Breaking the Stress Streak by Changing Your Thoughts

By Kim Scott, LMFT

break stress streak photo

© Can Stock Photo / ChristianChan

My husband and I took a staycation last week for pure relaxation!  The plan was to see movies, eat lots of meals out with family and friends, read and enjoy being together.  But hey, I thought to myself, why not take care of one little thing on my “to do” list during the break?  Like change to a different cable company so we can get the Dodger Station.  Go Dodgers!  Simple enough, right?  Well, actually, no.

The cable company was nice enough.  They assured me on the day of our service appointment that all was taken care of.  However, when I called to cancel my old service the next day, I found that our phone number had not been transferred.  After numerous phone calls and follow-ups, I’m still in process on this.

Now, this blog post isn’t a rant about the cable companies.  It’s about what I learned about myself.  I noticed that with each successive phone call I became more and more upset and frustrated.  I also realized that the more upset I became, the more disappointed I felt in myself (For heaven’s sake, I’m a therapist and have written a book on stress management – I shouldn’t be getting so worked up)!  Angry and anxious thoughts began swirling in my head.  They continued swirling long after I got off the phone.  I realized I wasn’t really angry, but was actually feeling anxious and helpless.  But the question was, “Why”?

Well, the thoughts that were going through my mind were certainly not very empowering . . .

“How many phone calls will it take to straighten this out?”
“Now I’ll have to pay for an entire extra month of service with my old carrier!” 
“Why are they lying to me and telling me it is fixed when it is not?”
“I don’t have time for this!” 
“This isn’t fair!”
“I don’t want to have to call them again!”
“Poor me, Poor me, Poor me…”
etc, etc, etc…

You get the picture . . . I was personalizing the error (They’re doing this to me – poor me)! I was catastrophizing (This will never get fixed.  Now I need to get a new fax number, how horrible, what a hassle)!  I was filtering out the positive things about the experience and only seeing the negative (In truth, these phone calls only took a few minutes each, not bad for giving us the Dodger Station)!

I also entered into the process with unrealistic expectations.  I thought that I would make one phone call to set up the services, one to cancel the old services, and voila, that would be it.  My unrealistic expectation was the triumph of hope over experience, as the saying goes.

As I was going through this pain, I realized I wanted to change my pattern.  My anxiety, upset and frustration were really the issue, not the cable company.  I also realized that this is a pattern I’ve heard friends, family and clients say they fall into.  The bummer about this pattern is that it perpetuates the unhappiness and discomfort within the ranting individual.  It doesn’t change the situation; it simply exacerbates the frustrated individual’s stress level.   I don’t want to do this to myself any more!

In discussing this problem with my more laid back (and very wise) husband, I learned some of his techniques and how he would have viewed and handled the situation differently.  I wanted to share these with you because hubby has some great stress management tools!

First, he wouldn’t care if we had a fax machine or not.  He said that before putting anything on his “to do” list, he decides if it is even worth doing because he knows that things often take longer than expected.

Second, if he notices himself beginning to get frustrated he refocuses his thoughts on what is really important to him (not the fax machine) but his family, his health, his friends, his work, and if the issue doesn’t fall within one of those areas, again he would probably just let it go.  He would also use his positive thoughts about his top priorities to let go of his frustration.  As the old saying goes, “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and remember it is all small stuff.”

Third, he does deep breathing to calm himself if he starts to get worked up.  He also meditates each day so it is easy for him to activate a relaxation response.

And, finally, he changes his disempowering thoughts.   Instead of catastrophizing, he sees if there is any other way he can view the situation.  For instance, if his thoughts are saying, “this will never get fixed” or “this is taking so much of my time,” he stops these thoughts and reminds himself that the phone number will eventually get transferred, and, though he may need to make a few follow-up calls, each call only takes a few minutes.  If at any time the extra steps don’t seem worth it, he can make a new decision and decide not to have a fax machine (certainly not needed any more since most people scan over documents).

In my case of changing cable companies, he would let go of personalizing the issues and would stop villainizing the customer service rep.  He would remind himself that they are doing the best they can.  They want to help him but that sometimes fixing this type of glitch can take a little doing because a number of people, departments and companies are often involved.

Basically, he would change his state by changing his thoughts! I know this method, but it really helped to have hubby remind me and reinforce what I can control (my own mind, body and thoughts) versus commiserating with me on that which I have no control over (the cable companies).

Each of these skills becomes easier with practice.  If you would like a simple and concise way to keep improving your relaxation skills check out the Relax, Refocus and Refresh Workbook available through – Purchase the paperback and get the Kindle version FREE!

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