Does Your Thinking Help You Cope or Cause You Anguish?

thinking about stressful eventsEmotions happen in an instant.  Your supervisor shoots down an idea in front of your colleagues and you’re humiliated.  You’re teenage son leaves his socks on the living room floor again and you’re angry.  Your best single girlfriend tells you she’s getting married and you feel lonely, happy or rejected (or maybe all three).

How you think about events that happen in your life, especially those stressful life events, can either help you get through tough times with an amount of equilibrium or it can derail you and end with your emotions in extremes.

Researchers on the topic of stress and emotion, like Folkman and Lazarus, have called the process of thinking about the events in our lives cognitive appraisals. These thoughts, or appraisals, about our life circumstances come in different types.  Some are appraisals about what we have at stake.  How will this circumstance impact your well being, goals, the well-being of your loved ones and your values?  Another set of thoughts are evaluations of your ability to cope with the circumstances.  Can you manage the demands placed on you or can you change unwanted circumstances?

Misappraisals – an incorrect evaluation of a situation or circumstance—can impact your emotions.  If you’re depressed, you may have a tendency to pay attention to only the negative aspects of a situation.  Maybe your supervisor did shoot down an idea in front of colleagues.  But this same supervisor might also have made multiple positive comments that you’ve forget about once you hear a perceived criticism.

In the case of the dirty socks, you might be thinking that your son never picks up after himself and never will.  This overgeneralization (he likely picks up after himself sometimes) can fuel your anger.  In the case of the single girl who’s friend is getting married, her loneliness and feelings of rejection may be intensified if she pays attention to only the negative and upsetting aspects of her friends marriage.

Painful and upsetting things do happen.  Sometimes we are criticized, taken advantage of or rejected.  However, what we attend to and how we evaluate the world around us matters.  How do you think about what happens in your life?  Do you get stuck in negatives, over-generalize or overlook the positives?  If you do, how have you recognized it?

Photo by "dev_null," available under a Creative Commons attribution license.

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