By John C Goodman, MSOD, MSW
We experience stress on different levels. Below I have adapted Robert Dilts’ model of the levels of logic to stress.
Environment: What external events trigger your feelings/reactions of stress? Do you have control over these events? If you don’t have control or influence over the situation then all the worry, fear, anxiety in the world will not change them. You need to redirect that energy into something you do have control over like your perception and reaction to the events. What resources does your environment offer to deal with stress? Knowing what options are available can be very empowering and create a sense of control.
Behavior: How do you create your experience of negative stress? Examine your actions, thoughts, and feelings. Become aware of how distorted many of your thoughts may be. Having someone point them out to you may help. Notice the feedback your body offers you (true biofeedback). NLP offers ways to transform your non-resourceful behaviors, thoughts and feelings into resourceful ones, reducing or eliminating stress from your association to that event? Remember a time when your felt relaxed, in control or the way you would like to feel in that situation. Notice what was subjectively different about that experience, e.g. a time when an event triggered motivation and not debilitation. Now move those positive resources into a situation, which in the past you would have felt stressed. Notice how your feelings change, do you see new options, do you feel different now about that event. Take what works well for you in one part of your life and bring it into a part that will benefit from those positive resources. Remember, the more flexibility you have the more options you realize and the more control you have.
Capability: Notice your abilities and resources and use them to your advantage. Not everyone has the ability to create vivid images and mental movies of what could go wrong; to repeatedly find new things to worry about; and the skill to not only anticipate negative outcomes but to internally live them before the event ever occurs. Not everyone can trigger their fight or flight response and their autonomic and sympathetic nervous systems to kick into survival mode in non-life threatening situations. Just imagine what you can do with such powerful skills to feel calm, confident, or in control. For example you could vividly create a movie or picture in your mind of the desired outcome you want and put yourself in that scene. Actually be in that scene, experiencing it fully with all of your senses. Feel how it feels. Notice the difference in your neurology.
BELIEFS AND VALUES: Our beliefs and values are key factors in determining what we allow to cause us stress. This is why one person will feel overwhelmed while another will feel challenged. Our beliefs influence our behaviors/actions and our identity/self. They are the lens and filter that color our world, magnify, minimize, or eliminating certain observations or information in our world. We distort reality to fit our belief system. Examples of distorted thought patterns or NUTs include over generalizing a single incident and assuming it will always happen or be true, thinking in extremes: all or nothing thinking, or over personalizing things, to name but a few. Research shows that beliefs, which increase ones sense of control, both internal and external, reduce stress. The greater the belief you can handle a situation the less negative stress will impact you. Our beliefs can also allow us to view the world with optimism and passion, so why not distort with a positive bias? If we change our beliefs our behaviors will change too.
IDENTITY: Stress is a combination of emotions, beliefs, behaviors, and physical reactions. It is not who you are! Notice how it feels when you say; “I am stress out,” “I am overwhelmed,” “I am depressed,” “I am going crazy.” Now add, “I feel,” before these statements. The impact feels different doesn’t it? “I am” makes it part of your identity. “I feel” keeps it on a behavioral level. When we think and speak on an identity level we associate into it. We also may create self-fulfilling prophecies. Keeping those messages on a feeling level allows us to disassociate from it. It is easier to change behaviors than our identity.
BEYOND IDENTITY/SPIRITUALITY: By turning beyond the limits of the self, within your belief system, whether it is to others or a higher power we many find comfort, inspiration, and strength. Many believe that at this level we are all connected.
This is part two of a three part series on stress management and NLP.