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How to manage self-inflicted stress
Stress and anxiety therapist Dr. Amelia Aldao suggests waiting 60 seconds before reacting to a stressor, giving your rational mind time to catch up to your emotions.
- Stress is a complex defense mechanism that we experience in relation to either internal or external threats.
- Self-inflicted stress is stress we inflict upon ourselves with our emotional and behavioral responses to certain situations. An example of self-inflicted stress would be your car breaking down on the morning of an important meeting because your "check engine" let had been on, but you ignored it.
- There are a few ways for you to cope with self-inflicted internal and external stressors, put forth by researchers and therapists.
What is “self-inflicted stress”?
Stress is a complex defence mechanism that each of us experiences differently depending on our personality and the circumstances of the situation.
Photo by Kite_rin on Shutterstock
Stress is an adaptation of a living organism to internal or external threats. It's a complex defense mechanism that each of us experiences in vastly different ways depending on various factors such as personality, causal factors, and circumstance.
Studies show that positive emotions (happiness, comfort, pleasure, etc) allow us to consider a larger set of options in order to make faster, smarter decisions. The opposite is also true - unpleasant emotions (anger, stress, fear, etc.) overwhelm our rational minds and impact our behavior in ways that damage our ability to make smart, rational choices.
Stressors can be either external or internal, and this greatly impacts how we react to that stressful situation.
Examples of self-inflicted internal stress (stress we inflict on ourselves by how we manage expectations, time, relationships, and emotions) can include:
- Putting pressure on yourself to excel at something within an unrealistic timespan.
- Negative self-talk after not being able to complete something (realistic or not).
- Fear of public speaking, thinking you're going to make a mistake in front of everyone even if you're prepared.
- Not having enough time in the day to complete your "to-do" list and having thoughts of not being good enough because you didn't complete an unrealistic goal.
- An "all or nothing" attitude (example: if I can't get everything on my list done today I just won't do anything at all."
In more serious situations, these kinds of internal stressors can lead to feelings of anxiety and/or depression.
Examples of self-inflicted external stress can include:
- Planning a vacation in a time of budget cuts at work only to discover that your salary has been lowered in a time where you've spent more money than normal.
- Procrastinating to study for an upcoming exam or presentation and then staying up all night the day before.
- Ignoring the "check engine" light in your car only to have it break down in a moment of urgency (picking a child up from school, on your way to a meeting, etc).
How to manage your self-inflicted stress
A tip: wait one full minute before doing anything in reaction to the stressor.
Photo by Obak on Shutterstock
Over time, stress can damage areas of your life (adding even more stress) such as you having trouble sleeping, losing your appetite, losing interest in daily activities due to stress. Symptoms that you are stressed can include things like irritability, headaches/migraines, stomach pains, and unbalanced emotions.
How do you cope with stress? There are a few different methods that are specifically designed to help you overcome self-inflicted stressors in your life.
Take a full 60 seconds of pause before doing anything.
The 60 Second Method is simple: wait one minute before doing anything in reaction to the stressor. It can be as simple as that, according to OCD, stress, anxiety and depression therapist Dr. Amelia Aldao.
"In particular," she explains in this Psychology Today article, "don't follow what the emotion is telling you to do. Don't send that angry text, don't decline the invitation to present at work, don't tell your potential date you're too busy this week…"
While this is extremely difficult for some people, pausing before reacting to a stressful situation gives your "rational brain" the ability to catch up. The best thing you can do is "stay with your emotion", according to Dr. Aldao, "but don't act it out."
Experiencing the emotions is a good thing, we should never ignore how certain situations (even stressful ones) make us feel - but acting from a place of pure emotion (instead of thinking rationally about a proper action to follow the situation) can be detrimental to our mental health.
According to Dr. Aldao, by the end of these 60 seconds, the intensity of your initial emotional reaction to the stressor should have somewhat subsided, allowing you to act from a place of rationality than a place of hasty emotion.
Prioritize your schedule and manage your time in a realistic way to motivate yourself.
When it comes to internal stressors, much of the time we inflict these upon ourselves with ever-growing to-do lists and agendas that seem impossible to get through. This, in a way, is setting ourselves up for failure, because we aren't giving ourselves realistic goals that can encourage us to keep going.
Instead, what you're doing, is designing a system that will make you feel more stressed the more work you do because even if you complete the work, it will seem as though you're falling behind.
