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Reduce Stress : It's All in the Attitude (part 1)

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1. Are You an Optimist or a Pessimist?

Psychologists determine optimistic and pessimistic character based on a person’s explanatory style when describing an unfortunate event. The explanatory style has three parts:

“Studies show that optimists enjoy better general health than pessimists.”

• The internal/external explanation. Optimists tend to believe that external factors cause misfortune, while pessimists tend to blame themselves (the internal factor).

• The stable/unstable explanation. Optimists tend to see misfortune as unstable or temporary, while pessimists tend to see misfortune as stable or permanent.

• The global/specific explanation. Optimists tend to see problems as specific to a situation, while pessimists tend to see problems as global—that is, unavoidable and pervasive.

How does an optimist body differ from a pessimist body? Profoundly. Studies show that optimists enjoy better general health, a stronger immune system, faster surgical recovery, and longer life than pessimists.

2. Try Optimism Therapy

Optimism therapy is like an attitude adjustment but focused on reframing responses as an optimist. Optimism may have a reputation as a deluded view of the world through rose-colored glasses, but, actually, optimists are happier and healthier because they tend to assume they have control over their lives, while pessimists tend to feel that life controls them. Optimists are more likely to engage in positive behaviors such as exercising and eating well. Pessimists may adopt a fatalistic attitude that what they eat or how much they exercise doesn’t matter anyway, so they might as well do what is easiest.

3. See the Glass as Half Full

But what if you are a pessimist? Can you change? Yes. You just need to engage in a little optimism therapy! Studies show that smiling, even when you aren’t happy, can make you feel happy. Pretending to be an optimist can actually make you feel like one and can help your body learn to respond like an optimist, too.

If your pessimism is temporary or recent, you can probably help yourself through your own personal optimism therapy sessions. At the beginning of each day, before you get out of bed, say one of these affirmations out loud several times:

• “No matter what happens today, I won’t judge myself.”

• “Today I will enjoy myself in healthy ways.”

• “No matter what happens around me, this will be a good day.”

Then, choose one single area or part of your day and vow to be an optimist in that area only. Maybe you’ll choose lunchtime, or the staff meeting, or the time with your kids before dinner. During that period, every time you begin to think or say something pessimistically, immediately replace the words or thought with something optimistic.

4. Are You in a Negative-Thinking Rut?

Negativity is a huge drain on your energy and exacerbates any stress in your life, magnifying it until it seems huge and uncontrollable. Many people are in the negativity habit. It may be a habit brought on by lots of past suffering, and that’s perfectly understandable. But it can stop right now. Even in suffering, you don’t have to be negative. Some people remain positive through tragedy; others despair. What’s the difference? Attitude.

5. Identify Negativity Triggers

Once you know what kinds of things trigger your negativity, you can begin to catch yourself in the act. When something unexpected happens, do the first words out of your mouth tend to be a frantic “Oh NO!”? If so, stop yourself after that first “Oh.” Notice what you are doing. Tell yourself, “I don’t have to respond this way. I should wait and see if a full-blown, all-out ‘Oh NO’ is really warranted.” This stopping of your thought process and your negative reaction can help you be more objective and, eventually, more positive about any situation. Even if, after stopping, you realize that an “Oh NO” really is warranted, you won’t be crying wolf at every little mishap.

6. Kick the Negativity Habit

Just like any habit, the more you get used to halting your negative reactions and replacing them with neutral or positive reactions, the less you’ll find yourself reacting negatively. Instead of “Oh NO,” react with silence, taking a wait-and-see attitude. Or, react with an affirmation: “Oh . . . I can learn something positive from this!”

You might encounter obstacles along the way, and that’s to be expected. But even if a negative attitude is comforting in some ways, is it worth the drain on your energy and happiness? Keep working through it, and you’ll get there.

7. Consider Autogenic Training

Autogenic training, or autogenics, was designed to reap the benefits of hypnosis without the need for a hypnotist or the time typically involved in a hypnosis session. Autogenics uses a relaxed position and the verbal suggestion of warmth and heaviness in the limbs to induce a state of deep relaxation and stress relief.

Autogenics have been used to treat muscle tension, asthma, gastrointestinal problems, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, headaches, thyroid problems, anxiety, irritability, and fatigue. It can also increase your stress resistance.

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