coping

Self-Talk

 
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The link between thinking and feeling

Have you ever worried about something that upset you for a few days, only to realize that if you had changed how you thought about the problem, you could’ve felt better much sooner? Let’s take a closer look at how we can change those thoughts into something more positive.

 

Changing the way you think will change the way you feel

Things go wrong at times. People let us down. We make mistakes and can become disappointed. Whether we get upset about it and how upset we become depends largely on the way we think about those situations. Sometimes we can make ourselves feel pretty miserable even when our situation is not that bad, simply by thinking in a negative, self-defeating way.

What is self-talk?

As we go about our daily lives, we constantly think about and interpret the situations we find ourselves in. It is like we have an internal voice that determines how we perceive every situation. We call this inner voice our “self-talk,” and it includes our conscious thoughts, as well as our unconscious assumptions and beliefs.

Much of our self-talk is reasonable, for example: “I’d better prepare for that exam,” or ”I’m really looking forward to that game.” But sometimes our self-talk is negative, unrealistic or self-defeating. For example, “I’m going to fail for sure,” or ”I didn’t play well. I’m hopeless.”

Negative self-talk

Negative self-talk often causes us to feel bad, and can make us feel hurt, angry, frustrated, depressed or anxious. It can also make us behave in a self-defeating way. For instance, thoughts like ”I’m going to fail for sure” might discourage you from working hard when you are preparing for your exams, and you might actually fail as a result.

Remember: the way you interpret events has a huge impact on the way you feel and behave.

The ABCs of self-talk

The relationship between your thoughts, feelings and behavior can best be explained by looking at the ABCs of your self-talk.

A is for activating situation. The activating situation is a situation that causes you to feel bad. An activating situation could be a party where you don’t know a lot of people, a stressful time in school when you’re overloaded with essays and assignments, or a time when you made a silly comment that you might later regret.

When you identify the activating situation, it’s important to stick to the facts. For example, instead of saying ”I tried on my jeans and I looked so disgusting and ugly and fat,” try saying to yourself ”I tried on my jeans and they were too small.” Can you feel the difference when you read those examples? One is your perspective (or beliefs) and another is stating exactly what happened.

B is for beliefs. Beliefs make up self-talk, thoughts and assumptions that we have about a situation. Identifying self-talk can sometimes be tricky. This is because it is so automatic that you might not even be aware of what’s going on in your own mind.

When something happens and we feel upset, we assume whatever happened has made us feel this way. But it’s our beliefs about the activating situation, and not the situation itself that makes us feel the way we do. It’s our thoughts that largely determine the way we feel.

Let’s say a friend of yours blew you off after school. In your mind, you might think, “Wow. They must not even care about me. I’m probably not good enough for them. Maybe I did something wrong...” In turn, you spend a bunch of time and energy lost in anxiety and worry, and potentially blowing the situation up to something it’s not. In reality, your friend’s mom had a medical emergency and had to rush home unexpectedly. You made an assumption about what happened, which made you feel worse about yourself, instead of considering your perspective being limited.

C is for consequences. The consequences of our beliefs are how we react to them, including feelings and behaviors.

  • Feelings are emotions like sadness, anxiety, guilt, anger, embarrassment, joy, excitement or stress.

  • Behaviors are the actions that stem from those feelings, like communication, withdrawal, asking for help, starting an argument, going for a run, staying in bed or raiding the fridge.

We often blame ourselves when things go wrong, compare ourselves to other people in a way that makes us feel inferior, exaggerate our weaknesses, focus on failures and predict that the worst will happen. Thinking negatively about situations makes us feel bad, and it can also cause us to behave in unhelpful ways.

Negative self-talk can also affect your self-esteem. When you feel down, it is more likely you’ll be hard on yourself, and you might criticize and judge yourself unfairly. The worse you feel, the more negative your self-talk is likely to become.

 

Put it into practice

Activating situation:

You get your exam schedule.

Beliefs:

  • “I’m not going to be able to do this.”

  • “I’ll fail and the whole thing will be a disaster. My parents will be so disappointed in me.”

  • “I won’t be able to pass the class, and then I won’t be able to get a good job. I’ll end up a loser.”

Consequences (feelings and behaviors):

  • You feel stressed, panicky, and have butterflies in your stomach.

  • You can’t bring yourself to sit down and study. You lose focus.

  • You sit down in front of the TV and eat a box of cookies.

One of the most important skills you can develop to deal with stressful situations is to identify your self-talk. It is the stories we tell ourselves that shape the beliefs we have. How can we rewrite the story? How can you shift your beliefs to have better outcomes (consequences)? The best way to understand the connection between A, B and C is to see how it applies to your own situation.

Think of a time in the last two weeks when you have found yourself feeling bad. You might have been feeling upset, stressed, angry, sad, depressed, embarrassed or guilty. In your journal, write down your situation, the thoughts that come up about it, and how those thoughts make you feel or behave. Doing this exercise can be a useful tool to help you challenge the negative or unhelpful aspects of your thinking, and replace them with more reasonable and helpful thoughts.

Check out the fact sheets on Challenging Negative Self-Talk and Common Thinking Errors for more info on how to challenge the negative or unhelpful aspects of your thinking.

 

Information for this article was provided by:

  • “Taking Charge! A Guide for Teenagers: Practical Ways to Overcome Stress, Hassles and Upsetting Emotions” by Dr. Sarah Edelman and Louise Rémond, Foundation for Life Sciences (2005)

 

Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com

Express Yourself

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Express Yourself

A closer look at some ways you can express yourself

Expressing how you feel to release tension

Expressing yourself can help you keep in touch with how you are feeling. It can also help you release a lot of tension that you might be carrying around. Sometimes, when people lose touch with how they feel, their feelings burst out in situations or ways that are embarrassing or inappropriate.

Everyone needs some time alone to reflect on feelings. Being able to express how you feel might help you make better decisions about what is right for you now.

Ways of expressing yourself

Finding out the best way for you to express yourself can be rewarding. You might find that you enjoy expressing yourself in a particular way, like painting, playing a sport, singing, drumming or even yelling into a pillow. If you don’t know which way works best for you, try some of the following suggestions.

Write about how you feel. Writing can be a useful way to explore your feelings. Some people keep diaries or journals, while others just write down whatever comes into their head at a particular moment. You might want to write a story about what is happening in your life now or make up a story based on some past event in your life. Writing poetry works for some people, too.

Play a sport. Playing sports lets you express yourself in a physical way. There are plenty of opportunities to yell or curse or feel elated when things go well. Team sports allow you to express yourself with others and use your mental and physical energy. If you’re not much for team sports, you can still use physical activity as a way to express yourself. Try challenging yourself with a long bike ride or strenuous hike. Afterwards, you may feel a sense of accomplishment from pushing yourself, leaving you feeling more confident.

