While taking action to change the situation is one way of managing and reducing stress, perception-oriented techniques can reduce stress by changing the way you see, and therefore feel about, a situation.

Don’t Put Yourself Down

In many cases, it is not the situation that causes stress, but the way we react to it and what we say to ourselves about it. Often we can be too harsh on ourselves. Negative thinking of this kind can cause intense stress and unhappiness, and can damage your performance by undermining your self-confidence and distracting you when you need to focus on what you’re doing. You are thinking negatively when you fear the future, put yourself down, criticize yourself for errors, doubt your abilities, or expect failure.

Become Aware


You can’t manage your thoughts until you are aware of them

The first step in learning how to deal with negative thoughts is to recognize that you are having them. Unfortunately, these thoughts tend to flit in and out of our consciousness almost unnoticed, and because of this they certainly go unchallenged. These negative thoughts can be completely incorrect, but this doesn’t diminish their harmful effect. Thought awareness can be achieved by observing and recording your stream of consciousness as you think about a stressful situation. Don’t suppress any thoughts; just let them run their course while you watch them unfold and jot them down as they happen.


If you find it hard to be objective, look at your list of negative thoughts and imagine how someone else would challenge them.

Think Smart

You may find that simply writing down in your stress diary all of your negative thoughts and the things that you are worried about will give you a better perspective on your problems.

Try to log all of your negative thoughts and anxieties in your stress diary as they occur, then tackle the most common and damaging ones – these are the things that are interfering with your enjoyment of life. By learning to deal effectively with the problem areas of your life you will soon start finding solutions to difficulties as they arise and will be able to take advantage of opportunities for improving your quality of life.

Challenge Negative Thoughts

Your stress diary may reveal that you often have feelings of inadequacy, are worried that your performance in your job will not be good enough, or are anxious about other people’s reactions to your work. Always ask yourself whether a negative thought is reasonable: does it stand up to scrutiny? Challenge your negative thoughts.

  • Feelings of inadequacy – Do you have the experience and resources you need to do your job? Have you planned, prepared, and rehearsed appropriately? If you have done all of these, perhaps you are setting yourself unattainably high standards for doing the job.

  • Worries about performance – Are you properly trained? Have you prepared properly? Do you have enough time? If not, then you need to take action quickly. If the answer is yes, then you are well positioned to give the best performance that you can.

  • Anxiety about other people’s reactions – If you have put in good preparation, and you do the best you can, then that is all that you need to know. If you perform as well as you can, fair people are likely to respond well.

Heed the Warning

By challenging negative thoughts rationally, you should be able to determine accurately whether the thoughts are wrong or whether they reflect a realistic appraisal of the situation. If there is some substance to your concerns, work to take appropriate action. In these cases, negative thinking has been an early warning system showing where you need to direct your attention.

Produce Positive Thoughts


We usually fail because we fear failure

Where you have used rational thinking to identify incorrect negative thinking, you’ll be able to turn these around by preparing rational positive thoughts and affirmations to counter your negative thoughts. The danger with negative thoughts is that they can begin to dictate to you what the reality is, blocking you from any possibility of making an objective assessment of a situation. Rational thinking will help you to produce realistic positive thoughts. Using realistic positive affirmations can help you to build your self-confidence and reverse the damaging effects of negative thinking.

Think Positive

High Impact

  • Writing down your negative thoughts when they occur

  • Challenging your negative thoughts objectively

  • Using affirmations to counter "unfair” thoughts

  • Exploring opportunities that arise from positive thinking

Negative Impact

  • Letting your negative thoughts go unchecked

  • Accepting your negative thinking as reality

  • Worrying about situations without taking action

  • Thinking positively without thinking rationally

Techniques to Practise

Counteract your negative thoughts with positive statements that will increase your confidence.

You can practise counteracting negative thinking with some positive affirmations:

  • Feelings of inadequacy: “I am well trained for this. I have the experience, the resources, and the knowledge I need. I can do a superb job.”

  • Worries about performance: “I have researched and planned well for this, and I thoroughly understand the problem. I have the time, resources, and help I need. I am ready to do an excellent job.”

  • Worry about other people’s reaction: “I am well prepared and am doing the best I can. Fair people will respect this. I will rise above any unfair criticism in a mature and professional way.”

  • Write these affirmations down, then repeat them to yourself a few times whenever you are feeling undermined and your confidence could do with a boost.

Take the Opportunities

Pushing positive thinking one step further, it can also be useful to look at the situation and see whether it offers any useful opportunities. In the examples in Techniques to Practise , if you successfully overcome the situations causing the negative thinking, you will acquire new skills and be seen as someone who can handle difficult challenges. This, in turn, may open up new career possibilities and will give you the confidence to take advantage of any new opportunities that present themselves. Initially, each time a new challenge presents itself you may find that you need to repeat your positive affirmations, However, after having dealt successfully with several difficult situations you may find that you no longer need them.


Affirmations will be strongest if they are specific and expressed in the present tense.

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