You are not as helpless as you feel

You can change everything around by ‘reframing.’

Reframing our thinking is a technique to correct a few self-inflicted stress wounds by reducing or removing the stress before it can do much damage.

Reframing is all about how you act when a stressful situation presents itself and your internal response set. It involves meeting challenges with a more positive attitude. Changing our attitude toward difficulties is tough, but it’s necessary.

If we’re prone to stress, anxiety and worry, it will be necessary to change ourselves, as we cannot always change what’s happening around us.

Reframing is essentially putting our reactions to challenges into a new light, a new “frame” of reference. If being given a hard assignment at work entails learning a new computer program, you might respond with a knotted stomach and dread.

Common thoughts include, “Why me? The boss knows I don’t know how to do this! What if I screw it up?” A positive reframe might take the form of thinking, “I have a chance to show I’m valuable to the company.

I’ll also learn something new, which will make me more flexible and able to do more.” Some of you may be grumbling about optimism not changing the facts. It may not reverse the facts—after all, you’re still tasked with doing a job and learning something new while at it.

Nevertheless, consider the alternative. Pessimism brings about anxiety in most people. There is a causative relationship between expecting the worst from each new situation and increased feelings of stress.

I’m not suggesting we become a Pollyanna. Hard work is made harder when we have to take on new assignments and jobs or are tossed nebulous requirements and uncertain due dates.

Nonetheless, from time to time, we need our internal voice to tell us to stop whining and step up to the challenge. Sometimes we can’t make anxiety disappear before we take on new responsibilities.

Sometimes we have to beat anxiety by doing what frightens us. Remember, emotional stress isn’t injected into our minds; it’s a reaction to an outside event! That event isn’t inside us. The stress, on the other hand, is. Consequently, we can control it.

Is it that simple? Just be optimistic about everything. No, of course not. Sometimes stress relief is found in stilling our inner voice and admitting that a situation is as bad as it seems, but also owning the things we can do to remedy as much of the negative consequences of the situation as possible.

We’re just not as helpless as we feel very often. Even if a situation dictates our best choice of action is to run away, we can determine how fast to run and where. Running right into the greedy arms of anxious indecision is not a place we need to go.

We fear what we don’t know.

Many people prefer a demonstrably negative situation to an uncertain one. After all, you can tackle a definite problem.

Uncertain situations and tenuous outcomes can paralyze us. Indeed, paralysis is one of the side effects of encountering the unknown.

However, our reactions to uncertainty can make all the difference. If our anxiety and fear immediately overwhelm us, we’ll get stuck in place, unable to make any decisions, good or bad. We’ll then have those consequences to face.

When our anxiety rockets, it inhibits our ability to think clearly. What do we do?

First, we can exercise control over ourselves. Too much mental energy is often given to catastrophizing the situation, making everything so much worse.

Giving some time to assess our situation accurately is well worth it. Accurately defining the situation is step one. How to define what we don’t know? That piece of info isn’t a bad place to start.

Knowing what pieces of the puzzle we’re missing is a good start. Then, as we remember our breathing and work the tension out of our bodies, we can learn more about the lurking, creeping, crawling uncertainty playing with our anxiety levels.

Asking for help is a good idea. Discussing the situation with a trusted friend, a confidante, or a therapist can help you sketch out the range of your ability to accumulate information.

Tackling a problem without the input of others is not the best of ideas if this is a completely new situation. If it falls under the general umbrella of something we’ve faced before, well and good.

Uncertainty can be all over the spectrum of possible outcomes. If you have tests run at a doctor’s office and you get a call-back saying, “We need you to come in immediately so we can discuss these findings,” yes, there’s uncertainty and a load of fodder for anxiety right there.

Sometimes in situations like these, endurance coupled with mindful awareness is the only way to get by until you discover the nature of the findings. If the call-back appointment is soon, you won’t have to wait long, and mindful awareness will help you focus on what you’re doing right here and now.

Most of our daily anxieties are nowhere near as dire. Patience and focus rooted in the now will make uncertainty far less frightening.

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