Create. Even if you don’t think of yourself as an artist, art is a useful way of expressing yourself. Even if you’re not particularly good at any of these, give it a try. You don’t have to be good at it to enjoy it.

Some forms of art you could try:

  • Painting

  • Drawing or sketching

  • Digital art

  • Sculpting, clay or metal

  • Jewelry making

  • Blacksmithing

  • Wood carving or woodworking

  • Building small projects

  • Welding

  • Cosplay (dressing up as your favorite characters)

  • Crocheting

  • Glass blowing

  • Makeup

  • Photography, film or digital

  • Calligraphy

There are so many ways to be creative and it doesn’t have to be just painting or drawing. Not only is art good for expressing yourself, it can also be used for relaxation.

Sing, play music or shout. Singing along to your favorite songs or playing a musical instrument is another way of expressing yourself. Sing in the shower or in your car. If you play an instrument or sing regularly, you might want to start writing your own songs or music to express how you feel. It may also be fun to sing or play music with your friends.

Dance. Dance is a form of self-expression, but you don’t have to be a ballerina to do it. Put on some music at home or go out and dance as much as you like in whatever way you like. If you find you really enjoy dancing, you can try joining a local dance group or attend a dancing event or class.

Talk to someone. One of the simplest ways of expressing ourselves is through communication. Effective communication is learning how to express your thoughts and feelings in an appropriate way with another person and is an important life skill to have. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your thoughts with someone you’re close to in your personal life, a school counselor or other mental health professional may be able to help.

Whatever it is you decide to do, it should come naturally and be a source of pleasure for you. If you find yourself becoming frustrated with one of the above techniques, move on to another and see how that feels for you. For more ideas on coping with stress, check out our Developing Coping Strategies article.

 

Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com


Effective Communication

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Getting the message across

A closer look at different communication styles and how to start effectively communication today

The way you communicate has a big impact on your ability to get along with people and getting the things that you want. Good communication skills can help you avoid conflict and to solve problems. Open and honest communication is also important for making friends and having healthy relationships.

Styles of communication

Communication can be expressed in many ways and with different results.  Communication can be aggressive, passive, passive-aggressive or assertive. Poor communication often creates tension and bad feelings within relationships.

Aggressive communication is expressed in a forceful and hostile manner, and usually involves alienating messages such as “you-statements”. You-statements blame the other person, accuse them of being wrong or at fault, and can also be labeling (like calling them a name).

A person’s tone of voice and facial expressions can also project unfriendliness. Aggressive communication can send the message “your needs don’t matter,” or “I win, and you lose.” By sending this message, you quickly cut off lines for open communication. When someone speaks to you this way, how does it make you feel? Do you think this is a productive way at reaching your goals?

Passive communication involves putting your needs last. When you communicate passively, you don’t express your thoughts or feelings or ask for what you want. When you use passive communication, it feels like others are walking all over you because you don’t assert your own needs. As a result, you might bottle things up and might feel resentful. Passive communication can send the message ”my needs don’t matter,” or “you win, and I lose.” When this message is received by others, those with bad intentions could see this as a way to keep you under their control or to repeatedly take advantage of you. Have you seen this in others before, or perhaps yourself? What kind of message do you think this communication style brings?

Passive-aggressive communication is when you don’t clearly state your needs or feelings, instead using indirectly aggressive communication, such as making snide remarks, being stubborn, or sulking and withdrawing from the conversation. This style of communication looks passive on the outside, but beneath the surface, this person is acting out their aggression in a subtle or indirect way.

Those with this communication style may often feel powerless and resentful, denying there’s a problem and using sarcasm to deal with others. Essentially, this person is communicating, “I’ll seem cooperative, but I’m not going to be” or “I feel powerless to tell you how I really feel, so I’ll frustrate you instead”. What does it feel like when people aren’t upfront about their feelings with you? Can you imagine it being easy or hard to connect with someone that communicated like this?

Assertive communication involves clearly expressing what you think, how you feel and what you want, without demanding that you must have things your way. The basic underlying assumption is ”we both matter, so let’s try to work this out”. It’s seeing everyone involved in the conversation as a part of the group effort in making things work as smoothly as possible.

Assertive communication increases your likelihood of getting what you want, avoiding conflict and maintaining good relationships. Everyone can win in these situations.

When you are assertive you can:

  • Express your own thoughts, feelings and needs

  • Make reasonable requests of other people, while accepting his or her right to say ”no”

  • Stand up for your own rights

  • Say “no” to requests from others when you want to, without feeling guilty

Take this example…

Tom is feeling angry. He’s supposed to get his driver’s license next week, and for the past month his dad has been promising to take him out driving, but it never seemed to happen. Tom feels frustrated because he needs the practice before he goes for the test.

On Thursday, Tom came home from school and asked his dad if they could go for a drive. His dad said he couldn’t because he had some work to do.

Finally at his breaking point, Tom exploded. “You don’t give a damn about me. You are such a liar! You never do what you say you’re going to do,” he yelled.

In return his dad got all fired up and called Tom a spoiled brat who doesn’t think about anyone but himself. Both Tom and his dad were angry at each other after this argument.

This is a good example of how poor communication can lead to conflict and hurt feelings. Let’s have a closer look at some of the errors that led to this angry outburst.

Error 1: Making assumptions

Tom expected his dad to know what he was thinking and feeling, without clearly telling him. Until the time of the argument, his dad had no idea how important it was to Tom to get the extra driving practice. He thought that Tom felt confident about the test and assumed he just wanted to go for a drive for fun, which they could do anytime.

Tom, on the other hand, had assumed that his father knew how important it was for him to get some more practice even though he never told him, and therefore interpreted his dad’s attitude as not caring.

Assumptions occur in most relationships and people get upset because of these misunderstandings. Often we expect people to know what we are thinking—we believe that they should be able to understand where we are coming from, even though we haven’t expressed it clearly. No one is a mind reader, so it’s important to give people a clear picture of where you’re coming from and how you two can work together to make things easier.

An important aspect of good communication is to tell others what we’re thinking and what we want or need, and also to not assume that they already know.

In Tom’s case, the situation could have turned out better if he had communicated more clearly in the first place, by saying something like “Dad, I’ve got my driver’s license test on Tuesday, and I’m feeling nervous about it. Do you have some time this week to take me out on a few drives? What days would work for you?”

By clearly communicating that going for a drive is very important to him, Tom gives his dad a better understanding of where he’s coming from and how he is feeling. By scheduling a specific time, it strengthens the commitment and makes it easier for both of them to plan ahead.

