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10 Thoughts that May be Stressing You Out

Much of the strain and conflict that causes stress in relationships occurs when your wants are consistently side-lined by your internalized sense of how you should behave.

Are you stuck “doing the right thing” while sacrificing what you want? Often, we’re stressed out not because others are expecting things from us, but because we expect them from ourselves. These internal “shoulds” may have originated in external expectations, moral codes or rules that you internalized long ago that have now become pressures you place on yourself.

Do you relate to any of the following thoughts:

  1. “I should solve problems on my own (not doing so is weak, needy or means I’m inadequate)”
  2. “I shouldn’t make requests from other people (it’s selfish and self-centered)”
  3. “I should just deal with it.”
  4. “I should sacrifice my needs for others.”
  5. “I shouldn’t feel the way I do.”
  6. “I should change my attitude.”
  7. “I should have done better (at work, in a relationship, on a task)”
  8. “I can’t fail (failure would be disastrous)”
  9. “I can’t handle criticism.”
  10. “I should never need to be criticized (I should behave perfectly so that there is no need for criticism)”

When you carry around a heavy load of internal rules—“shoulds”– you become worn down and burdened by your own expectations.

Try picking one thought that you’re willing to let go.  Look over the list or identify a thought of your own that contributes to your feeling overburdened and overwhelmed.

With that thought in mind, try one or all of the following:

  • Notice the thought, when you have it, and imagine it drifting in and out of your thoughts, like a cloud drifts across the sky. You might watch the thought “I should sacrifice my needs to others” come into your mind, drift by and float out.  Don’t push the thought away or try to engage with it. Just notice it is there.
  • Think the thought, but change the word “should” to “could.”  If it’s a thought with the word “can’t” change it to “I feel sad, disappointed, anxious, when I.”  Notice if the word change has an impact on how you feel. For example, you might change “I should just deal with it” to “I could just deal with it.”  This subtle shift can increase the flexibility of your thoughts and expand your sense of having options.
  • Imagine doing the thing you “should not” do and in your image, imagine a positive outcome.  For example, if you tend to think “I should not need help,” you might imagine asking a neighbor for help.  Now imagine that while the neighbor helps, you begin chatting and end up developing a new friendship.
You can find more strategies to improve how you feel in my new book, The Stress Response and by clicking here to sign up for more of my tips and podcasts using DBT strategies to improve how you feel.

Worried woman photo available from Shutterstock.

10 Thoughts that May be Stressing You Out

Christy Matta, MA

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APA Reference
Matta, C. (2012). 10 Thoughts that May be Stressing You Out. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 25, 2020, from


Last updated: 17 Apr 2012
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