research has shown you can clear out negative thoughts by literally throwing them away.