Error 2: Avoiding communication

Tom didn’t say anything until he was very angry. Each time his dad cancelled the planned drive, Tom said nothing. Over time, Tom stewed about it more and more, and finally he exploded. This type of situation is like a pot boiling on the stove—if you don’t let off a little steam as time passes, eventually the pressure builds up and it boils over. Whenever we’re feeling upset, it’s better to talk about it as soon as possible, rather than letting things build up. If we say nothing, we won’t get what we want and our frustration grows.

Communication problems often arise because we don’t say how we feel, what we think or what we want. People often avoid communicating because they are embarrassed or concerned about upsetting the other person. Sometimes we just assume that others should know what we think. The problem is that when you don’t say what you need to say, it increases the likelihood of feeling angry, resentful and frustrated. This may lead to tension or angry outbursts.

Error 3: Labeling

Tom and his dad also used labels to criticize each other. Labels such as “liar” or “spoiled brat” can be offensive. When we label another person, it can feel like we are attacking them, and that person’s first reaction is usually to attack back.

Attacks lead to heated arguments and conflict. Labels are an example of alienating messages (see Error 4 below), because they criticize the person rather than the behavior. It is OK to criticize someone’s behavior (for example,“I think what you did was unfair”), but labeling the whole person (”You are unfair”) is unreasonable and creates bad feelings between people.

Error 4: Alienating messages

When we use criticism, put-downs or aggressive communication, no one wins, and everyone feels bad in the end. Alienating messages make the other person feel threatened or under attack, and usually this person will respond by attacking back. This type of communication very often leads to angry confrontations or a “cold war,” where we stop speaking to the other person, or use minimal communication.

Some examples of alienating messages include:

  • You-statements. We blame the other person and accuse him or her of being wrong or at fault. In Tom’s case, the you-statement was: “You don’t give a damn about me!”

  • Sarcasm. Sarcastic statements are negative or hurtful phrases that you don’t really mean, and are used to put another person down in a more passive-aggressive way. An example of a sarcastic statements include “Well, we can’t all be perfect like you.”

  • Negative comparisons. Negative comparisons are statements that you use when you compare a person to someone else, and in the process, you put them down for not be ‘as good’ as the other person. For example, “Why can’t you get A’s like your sister?” is a negative comparison.

  • Threats. These statements can include giving another person an ultimatum, for example, “If you don’t do what I want, then I’m going to…”

The communication problems between Tom and his father are very common ones. Perhaps you can think of some examples in your own experience, where you or someone you know has used poor communication, such as assumptions, avoidance, or alienating messages. It’s always useful to be aware of your communication so that you can avoid making these types of errors.

Getting your message across isn’t always easy. Good communication skills can help you avoid conflict and solve problems.

Whole messages

One of the most effective ways of communicating is to use whole messages. This is especially useful when you need to bring up an issue that’s difficult to talk about or makes you feel uncomfortable. A whole message involves expressing how you think and feel, while at the same time stating what you want.

Whole messages consist of four parts:

1. Observations

Describe what happened. Try to be factual and accurate, while not making assumptions.

For example, “When Mike came over the other day, you didn’t stop and talk to him.”

2. Thoughts

State your beliefs, opinions or interpretation of what happened in your observation.

For example, “I thought it seemed rude, like you don’t like him.”

3. Feelings

Say how you feel about the situation.

For example, “When you did that, it made me feel embarrassed and uncomfortable.”

4. Wants

Talk about what you would like to happen in the situation.

For example, “The next time he comes over, I’d like it if you could say “hi” and to make an effort to talk to him. Could you do that for me, please?”

Learning to communicate effectively takes a bit of practice. Can you think of a situation that you’ve experienced where you needed to communicate with someone about a concern? Perhaps you even have an issue that you need to resolve at the moment. Think about it. Then take these steps:

1. Describe the situation, and who you need to communicate with.

2. Write the whole message, including observations, thoughts, feelings and wants.

TIP: If you find it difficult to say it directly to the person, write down your whole message on paper first. This can help you to clarify what you want to say and how you can say it. Just remember that even if you stumble upon your words, don’t stop mid-way. Don’t be afraid to talk things out. Let your voice be heard.

Information for this article was provided by:

  • Taking Charge! A Guide for Teenagers: Practical Ways to Overcome Stress, Hassles and Upsetting Emotions by Dr. Sarah Edelman and Louise Rémond, Foundation for Life Sciences

Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com


Benefits of Activity & Exercise

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Staying Active

A closer look at why moving your body is important and what you can do to stay active

The benefits of exercise and being active

Being active helps you to stay healthy, happy and fit. You can enjoy the benefits of a healthy life in a way that is fun and suitable for your lifestyle. There are many different ways you can get active and finding the activity that suits you is an important first step.  You may enjoy walking, running, dancing, surfing, going to the gym, swimming, yoga, Pilates, hiking, playing a team sport or a number of other activities.

Whatever activity you choose, some of the benefits include:

  • Improving your strength, fitness, and confidence which can help you to achieve your goals in life

  • Enabling you to become involved in fun new activities

  • Increasing your energy, flexibility and mobility

  • Helping you to manage stress and anger

  • Increasing your self-esteem

  • Helping you sleep better at night

  • Improving metabolic rate which prevents weight gain and allows you to manage a healthy weight

  • Exercising can be a good way to clear your head if you have a lot on your mind

  • Playing a team sport or joining an exercise center can introduce you to new people

Suggestions for becoming active

Everyone has a different level of physical fitness and finding a pace that is right for you is important. Exercise doesn’t have to be painful; it can be fun and require minimal organization and money. If you have medical difficulties or are feeling pain when you exercise, it is a good idea to talk with your doctor about what type of activities are best for you.

Here are some suggestions that may help when you start exercising:

Start gradually. Try not to do too much too fast. As a general rule, you should be able to hold a conversation, but not be able to sing while you are exercising. Remember that any amount of exercise is beneficial. You could start by using the stairs instead of the escalator or going for a 5 - 10 minute walk. As being active becomes easier, you can increase the time and intensity of your activity. Try not to become discouraged if you find yourself becoming pretty sore after starting your workouts. The more you do it, the easier it’ll become and the less you’ll feel sore. Think of it as really putting the work in and use that as encouragement to keep going.

Make it social. It can be more inspiring, helpful and fun if you exercise with a friend.  Having someone else join you may increase your motivation and give you the opportunity to catch up socially. You could go for a walk, run, or swim together or you could join a group activity together.

