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Putting Things in Perspective

Five easy steps to reducing daily stress

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If you are like a lot of people you find yourself getting upset about things that---from hindsight—look less than awful. Sometimes, as you look back, it may seem rather trivial. Consider the following everyday events that you might make yourself upset over: getting stuck in traffic, someone not doing what you want them to do, getting a lower than expected evaluation on something, losing money on an investment, or getting the flu. Right now, let’s focus on some of these mundane issues—rather than some larger issues like divorce, serious disability, or a major setback. It is often the DAILY HASSLES that drive us insane.

Do any of these sound like you?

  • I can’t believe that this is happening.
  • This is awful.
  • I can’t stand it.
  • Why is this always happening to me?

I have seen people get angry at the elevator being delayed, screaming in traffic, infuriated that the waiter got their order wrong, and thinking that the world is about to end because they didn’t do as well as they wanted to do on an exam.

Cognitive therapy can help us put things in perspective and take the fuel and flame out of our responses to everyday events. It’s the power of being “rational”. And, to remind you, the word “rational” is derived from “ratio” and which suggests that being rational is to see things proportionally or in perspective.

Five Steps to Putting Things in Perspective

  1. Ask yourself what are the costs to you and other people around you when you react with such intensity. For example, are you infuriated by small frustrations? Anxious about the uncertainty of simple, mundane events? Derailed by inconvenience? You may be making yourself anxious and angry and making other people feel worse by the intensity of your responses. Fortunately, this can change. You can reduce your stress by seeing things in perspective.
  2. Stand back and observe and describe—don’t judge. We usually upset ourselves about our interpretations of events rather than what really happened. So write down what happened without your judgments. For example, “A car passed me”, “I am stuck in traffic for ten minutes”, “The waiter brought me the wrong entrée”, or “My husband is looking at his i-phone”. Then, think about how extreme your response may be to these simple events. Suspend judgment and just become an observer. By observing you detach. This reduces stress.
  3. What can you still do even if this is true? It’s not the end of the world. For example, if you are stuck in traffic or the waiter gets the order wrong, are there still some rewarding things that you can do nonetheless? Like everything you have done before? I like to list all the things that I can still do today, tomorrow and this week---which, of course, is a lot of things—almost everything. You will quickly learn that your life is unchanged even if this apparently upsetting event has occurred. It’s more a preference than a necessity.
  4. How will you feel about this in a week, month, or year? We are often hijacked by our over-reaction in the present moment. And then we forget about it the next day. This is often what happens in marital conflict—people risk dissolving a long-term relationship based on something that seems absurd two days later. If you see your intense feelings disappear with time, then give it time. Be patient. This, too, will pass.
  5. Think about the event as an inconvenience. It would be nice if everything went your way –but the world is not constructed that way. Rather than label it as awful, a disaster, or something you can’t tolerate, think about it as a minor inconvenience. It would be nice if people didn’t focus on their text-messages when talking to you, but it is an inconvenience and preference---not a necessity.

Keep in mind that you can alter the way you respond to what is in front of you. If you find yourself stressed about everyday events, then it may be that you have lost perspective on things. These daily hassles are often the center of your stress.

To learn more about the many techniques that you can use please see my popular audience book, The Worry Cure, or my new book for clinicians, Cognitive Therapy Techniques. Second Edition.

More from Robert L. Leahy Ph.D.
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