Stress Wärnings: Thanking the monkey, but learning to say ‘No’, not today

In my last column I addressed the importance of being able to say no to tasks in order to conquer stress, and I presented a simple template for a constructive refusal. 

In this column I will focus on ‘the Monkey Mind’ – our tendency to worry – and I will present a simple self-coaching technique for addressing and controlling your disaster thoughts. 

Disaster thoughts
Worrying and having ‘disaster thoughts’ can be both the causes of stress and symptoms of stress itself. Often the disaster thoughts are unconscious or vaguely articulated, such as: “It will all fall apart, if I don’t make it on time.” Or: “It’s never going to end well.”

The problem with such thoughts is that we are often not aware of them, despite the fact that they control how we act and, to some extent, also the biochemical processes in our bodies, including physical stress reactions. For example, try to feel the difference in your bodily reactions between thinking “It is never going to end well” and “Of course this is going to work out!”

In other words, it may be important to identify what thoughts we have – especially when we suffer from stress. 

Try this exercise!
Try to think of one of your biggest stressors. Notice what negative thoughts come up and write them down. 

Then ask yourself the following questions: As specifically as possible, what is the worst that can happen? What is the likelihood (as a percentage) of that happening? What can you do, if the worst really happened?

Face the monster
This exercise demonstrates that disaster thoughts often become smaller and more manageable, when they are fleshed out. The (often) unlikely nature of them becomes clearer. 

The aim is to draft a plan for what you could do, if in fact the worst really happened – whether your fears are realistic or not. That exercise can in itself make it less terrifying because the plan allows you to regain a sense of mastery. In other words, you get to “look the monster in the eye” and often discover that it is not quite as dangerous as you first imagined it to be.  

The exercise is from my latest book ‘The little guide to an almost stress-free life’. Take good care of yourself and your ‘monkey mind’.