Make it part of your routine. With the busy lives we lead, it is sometimes difficult to include exercise into our routine. A great way to start would be to set aside a time in the day for exercising, such as before or after dinner or before school or work. Other options include incorporating exercise into your daily life, like walking to school or work instead of catching the bus.

Make it fun. If you choose something you enjoy, being active and exercising can be a fun part of your day. You may want to kick a soccer ball with friends, play tennis, go dancing with a group, listen to music while walking or running or take the dog for a walk. Also, playing a team sport or joining a group activity will enable you to make new friends while still being active.

Where to go if you want to start to get active

Go to your local YMCA or YWCA. A YMCA or YWCA is a great place to go to work out or join a health or well-being program. Unlike a typical gym, the YMCA is catered towards activities and programs for young people and families. You could go just for a swim, take a class, and join a longer-term program or any number of other activities.

A gym. Even if you can’t afford going to the YMCA/YWCA, there are still fairly inexpensive options for gyms. Often times gyms can set you up with a personal trainer to help design a plan to meet your fitness goals and offer a variety of classes to learn from. If you’re intimidated by all the weights or machines, a personal trainer or gym employee can help explain how to use them safely. There are also videos online that show you how to have proper form when using free-weights like barbells, dumbbells, and kettle-bells, or when performing exercises on the machines.

Your local park. There is a good chance your local park has organized team sports.  Joining a community team could be a fun, casual way to exercise and play your favorite sport. If you are worried about your ability to play the sport, these sorts of teams are usual more relaxed than a school or college team. Parks also sometimes hold events such as tournaments, festivals, yoga lessons or other activities that could be a different way of exercising. Also, a park is always a great place to go for a jog, ride a bike, exercise alone or play a sport with your friends.

Your school. Many states require physical education in schools by law. Taking a physical education class at school is a great way to get your daily exercise and start forming healthy exercise habits early on. If physical education is not a requirement, you may want to take a class anyway, especially if you are too busy with schoolwork and external activities to exercise outside of school. Another great way to exercise in school or college is by joining a team. You can do something you love, make a new group of friends, and have fun all while increasing your health! At the college level, many universities have fitness and recreation centers with a ton of options for exercising. Stop by your college’s fitness center and check out everything you could do there!

Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com


Relaxation

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Relaxing

Have you given yourself enough time to relax lately? Take a closer look at what you can do to bring more relaxation into your life

Putting things in perspective

Relaxation is important. It’s easy to forget to make time for yourself when things get stressful. Sometimes you might get so preoccupied that days can go by without you doing anything for yourself.

Many forms of relaxation, like walking or sitting quietly, are very simple, easy to do and don’t cost a thing. Others, like yoga or meditation, require some training or discipline. That being said, you can easily find videos online that walk you through a meditation practice called Guided Meditation, or follow along to yoga routines posted online. Going fishing or playing sports can be a great way of relaxing too.

Put aside some time in the day and try out some of these relaxation techniques to see which ones work for you.

  • Go for a walk, taking the time to notice what is around you

  • Listen to some music you really like

  • Go fishing

  • Sit quietly in a park and look at the things around you

  • Play your favorite sport

  • Take a bath

  • Go to a movie or watch a DVD

  • Visit a friend

  • Be creative, express yourself

  • Go for a swim

  • Do a puzzle

  • Read a book

  • Learn yoga or meditation

Breathing techniques

When you’re anxious or stressed, your breathing can become quick and shallow, which reduces the amount of oxygen going to your organs. Learning how to breathe deeply can help reduce some of the physiological symptoms of anxiety.

To become aware of your breathing, place one hand on your upper chest and one on your stomach. Take a breath and let your stomach swell forward as you breathe in, and fall back gently as you breathe out. Try to get a steady rhythm going, take the same depth of breath each time to breathe. Your hand on your chest should have little or no movement.

When you feel comfortable with this technique, try to slow your breathing rate down by putting a short pause after you have exhaled and before you breathe in again.

Initially, it might feel as if you aren’t getting enough air in, but with regular practice this slower rate will soon start to feel comfortable.

It might help if you imagine that you’re blowing up a big balloon in your stomach when you breathe in and deflating it when you breathe out. This exercise helps you to breathe more deeply. When you are consistently taking deep breaths, it sends a message to the brain and body to calm down. Give it a try!

For more information

Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com


Stress

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Feeling stressed?

A closer look into stress, its causes, and how you can manage it

What is stress?

Stress is a common feeling that comes from a physiological reaction your body has to certain events. It is the body’s way of rising to a challenge and preparing to meet a tough situation with focus, strength, stamina and heightened alertness.

Even though stress can be a positive thing (like motivating us to make positive changes in our lives or giving us that “extra push” for an exam) sometimes we have too much stress and begin to feel that our lives are out of balance. When this happens managing stress could become a challenge.

What causes stress?

Common events that can stress you out (also called stressors):

  • Tests and exams

  • Problems at school or work

  • Relationships

  • New and greater responsibilities

  • Sexual, physical, or emotional abuse

  • Moving to a new place

  • A traumatic event—such as the death of a loved one

  • New or chronic illness or disability

  • Peer pressure or being bullied

  • Unrealistic expectations placed on you by yourself, friends, family, or culture

  • Watching parents argue

  • Feeling guilty

Everyone’s threshold for handling stress is different, and can change from day to day. Depending on your own resiliency (or ability to thrive in spite of adversity), even dealing with one stressor could be enough to overwhelm you. Could you imagine trying to juggle several stressors at once?

How does stress affect the body?

The human body responds to stressors by activating the nervous system and specific hormones. The brain tells your glands to produce more of the hormones called adrenaline and cortisol, and to release them into the bloodstream. These hormones speed up your heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure and metabolism. These changes within your body help prepare you to deal with pressure, which is also known as a stress response. When this natural reaction works properly, the body’s stress response improves your ability to perform well under pressure.

Can I be too stressed?

If you have too much stress in your life, it can do more harm than good, but sometimes stress is necessary to get through certain situations. For example, feeling stressed out about an exam might encourage someone to study more and prepare for the exam. However, there’s also a chance it could become overwhelming—making you panic and feeling so nervous about an exam that you can’t study or concentrate.

It’s important to remember that stress affects people in different ways, and what causes one person to become stressed may not have the same effect on someone else. Try not to compare yourself too much to others, they’re all experiencing things unique to them as well.

What can happen if you’re experiencing too much stress?

Too much stress may have negative consequences for your health, both physical and mental.

