Develop better coping skills for everyday stressful situations

I was struck recently, when hiring a car, how much anticipatory anxiety is used by businesses to try and get more money out of us. The car hire company was painting a very gloomy picture of what might happen out on the roads, and how much it was going to cost me if I decided not to buy additional insurance and thereby decrease my excess.

Now, I’ve been driving now for the best part of 26 years, and consider myself pretty competent on the roads. Yet the way they were ‘selling’ this to me set off a cognitive freight train that was rattling away, completely out of control, with frightening speed – I saw white vans pulling out in front of me at busy crossroads. I saw me skidding precariously on black ice and tumbling inelegantly into a ditch. I saw great big lorries ramming into the back of me and wiping out my whole family! I could feel my anxiety levels rise. I could feel my confidence faltering. I felt powerless. I could sense my grasp on reality tunnel-visioning to this additional insurance premium being the only thing to keep my family and me safe on the British roads!

So, what was a simple task on my ‘to do’ list – to pick up the hire car – suddenly became a source of increasing stress and anxiety. Add to this the fact that I know my husband hates paying out on anything unnecessarily, nor does he believe in insurance (he thinks it is a big con) I felt suddenly assailed by doubts, fears, insecurities, and an increasing lack of confidence in my own ability to make the right decision.

Albert Bandura (1988): Self Efficacy Conception of Anxiety, states:

“People who believe that can exercise control over potential threats do not conjure up apprehensive cognitions and, hence, are not perturbed by them. But those who believe they cannot manage potential threats experience high levels of anxiety arousal. They tend to dwell on their coping deficiencies and view many aspects of their environment as fraught with danger. Through such inefficacious thought they distress themselves and constrain and impair their level of functioning (Beck, Emery and Greenberg, 1985; Lazarus and Folkman, 1984; Meichenbaum, 1977; Sarason, 1975).”

So to go back to the car hire shop, there I was, a competent driver of many years experience, suddenly assailed by feelings of doubt and insecurity.

It is at a point like this when your Thrive training kicks in. You apply the cognitive brakes and re-examine what it is that is making you feel anxious. To which, the answer was myself – I was bringing this anxiety on myself by questioning my own (more than proven) abilities. I know I am a good driver. I know that I have been driving for 26 years with no more than one mild prang to my name (nor was it my fault!). I know that if I paid out that extra insurance then I would be throwing good money into the void. I also know that all my conjured up images and fears were of external dangers over which I had little or no control. So really there was no point worrying about them as I could do nothing to change them.

Without my knowledge of Thrive, my experience could have been a lot different. I may have paid out on that extra insurance, which would have increased the financial burden (stress levels up), and incited the irritation of my husband (stress levels up). I would have fretted about both the money and the annoyed husband for several hours/days afterwards (stress levels up). I would also have got into that car with the various frightening images of the car being involved in a number of potential incidents (stress levels up). Due to my increased anxiety levels, my judgement of the road may be impaired and Coue’s Law would kick in – ie: I may well have an accident. OK, I may be indulging in some catastrophic speculation here, but I want to illustrate a point highlighted in Bandura’s research paper that….

“Cognition plays a broader role in human emotion than simply labelling physiological states. Physiological arousal, itself, is often generated cognitively by arousing trains of thought (Beck, 1976; Schwartz, 1971). People frighten themselves by scary thoughts, they work themselves up into a state of anger by ruminating about social slights and mistreatments, they become sexually aroused by conjuring up erotic fantasies, and they become depressed by dwelling on gloomy cognitive scenarios.”

Thrive training – increasing your internal locus of control, giving you power over your thoughts and emotions, will significantly help you to reduce your anxiety and stress levels brought on by events which you may previously have thought were out of your control.

Simply recognising that worrying thoughts and images are simply a figment of your imagination, and not a part of your reality anytime now, or in the future, will go a long way to bringing down your stress gauge to manageable levels.

“It is not the sheer frequency of intrusive cognitions but rather the inefficacy to turn them off that is the major source of distress”. (Bandura, 1988). It is human nature to think the worse, to be pessimistic, to be wary of any dangers and threats in our environment. But to be hypervigilant about perceived threats, to ruminate and brood on them, even when they are proven to be imaginary, is detrimental in the long term to the human spirit.

So after about 10 seconds of such hypervigilant rumination, I stood tall, looked the hire guy in the eye and said No Thanks! I think I laughed it off by making some joke about my husband not believing in insurance. And do you know, I drove that car for 10 days without a single incident. More importantly, I drove on some very congested roads, in some fairly horrific weather conditions, with my most precious cargo (kids) in the back, and I was pretty much anxiety free.

Modern life has a habit of creating a raft of potentially anxiety inducing situations. The car hire is an example, but a typical daily life involving car journeys, dealing with children, workmen, colleagues, bosses, bureaucracy, financial worries (particularly in these trying times)… the list is endless…all add to potential sources of anxiety. And without effective coping skills many people increasingly fall into feelings of powerlessness and inability to cope. Thrive gives you that power back.

If you want to find out more about how the Thrive programme can help you to control runaway thoughts and increasing anxiety levels follow this link

Kate Ashley-Norman

Thrive Consultant and Blogger

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