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The ABCs of Stress Management

Are you stressed out? Who isn’t these days? In the video, I will teach you a technique that’s helped me lower my stress level. I hope you’ll find useful. If you'd rather read than watch, then scroll down below the video. You'll find the same content there.

We’ll begin with a stressful scenario you may have found yourselves in: you’re driving to work one morning, and someone cuts you off in traffic. You make an obscene gesture at them, and you tailgate them until you arrive at your workplace, or they turn off. You begin the workday grumpy. Why do people have to ruin your day? It seems automatic, how people behaving badly provokes anger in us, but it’s not. In between the other driver’s dangerous maneuver and my reaction to it is a thought that bridged the gap between their action and my response. Maybe I thought, “That’s guy’s trying to make me late for work!” or “I’ll bet he’s drunk! People are so irresponsible!” It was my thinking that caused me to shoot the bird at him, tailgate him, and start off my day in a bad mood. What if I were thinking other thoughts? What if I thought, “That guy sure is in a hurry. Maybe his wife is about to have a baby, and he’s trying to get her to the hospital ASAP.” Or, “I’ll bet that’s some inexperienced teenager trying to get to his first summer job on time. I remember being in those situations!” Those thoughts might generate a difference reaction in me. I might arrive at work a little less stressed.

The psychologist Albert Ellis calls this the ABCs of Happiness. A stands for the Activating Event—in this case, getting cut off in traffic. C stands for Consequence—I tailgate him; I raise my middle finger at him; I begin my work day fuming about bad drivers trying to ruin my day. In between in the letter B, which stands for Beliefs, my thinking that gets me from action to consequence. Here’s how to lower your stress: with the letter D. D stands for Dispute letter B. Do I know that he’s drunk? No, I don’t. Are there alternative explanations for his driving other than, He’s an incompetent, obnoxious person? Yes; like I said above, maybe he’s in a legitimate hurry or is just frazzled. Ask yourself, Is it really that bad to get cut off in traffic? No, not so long as an accident didn’t occur. Finally, ask yourself, Is it useful to tailgate anybody? Maybe something more useful would be to pull off the road and call the police. If you rear end the other driver, who’ll get the ticket? You will! How much will your co-workers appreciate you if you walk into work hot under the collar? Most things in life we have no control over, like the way people drive, the timeline for a Covid-19 vaccination, or our ex’s behavior. The one thing we can control is how we think about situations we find ourselves in. Healthier thinking helps us lower our stress in stressful situations, like rush hour traffic or a pandemic or awkward encounters with relatives. Thinking about our thinking can make us happier people. Psalm 139 says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.” I’ve often read this psalm; it’s become a favorite prayer of mine. For me, stumbling over Ellis’s ABCs of Happiness has been a kind of answer to this prayer. I hope you find it useful.

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