Psychological/Emotional Consequences

  • Feeling hostile, angry, or irritable

  • Feeling anxious

  • Avoiding other people

  • Crying

  • Moodiness, feeling frustrated with things that normally don’t bother you

  • Low self-esteem or lack of confidence

  • Anxiety attacks

  • Depression or sadness

Physical Consequences

  • Upset stomach, diarrhea, or indigestion

  • Headache

  • Backache

  • Inability to sleep

  • Eating too much or too little

  • Raised heart-rate

  • Smoking

If you are experiencing any of these problems you may want to talk to your local doctor, counselor or other mental health professional.

Managing stress

It may not be possible to get rid of the stress altogether in your life, however managing your stress is possible. Below are some ideas for managing stress:

  • Tackling the problem. When you’re feeling stressed, you might not realize right away what is causing you stress. First you need to figure out what the problem is and make it manageable. The problem will not go away on its own. In fact, if you ignore the problem, it will probably just get worse. Once you know what the problem is, there are a number of ways you can de-stress.

  • Go for a walk or run. Exercising can be a good way to relieve stress. It helps to get rid of pent up energy and can leave you feeling much calmer. Exercising also releases endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good hormones, which make you feel less pain and make you happier overall! Any sort of exercise can be helpful during stressful times. You may want to go and kick a football with friends, dance, or head to the gym.

  • Hang out with friends. If you are feeling stressed, hanging out with friends can be a great way to keep your mind off of things for a while. By talking with friends, you could realize that similar things that stress you out, also stress your friends out. If you are stressing out about school or work, remember that it is also important for you to have a social life. It is okay to go do something fun with your friends and take a break from your other responsibilities sometimes. Balance is key.

  • Turn the stressor into something fun. Sometimes you might find that the problem isn’t all that bad. It might even be fun! For example, locking yourself in your room or library to focus on doing work might help with stress. However, working in a silent room might also be making you more stressed. You might want to try getting a group of friends together to study in one place, and then maybe grabbing a bite to eat after. Studying together could lower everyone’s stress levels.

  • Take some deep breaths. Deep breathing can help to relax the body and calm you down. Taking deep breaths before an exam, game, job interview or before going on stage may help to calm you down and allow you to focus on the task at hand. The Developing Coping Strategies or Mindfulness articles may also be helpful.

  • Set realistic goals. With unrealistic goals, it is hard to keep things in perspective and cause you to get too stressed out. Setting realistic goals (both short-term and long-term ones) and managing your time and expectations may help to reduce or manage stress. You may also want to check out our Problem Solving and Putting Your Goals into Action articles.

  • Have multiple paths to achieve your goals. There is never one path to achieving your goals. It is important not to put all your eggs in one basket. You could investigate and plan other ways to get where you want to go, whether it’s a university degree, job, or holiday vacation. Everything might not always play out how you thought it would, but you might end up happy with the results. For example, you might get a new job and be very excited about it. After a few days, you might realize your tasks are not as enjoyable as you had hoped. Though your path to achieving job experience is not exactly what you thought it would be, in the end, you might reach your goal and be completely happy with it.

  • Try to avoid harmful behaviors. It may be tempting to use smoking, alcohol, drugs and caffeine as a means of managing your stress. Try to avoid using these substances as a coping mechanism because, in the long run, they may make you more stressed out and can be harmful to the body. Once you rely on something like caffeine, you may realize you are unable to function without it. You may also be tempted to engage in other negative behaviors besides using drugs or alcohol, such as procrastinating, overeating, skipping class, or blaming others. These behaviors will likely get you into trouble, create conflicts, or make you even more stressed out once everything begins piling up.

  • Watch what you’re thinking. Your outlook, attitude, and thoughts influence the way you see situations, people, and the world around you. Is your cup half full or half empty? A healthy dose of optimism can help you make the best out of stressful circumstances. Even if you’re out of practice, or tend to be a bit of a pessimist, everyone can learn to think more optimistically and reap the benefits. Learning to embrace the challenges that come up in your life will help you change how you view adversity. Embrace them and conquer them.

  • Speaking to someone. If you find that you are always stressed and have a hard time focusing on daily tasks, it may be helpful to talk to someone. It can be hard to ask for help, but your friends and family members might not be able to read your mind and know what’s going on with you. Talking to someone else might help you realize that something you are stressed out about is actually pretty manageable. Parents, teachers, or a school counselor may be able to help you cope.

Stress and relationships

Maintaining relationships with friends, family, co-workers, or boyfriends/girlfriends may cause you to become stressed, or your being stressed might affect those relationships. To help manage the stress, it could be helpful to talk to someone about what’s upsetting you. Talking to someone that you trust could help you work out why you are stressed out by the situation or relationship and also offer solutions about healthy ways to manage the stress. You can talk to a friend, family, member, or teacher, but if you feel more comfortable talking with someone else, you can also talk to a doctor, counselor, or even trained volunteers on a helpline.

For additional information:

Acknowledgements: This article was originally written by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com


Mindfulness

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Be Here Now

A closer look at how to stay present through practicing mindfulness

Mindfulness

You may have heard of mindfulness as a form of meditation, or a tool you can use in daily life to lower stress, improve focus, or treat anxiety or depression. You can use mindfulness when you are stressed out about an exam, anxious in social situations, and many other difficult times, but what is it exactly?

What is mindfulness?

One simple definition is by Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the main teachers of mindfulness in the United States:

Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.
— Jon Kabat-Zinn

In other words, mindfulness means focusing on what is happening right now, rather than replaying things that happened in the past or worrying about what’s going to happen next. Sounds simple, and it is, but that doesn’t mean it is easy! It’s really hard to stay focused on what’s happening now and not get caught up in the past or future. It takes a lot of practice to build the mindfulness habit.

How do people practice mindfulness?

  • Meditation. Some people practice mindfulness meditation, which generally means sitting still with eyes closed for anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or longer, simply noticing their breath or other inner experiences happening in the present moment.

  • During your day. Other people use mindfulness principles when doing other activities in their daily lives, like eating, talking to friends, exercising, etc. When you notice your mind jumping ahead to worries about what you are going to do next, or stressing about whether your friend thought your last joke was funny, you bring your attention back to what’s happening right now.

Common Mindfulness Practices

1. Mindful eating: In this practice, you slow waaaay down and spend about three minutes eating a single raisin. It may sound silly at first but it is a powerful exercise! Give it a try:

  • Step One: First hold the raisin in your hand, and spend a full minute looking at it, feeling the texture on your fingers.

  • Step Two: Then place the raisin in your mouth and feel the texture on your tongue before you start chewing.

  • Step Three: Chew very slowly, and notice all the flavors and sensations before swallowing.  Pay attention to each bite, the way the food looks, smells, and tastes.Take at least two minutes to hold, chew, taste, and swallow the raisin.

