I am Vikas Sheth, a 42 year old cloth merchant. Since the last 4 years, due to the worldwide recession in the textile industry, my business has also suffered. I become extremely anxious about all events happening around me. I am unable to eat and sleep like before. My body is tense all the time and I am preoccupied with negative thoughts the whole day. Even my family members are worried about my condition. I want some behavioral methods to reduce my stress.
Stress is a very slippery term referring to an all-embracing synthesis of many aspects of life experiences. I am listing the technique of stress management generally applicable to any situation and you can use those concepts for your specific problem.
What you can do?
Whenever you are faced with stressful situations, there are two types of appraisals that are very important in mediating your reactions to that stress. The first, primary appraisal refers to the way in which you evaluate the significance or meaning of that event. When the events are appraised as harmful and threatening, (Because of your financial difficulties, you are unable to give materialistic comfort to your family) you are more likely to become worried and tense. However, if the same event is viewed as challenging, more outcomes that are positive are likely to occur (Although you have financial difficulties, you will be able to provide many meaningful and important inputs to your family). The second, secondary appraisal refers to the process of evaluating what can be done about the stressful event. Several factors can influence the secondary appraisal including the breadth of your repertoire of coping skills, your mastery of specific coping skills and your expectation that your skills will be effective. There are five skills that you need to develop for the core of effective stress management – self-observation, thought restructuring, relaxation training, time management and problem solving. To become more self-aware of how you respond to problem situations, you should start keeping a daily record of your behavior. You could list down the stressful events that occurred each day, the antecedents, behaviors and consequences relating to that event. You should start assessing the appraisals of the events on a 0 to 100 scale. This assessment would help you assess the thinking patterns, moods and bodily responses to the stressful event. Self-observation thus makes you aware of behaviors that you have failed to notice. By keeping a record, you can notice the patterns emerging in your behavior. A second important feature is that it helps you to see how your responses are linked to the situational antecedents and consequences. You may be surprised at the variations in your own reactions across different events. While coping successfully with one event, you may find yourself unable to cope with the same event in different circumstances. You may also get an insight into how you might change your behavior to manage more effectively. The second factor is to alter your thought processes as in beliefs and expectations. Perceptions of events and the related thoughts control the emotions. Emotional reactions that are excessive or prolonged are often the result of thought processes that are distorted. You have to start monitoring and analyzing these distorted thoughts. A careful review would reveal an inherent error in logic. Certain types of errors can occur quite frequently (e.g. the need for money for running the house may be overestimated leading to a perceived deficit which creates panic) and you can start to recognize them. The next is to start challenging and changing these distorted thoughts. A rational response than an illogical one is applied every time (for e.g. I have less money has a rational response of “It is true that I cannot go back into the past and earn more but I can make a try for what is happening today”). The other thing is to do relaxation exercises. This can reduce the overall muscle tension. If you are able to relax, you are more likely to think more rationally and be able to restructure negative thinking process when faced with a stressful event. The next is time management because a stressful event can place inordinate demands on time and energy when prolonged. You often feel that you have lost control over your daily schedule and cannot attend to your own needs. Here you have to become aware of current patterns of time use. Record keeping will help you to realize how much time you spend in important categories like work, family, exercise or leisure. You can also list down the important areas of your life and according formulate two time estimates – the amount of time that you are currently spending in these activities and how much you would like to spend in these activities. With the awareness of this difference, the increased motivation to make these changes comes. You also have to set your priorities. They should fit into long-term goals. The goals should be reasonable, specific and personally meaningful. If you have set unrealistic goals, you feel frustrated when changing your behavior and as a result fail and give up. You can also set a time frame in which to meet your goal and this will reduce procrastination. The last is to learn problem-solving techniques. You have to start with problem identification during which the key aspects of stressful events like problematic behaviors, thoughts, feelings and bodily responses are identified. The next in this is to generate alternatives. You should brainstorm thinking of, as many solutions as you can, even if they do not immediately seem reasonable, do not criticize yourself and attempt to mix and match solutions in creative ways. You can then evaluate the alternatives and select the best solution. Rate the likelihood that each solution will have a positive outcome and view its pros and cons. Choose the most practical solution. The final step is to implement the solution. You will be able to anticipate problems and formulate and implement effective coping options.