One of the ways in which we create stress for ourselves and get wound up is through a habit of thought that we may not even realise we have. Ideas about how life should be, how other people should behave and indeed how we ourselves should think, feel and behave can be deeply embedded in our ways of thinking.
Do you ever think:
- He shouldn’t be driving like that
- It’s not fair that I’m always the one who clears up
- I should be in a better-paid job by now
- She ought to have thanked me
- I mustn’t show my feelings
Of course, you have thoughts like this. We all do. We have expectations which have developed as a result of our upbringing, education, culture, and they are so embedded in our minds that we are hardly aware that we hold them.
But when these expectations are challenged and thwarted, we feel pain. Some of you will know Carly Simon’s That’s The Way I Always Heard It Should Be, a piercingly emotional song about the gap between her expectations and her experience of relationships. It is possible that many of your assumptions are realistic and that they act as helpful guides to your behaviour.
However, other ideas about how the world should or shouldn’t operate and how people should or shouldn’t behave may not have a very sound basis and may not be relevant to your life today, if indeed they ever were.
Most of the time this doesn’t matter. It begins to matter when you get constantly worked up because things aren’t happening as you think they ought to be, and your rage and indignation at violations of your unwritten rules result in you becoming stressed.
You will feel calmer and more in control if you stop allowing these unhelpful beliefs to determine your reaction to events. When you find yourself thinking ‘should’, ‘shouldn’t’, ‘must’, ‘mustn’t’, stop the thought and replace it with an idea which will help you to remain calm.
People don’t drive as I think they ought to. I can’t do anything about that. But I’m not going to let what I think is bad driving by somebody else affect me.
The world isn’t fair. Instead of getting wound up about this fact, which I can’t change, I’ll ask for the clearing up to be shared.
Why do I think I ‘should’ be earning more? The question is, do I want or need to earn more.
I would like to be thanked, but it is other people’s choice to thank me or not. I’m happy with the way I behave and can accept that others do things differently.
It is all right to show my feelings. In fact, it is a positive and healthy thing to do. I can learn how to express even negative feelings calmly and effectively.
Just a switch in thinking, that’s all it takes to set you on the road to feeling calm and less stressed.