You can also use mindful eating techniques when you are eating your regular meals. People often report enjoying their food more and reducing overeating when they practice mindful eating!

2. Mindfulness of breath: This is a beginner practice to build basic mindfulness tools, increase focus, and help you feels less stressed.

  • Step One: Find a comfortable place where you can sit and close your eyes for a few minutes.

  • Step Two: Bring your attention to your breath. Don’t try to change anything, don’t make your breath any deeper or slower, simply observe what is happening.

  • Step Three: Whatever you focus on, try to observe ten full cycles of breath, in and out.

Some tips:

  • When focusing on the breath, you can try paying attention to the experience of your lungs filling and emptying, your belly rising and falling, or the feeling of air going in and out of your nostrils.

  • If your mind wanders to something else, don’t worry about it or beat yourself up, that’s part of the process! Just notice that you wandered and return to focusing on your breath.

3. Body scan: This practice helps you build awareness of what’s going on inside you.

  • Step One: Find a comfortable place where you can close your eyes for 3-5 minutes (set a timer if you’d like).

  • Step Two: Start by taking a few deep breaths. Bring your awareness to your feet, feel the sensation of them resting on the floor.

  • Step Three: Slowly bring your awareness up your body, noticing how your lower legs feel, any tension or relaxation there, then upper legs, back, belly, chest, shoulders, arms, and ending with your neck and head. Spend at least ten seconds on each area, more if you like.

  • Step Four: When you have scanned your whole body, take another three deep breaths and then open your eyes

It’s important that you don’t try to change anything, judge any feelings as good or bad, or try to figure out why you feel a certain way. If you notice yourself thinking or judging, simply remind yourself that you are here to observe only and return to your mindfulness practice.

4. Grounding: This practice will help you build your awareness of what is happening around you in your environment.

  • Step One: Sit or stand comfortably, with both feet on the ground.

  • Step Two: Look all around the room, silently naming what you see: blue wall, tall plant, open book, etc.

  • Step Three: Pause and listen to all the sounds you can hear too: traffic outside, hum of the air conditioner, the sound of your own breath or heart. Notice any smells, any sensations (breeze, heat, etc) and name those, too.

  • Step Four: To end, return your attention to the feeling of your feet on the ground.

Benefits of Mindfulness

So why do any of this stuff? Here are some of the benefits of mindfulness:

  • Improves focus, attention, and memory

  • Lowers stress

  • Increases ability to feel happy and enjoy the good in life

  • Helps you spend less energy worrying about what might happen in the future

  • Reduces overthinking or rumination (endlessly replaying things that happened in the past)

  • Helps you identify your emotions, improving self-awareness and your ability to communicate with others

  • Increases your understanding of your body

  • Research shows that mindfulness can have a significant impact on depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and other mental health conditions

Resources to learn more:

Acknowledgements: This article was originally written by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com


Developing Coping Strategies

 

Coping 101

A closer look at developing coping skills that work for you

 

How can I develop coping strategies?

In some situations, despite our best efforts, we still can’t fix the problems we find ourselves in. For example, if you didn’t get into your dream college it’s natural to feel upset and disappointed. It may trigger thoughts of not being good enough or asking yourself why that happened to you. If your dream college rejects you, don’t feel discouraged. You’re able to talk to your friends about what they’ve done when a college rejected them or you can talk to a school counselor to see what your other options are. If you spend all your time thinking about why you didn’t get in then you lose time looking at other colleges that you may like just as much as your dream college.

When things don’t go as planned, there are other alternative routes to take. These routes become easier to identify once you find the right coping strategy. If you’ve tried a number of problem-solving strategies and none of them have worked, it might be time to focus on developing skills to help you cope with your problem.

Coping strategies can help you learn to accept situations that are beyond your control and find ways to help you feel better even if the problem still exists. When you develop coping strategies, you’re able to build resilience. You’re able to see things in a better perspective and you’ll feel much better about how you handled a certain situation. Being able to cope with things makes you a stronger person.

To develop coping strategies, try taking the following actions:

  • Challenge negative self-talk. Try and focus more on positives about yourself rather than the negatives. The less you bring yourself down, the better you feel about yourself. Check out our article here for more information.

  • Talk to people who can support you.  Opening up, whether it’s to a best friend, a close family member, or a counselor, can be helpful. They may offer a new perspective or just a comforting response to help you through. If you feel uncomfortable talking to someone in person, you can also call a helpline anonymously. There is always someone there to listen to you.

  • Relax. Breath. A little relief can go a long way towards helping you reflect on your situation and what can you do for yourself. You may want to try deep breaths, a long walk or something else that you find soothing.

  • Distract yourself. Try not to spend all your time and energy thinking about your problem. Keep yourself occupied. Keeping busy can help lift your mood and may even offer opportunities to channel your emotions into positive outlets.

  • Get involved. Make time for enjoyable activities so that you don’t focus exclusively on your problem. Volunteering in areas that interest you may also help.

Different coping strategies

There are numerous ways we can use coping skills to deal with the circumstances and emotional states we find ourselves in. Sometimes our emotions are so intense that relaxing in the moment is out of the question. In order to come to a centered place, we need to get out of our minds and bring ourselves to the present moment. When we are grounded, we are more capable of handling our emotions in an effective way.

Some ways of doing this are through tapping into the five senses. To practice these mindfully, absorb your attention into everything you do. If you’re eating, notice the textures, the different flavors, and the temperature of the food. Really try to be with the moment as much as possible. If you find your mind wandering off, be gentle with yourself and come back to the present moment. It can take a lot of practice to be fully present, so go easy on yourself.

Coping strategies through the five senses:

  • Touch. Wrap yourself in a soft blanket, walk in the grass with bare feet, hold a warm mug of tea, hold your best friend’s hand, explore nearby textures, notice the feeling of your clothes on your skin and the quality it holds (heavy, soft, scratchy, loose, etc)

  • Sight. Notice the textures around you, name the colors you see, look at photos you’ve taken when you were at peace or happy, identify plants or animals on a walk

  • Hearing. Listen to all the small sounds happening around you, hear your breath as you breathe in deeply, try to identify all the instruments used in some soft music, listen to a guided meditation

  • Taste. Notice the texture of the food or drink, identify the different flavors, let food melt in your mouth as you explore its qualities, drink something refreshing

  • Smell. Enjoy the different scents of your environment, try to figure out the different smells you come across, light a candle or incense

Once you find yourself in a space where you’re capable of relaxing and soothing yourself, explore using your current strengths or talents as a form of self-care. If you’re unsure what that might be for you, try thinking of things that make you feel fully absorbed, perhaps losing track of time from how involved you are with this activity. This sensation is called “being in flow”. You’re partaking in something that naturally speaks to you and allows you to transform your feelings by channeling them into something that makes you feel good. If you’re having a hard time thinking of what that might look like for you, try exploring some of the possibilities below.