Instead, you should operate in a prioritization system. This can be done by splitting your to-do list into categories such as immediate (needs to be done in the next 3 hours), average (needs to be done sometime today) and non-critical (can easily be done tomorrow or the next day).
Ask for help and accept that you might not be able to accomplish everything on your own (or risk falling apart).
Productivity coach Ruth Klein, who has also authored a book called Time Management Secrets for Working Women, explains that you should start by asking yourself what the top three priorities for the day are. If there are more than three main things, delegate some of your work to someone else or push back deadlines if you can. It takes courage to admit you can't do it all, but ultimately that might be your best option.
Waiting too long to ask for help, according to Klein, will eventually lead us into an "overwhelmed crisis" which tends to zap us of all energy and motivation.
Acknowledge that some (if not most) of your stress may be self-inflicted and make changes to fix that.
While there are external stressors that we have little to no control over, there are lots of times when the stress we feel is self-inflicted. And when stress is self-inflicted it can also be self-solved, even when that feels impossible.
When we are managing self-inflicted stress, it can be extremely difficult to see outside of our bubble of worry. We are focused on trying to beat the stress because we don't want to feel stressed - it seems like a solution. But if your stress isn't motivating you to get things done (and is instead actually hindering you from being productive) it's time for you to change how you react to your stress.
"What can I do to lessen my stress right now?"
Jamie Sussel Turner (otherwise known as "The Less Stress Coach") explains that asking yourself this question and acknowledging some of the harmful behaviors and emotions you're feeling that are negatively impacting your stress levels can help us re-evaluate the importance of the things we're trying to do.
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Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
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In a recent study, researchers examined how Christian nationalism is affecting the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A new study used survey data to examine the interplay between Christian nationalism and incautious behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The researchers defined Christian nationalism as "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture."
- The results showed that Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior.
A pastor at the chapel of the St. Josef Hospital on April 1, 2020 in Bochum, German
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images<p>Christian nationalists, in general, believe the U.S. and God's will are tied together, and they want the government to embody conservative Christian values and symbols. As such, they also believe the nation's fate depends on how closely it adheres to Christianity.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unsurprisingly then, in the midst of the COVID‐19 pandemic, conservative pastors prophesied God's protection over the nation, citing America's righteous support for President Trump and the prolife agenda," the researchers write.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Correspondingly, the link between Christian nationalism and God's influence on how COVID‐19 impacts America can be seen in proclamations about God's divine judgment for its immorality―with the logic being that God is using the pandemic to draw wayward America <em>back </em>to himself, which assumes the two belong together."</p><p>The logical conclusion to this kind of thinking: America can save itself not through cautionary measures, like mask-wearing, but through devotion to God. What's more, it stands to reason that Christian nationalists are less likely to trust the media and scientists, given that these sources are generally not concerned with promoting a conservative, religious view of the world.</p><p>(The researchers note that they're unaware of any research directly linking Christian nationalism to distrust of media sources, but that they're almost certain the two are connected.)</p>
Predicted values of Americans' frequency of incautious behaviors during the COVID‐19 pandemic across values of Christian nationalism
Perry et al.<p>In the new study, the researchers examined three waves of results from the Public and Discourse Ethics Survey. One wave of the survey was issued in May, and it asked respondents to rate how often they engaged in both incautious and precautionary behaviors.</p><p>Incautious behaviors included things like "ate inside a restaurant" and "went shopping for nonessential items," while precautionary behaviors included "washed my hands more often than typical" and "wore a mask in public."</p><p>To measure Christian nationalism, the researchers asked respondents to rate how strongly they agree with statements like "the federal government should advocate Christian values" and "the success of the United States is part of God's plan."</p><p>The results suggest that, compared to other groups, Christian nationalists are far less likely to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior during the pandemic, and the second leading predictor that Americans avoided taking precautionary measures."</p><p>But that's not to say that religious beliefs are causing Americans to reject mask-wearing or social distancing. In fact, when the study accounted for Christian nationalist beliefs, the results showed that Americans with high levels of religiosity were likely to take precautionary measures for COVID-19.</p>
Limitations<p>Still, the researchers note that they're theorizing about the connections between Christian nationalism and COVID-19 behaviors, not documenting them directly. What's more, they suggest that certain experiences — such as having a family member that contracts COVID-19 — might change a Christian nationalist's behaviors during the pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Limitations notwithstanding, the implications of this study are important for understanding Americans' curious inability to quickly implement informed and reasonable strategies to overcome the threat of COVID‐19, an inability that has likely cost thousands of lives," they write.</p>
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