Channel stress in healthy ways.

People think that all stress is external.

You or someone you know may be walking in these shoes: a single parent with two out-of-control teenagers; facing upheaval at work or job loss; raising children with autism or a disability; or caring for an elderly parent or spouse while raising children and juggling work, home and other commitments.

Clearly these situations create stress. Stress from others’ challenges spills into your life. Stress from your challenges spills into others’ lives. Now add twisted thinking patterns or what are also called cognitive distortions.

What a lot of people don’t realize, is that how you think and what you think about a situation help determine the level of stress you feel. David Burns, a noted psychiatrist, came up with a list of cognitive distortions. Burns found that when people interpreted events in certain ways, they tended to get more upset.

Once you are aware of this tendency in yourself and others, you’re able to step back and work through situations with less emotion. Judgment falls away. You’re more objective and able to focus your thoughts, energy and actions in ways that achieve an objective or meet an unmet need.

Getting bent out of shape over stress starts with twisted thinking patterns. They’re very common, and they create a bunch of internal stress. It would seem helpful then to untwist these thought patterns and cut through the chaos of all that.

Here are a few twisted thinking patterns or cognitive distortions from Dr. Byrne’s list. See if you can identify your own stressful thoughts.

Jumping to conclusions. This is when people create internal stress by deciding they know things they really don’t know. For example, if your boss gives you critical feedback, you might think “I’m never going to get promoted now.” You don’t know that. There’s no evidence of that at all. Sure that might happen, out in the future. You’ve jumped to conclusions and substantially added to your stress level by playing that movie in your mind.

Instead, squash the speculation. Stick to the present moment, factually and objectively. Give up on mind reading and fortune telling.

Disqualifying the positive. This is exactly as it sounds. Someone says something nice and it’s met with negativity. For example, someone says this is good work for such a short turnaround. “I didn’t like the way it turned out,” you say.

Instead, relish your positive feedback. Take it at face value, period.

Catastrophizing. This one is very popular, made worse by nonstop media coverage of awful things. The root word here is catastrophe. It’s when a person focuses on the worst possible outcomes. Worriers are prone to catastrophizing. Yet, most of the terrible things we imagine happening don’t happen.

Instead, have faith that if you’re in a tough spot, you will get through it. I repeat: You will get through it. It is uncomfortable (sometimes very uncomfortable), but you will get through it, stronger and wiser than you were before.

The what ifs: I’m amazed at the creative scenarios I hear in the “what-if” category. I bet you can think of some of these. Feel free to share in the comment section.

Instead, sometimes you just have to trust that what will be will be. And just like with catastrophizing, most of the what-ifs we come up with don’t actually happen.

Should statements. A lot of times, people walk around shoulding themselves into misery and stress. “I should have known better,” or “I shouldn’t have said that.” They do it to other people too. Shoulding in hindsight of what’s happened works like shaming. It can cause guilt, frustration and conflict.

First, what’s done is done. Reflect on your own choices in positive, forward-moving ways. Today is a new day. What can you do differently next time? OK now, let’s move forward. What’s next? What’s new? And those shoulds? They cut deep. Whatever did happen, whatever went wrong is bad enough. Let’s leave it alone.

Do you recognize yourself or someone you know in any of these scenarios? Maybe you’ve overcome them and broken the chains of these habits. How did you get there? What made the difference? I’d love to hear from you. cherilynnvelandSM

Take care,

Cherilynn Veland is a therapist living in Chicago. She also blogs about home, work, life and love at Could you take the time to kindly follow me/Cherilynn on Twitter? Connect on Facebook too? I would really appreciate the support! And don’t forget Google Plus.