Coping skills for self-care & relaxation:

  • Yoga

  • Journaling

  • Listening to your favorite music (or songs you can sing along to)

  • Taking a hot bath or shower

  • Going on a walk

  • Putting yourself out in nature

  • Meditating

  • Self-massage

  • Reading a book

  • Studying something that interests you

  • Painting or drawing

  • Having someone play with your hair

Our feelings often act as a sort of internal communication with ourselves. Pay attention to the feelings you have, but don’t become absorbed by them. They’re trying to tell us something about ourselves. Maybe it means we need to set better boundaries for ourselves, or perhaps, telling us how much we care. Although it’s important we sit with our feelings at times, it’s equally important to let those feelings pass and move on. This isn’t the same as avoiding our problems—it’s creating space to let things go.

Healthy distractions:

  • Writing poetry, short stories, fan-fiction, or exploring creative writing prompts

  • Playing or learning an instrument

  • Doing something creative like painting, sculpting, woodworking, or building things

  • Working out

  • Playing video games

  • Watching a movie

  • Calling a friend

  • Watching funny videos online

  • Browsing wholesome content on social media

  • Experimenting with makeup

  • Learning a new language

  • Cleaning up your room

  • Taking care of your pets or plants

  • Cooking a nice meal

Practice acceptance

When you’re faced with a difficult situation, an important question to ask is: “What’s the best thing I can do to resolve this problem?” If there’s anything you can do, it’s important to work through the options one step at a time. Writing out your options and then weighing them with a pros and cons list may be a helpful way of narrowing down the best resolution. However, sometimes you might find yourself in a situation that you can’t change, no matter how much you would like things to be different.

There’s not much you can do about your height, your age, most of your physical features or the family you were born into. There are also things that have happened in the past that you can’t change. What has happened has happened, and we can’t change the past, but you can still change the way you deal with a situation in the future.

The best way to deal with situations you can’t change is to practice acceptance. This means accepting the way things are without insisting that they should be different, and deciding to get on with life in spite of the situation. Accepting how things are or happened and letting go of the attachment you have to more favorable outcomes will reduce the amount of suffering you put on yourself. Sometimes, accepting things as they are and removing expectations (from yourself AND others) can remove the pressure for things to be perfect or to always go well, and can better allow you to heal.

Coping Strategies and Resolutions

Is there a situation that you don’t like? If you can change it, try working through the eight steps in the Problem Solving article to find a solution to your problem. If not, see how you feel after trying to accept the situation. What can you say to yourself to accept the situation? What sorts of things can you do to get on with your life in a positive way, in spite of the problem?

Remember that problems are a normal part of life, and that we usually feel better when we do something to resolve them rather than just dwell on them. But, if you can’t solve the problem, it’s helpful to change the way you think about it. Practice acceptance and move on with life in a positive way.

 

Information for this article was provided by:

  • Taking Charge! A Guide for Teenagers: Practical Ways to Overcome Stress, Hassles and Upsetting Emotions by Dr. Sarah Edelman and Louise Rémond, Foundation for Life Sciences (2005)


Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com


Challenging Negative Self-Talk

 
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Challenging Negative Self-Talk

A brief look at self-talk and how to reframe our negative thinking patterns

 

What is self-talk?

As we go about our daily lives, we constantly think about and interpret the situations we find ourselves in. It is like we have an internal voice that determines how we perceive every situation. We call this inner voice our “self-talk”, and it includes our conscious thoughts as well as our unconscious assumptions and beliefs.

Negative self-talk often causes us to feel bad, and can make us feel hurt, angry, frustrated, depressed or anxious. It can also make us behave in a self-defeating way. For instance, thoughts like ”I’m going to fail for sure” might discourage you from working hard when you are preparing for your exams, and you might actually fail as a result.

Positive self-talk is challenging the negative or unhelpful aspects of your thinking, and replacing them with more reasonable and helpful thoughts. This is a powerful way to feel better either about yourself or a situation.

Negative self-talk

An example of negative self talk would be if you tell yourself that there’s no reason to study for an upcoming test because you already know that you’re going to fail. You may not even try to study because you believe you won’t pass, regardless. However, if you believe that you will do well on the test or that studying will help, then you’re much more likely to do well on the test. Don’t doubt yourself, you’re capable of achieving a lot more than you think.

A challenge with negative self-talk is that what you think or say to yourself might seem true. You might assume that your thoughts are facts, when in reality they are based on your perceptions. If you are feeling down on yourself for some reason, this can lead to your thoughts being especially harsh.

Negative self-talk can also affect your self-esteem. When you feel down, it is likely that you’re hard on yourself, and you might criticize and judge yourself unfairly. The worse you feel, the more negative your self-talk is likely to become. It can be helpful to put a more positive perspective on things. For example, challenge your self-talk by imagining it's a friend in your situation and reframe it based on what you'd say to them. We're often nicer to friends than we are to ourselves!

Challenging the negative or unhelpful aspects of your thinking enables you to feel better and to respond to situations in a more helpful way. You can practice noticing your own negative self-talk as it happens, and consciously choose to think about the situation in a more realistic and helpful way. You might be surprised to realize how distorted some of your previous thoughts were before.

Challenging negative self-talk

Identifying self-talk can sometimes be tricky because it's so automatic, you might not even be aware of what’s going on in your own mind. However, whenever you find yourself feeling depressed, angry, anxious or upset, use this as a signal to reflect on your thinking. A good way to test the accuracy of your perceptions is to ask yourself some challenging questions. These questions will help you check out your self-talk and see whether your current interpretation is reasonable. It can also help you discover other ways of thinking about your situation. Recognizing that your current way of thinking might be self-defeating—and prevent you from getting what you want out of life—can sometimes motivate you to look at things from a different perspective.

1. Reality testing

  • What evidence supports my thinking?

  • Are my thoughts based on facts or my interpretation of the situation?

  • Am I jumping to negative conclusions?

  • How can I find out if my thoughts are true?

2. Alternative explanations

  • Are there other ways that I could look at this situation?

  • What else could the situation mean?

  • If I were being positive, how would I perceive this situation?

3. Perspective

  • Is this situation as bad as I’m making out to be?

  • What’s the worst thing that could happen?

  • What’s the best thing that could happen?

  • What’s most likely to happen?

  • Is there anything good about this situation?

  • Will this matter in five years?

4. Goal-directed thinking

  • Is thinking this way helping me feel good or achieve my goals?

