By Susan Mah, LCSW

Even though stress is a part of our daily lives, its significance is often overlooked. Physically, stress can manifest itself as aches and pains, fatigue, a change in sex drive, and insomnia. Psychologically, it results in anxiety, depression, irritability, or difficulty with concentration and memory. Behaviorally, stress can give rise to emotional eating, anger outbursts, substance misuse, avoidance, and a lack of motivation and energy. 

Stress can ruin relationships and take years off of our lives, so what can we do about it?

I frequently suggest psychotherapy to everyone, saying, “It’s good for the soul,” but for those who don’t have the desire or the time for such self-care, here’s a helpful tool I teach my patients. To use it, however, you must first understand the following: 

We typically think of life like this: There was a situation, and I felt a certain way about it. For example, my dog died, and then I got sad. But actually, that is NOT what happens.

Let’s go back to the dog example. If my dog dies, I will think: He was my best friend. I don’t know how I’ll ever get along without him. Life will never be the same. Of course, I will feel sad, lonely, and heartbroken.

But if my dog dies and my thoughts are: That dog was such a pain in the butt. He always got out of the yard. He bit my neighbor. Cost me $2,000 in medical bills. Good riddance! Then, I’ll probably feel apathetic and relieved. I’m certainly not going to be sad.

So it is my THOUGHTS about my dog’s death, not the death itself, that results in how I feel. Now that we understand this concept let me share the coping tool, an evidenced-based approach highly effective in combatting stress.

But first, look at this list of what are called Thinking Mistakes:

  1. All-or-nothing thinking: You look at things in absolute, black-and-white categories.
  2. Overgeneralization: You view a negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
  3. Mental filter: You dwell on the negatives and ignore the positives, focusing on what’s wrong instead of what’s right.
  4. Discounting the positives: You insist that your accomplishments or positive qualities don’t count.
  5. Jumping to conclusions: A) Mind reading: You assume that people are reacting negatively to you when there’s no evidence for this; B) You arbitrarily predict things will turn out badly.
  6. Magnification or minimization: You blow things out of proportion or you shrink their importance inappropriately.
  7. Emotional reasoning: You reason from how you feel, “I feel like an idiot, so I must be one,” or “I don’t feel like doing it, so I’ll put it off.”
  8. Shoulding: You criticize yourself or others with should statements.
  9. Labeling: You identify with your shortcomings and talk badly about yourself. Instead of saying, “I need to work on myself,” you say, “I’m a failure.”
  10. Personalization and blame: You blame yourself for something that weren’t responsible for or you blame others for something that wasn’t their fault.

Now, here’s the coping tool

If you can learn to identify when you make thinking mistakes (everybody makes them!), you will recognize when your thinking is distorted. When our thinking is distorted, we end up feeling stressed. As you become better at noticing and correcting your thinking mistakes, you will feel less stress or eliminate it entirely.


For more information and tips about mental health, please visit my YouTube Channel @susanmah2289.