  • What can I do that will help me solve the problem?

  • Is there something I can learn from this situation to help me in the future?

Try it out

Think of a situation in the last week when you have found yourself feeling bad. You might have been feeling upset, stressed, angry, sad, depressed, embarrassed or guilty. Try applying some of the above tools.

For example:

  • ”I tried on my jeans and I looked so disgusting and ugly and fat” turns to ”I tried on my jeans and they were too small”

  • ”Sally said ’hi’ to me and I made a total idiot of myself" to ”Sally said ’hi’ to me and I blushed and looked away. It's perfectly okay to be shy”

  • "I totally messed up that exam, I'm a loser and I'll never get a good job" turns to "I didn't do as well in that exam as I would have liked but that doesn't mean I'm not going to get the job that I want".

For more tips on challenging negative thinking patterns, check out the Common Thinking Errors article.

Information from this article was provided by:

  • This fact sheet comes from Taking Charge! A Guide for Teenagers: Practical Ways to Overcome Stress, Hassles and Upsetting Emotions by Dr. Sarah Edelman and Louise Rémond.

  • Foundation for Life Sciences


Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com

Common Thinking Errors

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Common Thinking Errors

Thinking errors are irrational patterns of thinking that can cause you to feel bad and sometimes act in self-defeating ways. If you feel more upset the more you think about a situation, you may want to consider the possibility of thinking in a different way.

Challenging your thinking errors

Here are 10 common thinking errors and ways to challenge them.

1. Black-and-white thinking

When you’re thinking in black-and-white, you see everything in terms of being either good or bad with nothing in between. For example: either you’re great, or you’re a loser; If you don’t look like a model, you must be ugly; if you do something wrong, then you are completely bad.

The challenge: Look for shades of gray

It’s important to avoid thinking about things in terms of extremes. Most things aren’t black-and-white, but somewhere in-between. Just because something isn’t completely perfect doesn’t mean that it’s a total disaster.

Ask yourself:

  • Is it really so bad, or am I seeing things in black-and-white?

  • How else can I think about the situation?

  • Am I taking an extreme view?

2. Unreal ideal

Another common thinking error is to make unfair comparisons between certain individuals and yourself. When you do this, you compare yourself with people who have a specific advantage in some area. Making unfair comparisons can leave you feeling inadequate.

The challenge: Stop making unfair comparisons

Ask yourself:

  • Am I comparing myself with people who have a particular advantage?

  • Am I making fair comparisons?

3. Filtering

When you filter, first you hone in on the negative aspects of your situation. Then you ignore or dismiss all the positive aspects.

The challenge: Consider the whole picture

Ask yourself:

  • Am I looking at the negatives, while ignoring the positives?

  • Is there a more balanced way to look at this situation?

4. Personalizing: The self-blame game

When you personalize, you blame yourself for anything that goes wrong, even when it’s not your fault or responsibility.

The challenge: Find all the causes

Ask yourself:

  • Am I really to blame? Is this all about me?

  • What other explanations might there be for this situation?

5. Mind-reading

We often think we know what other people are thinking. We assume that others are focused on our faults and weaknesses—but this is often wrong! Remember: your worst critic is probably you.

The challenge: Don’t assume you know what others are thinking

Ask yourself:

  • What is the evidence? How do I know what other people are thinking?

  • Just because I assume something, does that mean I’m right?

6. Exaggerating

When things go wrong, you might have a tendency to exaggerate the consequences and imagine that the results will be disastrous.

The challenge: Put it in perspective

Ask yourself:

  • What’s the worst that can happen?

  • What’s the best that can happen?

  • What’s most likely to happen?

  • Will this matter in five years?

  • Is there anything good about the situation?

  • Is there any way to fix the situation?

7. Over-generalizing

Over-generalizing is a lot like exaggeration. When you over-generalize, you exaggerate the frequency of negative things in your life, like mistakes, disapproval and failures. Typically you might think to yourself: I always make mistakes, or everyone thinks I’m stupid.

The challenge: Be specific

Ask yourself:

  • Am I over-generalizing?

  • What are the facts? What are my interpretations?

8. Fact versus feeling

Sometimes you might confuse your thoughts or feelings with reality. You might assume that your perceptions are correct.

The challenge: Stick to the facts

Ask yourself:

  • Am I confusing my feelings with the facts? Just because I’m feeling this way, does that mean my perceptions are correct?

  • Am I thinking this way just because I’m feeling bad right now?

9. Labeling

When you use label, you might call yourself or other people names. Instead of being specific—for example, saying “That was a silly thing to do”—you make negative generalizations about yourself or other people by saying things like “I’m ugly” or “she’s an idiot”.

The challenge: Judge the situation, not the person

Ask yourself:

  • What are the facts and what are my interpretations?

  • Just because there is something that I’m not happy with, does that mean that it’s totally no good?

10. ‘Can’t Stand-itis’

Some people get intolerant when they have to do things they don’t enjoy. They tell themselves that they “can’t stand” certain things instead of acknowledging that they don’t enjoy them. As a result, they easily become frustrated and angry.

The challenge: Accept that frustration is a normal part of life

Ask yourself:

  • I don’t enjoy it, but I can stand it.

  • This is a hassle, and that’s O.K.! Life is full of hassles.

The effect of challenging thinking errors

What is the effect of challenging your thinking errors? It can make you feel better and encourage you to change some of your behavior.

Remember: When you’re feeling down, try to examine your thoughts. If they’re negative or critical, try challenging them. Once you get into the habit of disputing your negative self-talk, you’ll find it easier to handle difficult situations, and as a result, you’ll feel less stressed and more confident and in control.

Write it down

It can be useful to write down the changes that occur after you’ve challenged your thinking, as this helps you see the advantages of working on your thoughts, and motivates you to keep at it. While you’re learning to identify and challenge your thinking patterns, it’s a good idea to write it all down in a diary or notebook to help you to develop your skills. Initially it might feel like work, but the more often you do it, the easier it will become, and the better you will feel.

Try it out

Now that you know a few common thinking errors and how to challenge them, why don’t you try it out? It might not be easy at first, and it can take some time. But the rewards can be huge! People who choose the way they think about things, are at peace with the past, live in the present, and are optimistic about the future are generally happier.

Information for this article was provided by:

  • This fact sheet comes from Taking Charge! A Guide for Teenagers: Practical Ways to Overcome Stress, Hassles and Upsetting Emotions by Dr. Sarah Edelman and Louise Rémond

  • Foundation for Life Sciences “Tyranny of the Shoulds”

  • The “Ten common thinking errors” are derived from the work of David Burns, MD, author of Feeling Good

Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com