Most people think stress is something that simply happens to us, due to triggers and situations beyond our control. Even the terminology used to explain and visualise stress metaphorically describes stress as something that happens to our physical form. For example, we are stretched too thin, feel a great pressure weighing down on us, or are worn out from carrying a heavy workload. This way of referring to stress reinforces the idea that stress is happening to us.
However, the things we tend to blame for our stress, such as work, study, time or relationships, are not actually the causes of our stress. Rather, it is our own minds and the thoughts or stories that we tell ourselves that cause us to feel this way, and the things we tend to blame are actually triggers.
Dr Mike Evans, founder of the Health Design Lab, speaks of stress as a volume dial in your brain that can be turned up or down, and the management of stress as a skill that can be learned rather than a behaviour or attitude we are born with (Evans, 2012). Recognising that stress is a mindset is the first step toward effective stress management. Reframing the source of the pressure or stressful situation is a powerful tool that can lead to ongoing stress relief. You can think of these mindsets as traps you need to overcome, and to do that, you need some more tools in your belt.
Keep reading to learn how to get the tools you need to escape the four most common stress mindset traps you may fall into:
As David B. Posen says, ‘the key to reframing is to recognize [sic] that there are many ways to interpret the same situation’ (Posen, 1995). Just like the age-old question, ‘Is the glass half-empty or half-full?’ the answer lies in your perspective.
To reframe your negative mindset, you need to consciously make the decision to focus on the positives of a situation as well. This isn’t to say you need to put on rose-coloured glasses and ignore any negative thoughts, but try to set the intention of having a more balanced view. To do this:
It’s hard to stop overthinking once you’ve begun, but here are three strategies to help you stop, reframe, and escape this mindset:
The polarising mind trap means you tend to see things only in extremes, polar opposites or black and white (Grohol, 2019). This rigid thinking pattern can give you an all-or-nothing attitude towards your circumstances, which can be a danger to your stress levels, as your instinct may be to give up instead of persevering through your difficulties – which can make things more difficult in the long-run (Neenan, 2008).
In the context of study, you might start your semester off with a goal of attending all your lectures each week, but find that one week you miss one. Having a polarising mindset means that in this situation, you’d likely decide you may as well not go to any other lectures, since you missed that one and have already ruined your chance of achieving the goal you set yourself. This mindset creates an elevated level of stress because then, as a result of not attending all your lectures, you begin to fall behind in your work, and experience a lack of self-confidence in your capabilities, to the point where you feel as though you might as well give up completely. By viewing your actions from this ‘all or nothing’ perspective, you can see how quickly down the spiral you can slide, when it doesn’t have to be that way.
Bring some brighter colours back into your thoughts by choosing to view your situation in a different light. If you notice you are having a polarising thought, ask yourself:
Although giving your all can help you to reach your goals, it is important to remember that small setbacks, or even bigger failures, don’t necessarily signal the end of your ability to achieve goals of any size along your study journey. When things start to become difficult or you make a mistake, the ability to reframe your mindset to view that mistake as only a small bump you can overcome, rather than a permanent road closure that stops you in your tracks, can make all the difference. Train your mind to persevere through these minor detours and instead ask yourself what you can learn from this difficulty. By reframing your mindset, you’ll be able to rebuild your confidence and continue to work towards your goals.
Stress is recognised as one of the main factors affecting students’ studies (Pascoe, 2018), so if you find yourself stressed and trying to juggle a study load along with everything else going on in your life, take comfort in knowing that you are not alone! By understanding what mind traps you tend to fall into and learning how to reframe your mindset, it is possible to reduce the impact stress has on you and increase your ability to do well at uni.
Stress is a normal part of our lives and sometimes it can even be helpful if we keep it at the right levels. Learn what you can expect from your stressed self so you can manage your stress effectively; or, if you feel like you might benefit from professional support to cope with your stress, make an appointment with the student Health and wellbeing team for support.
Evans, M. (2012, June 9). 90:10 The single most important thing you can do for your stress [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6402QJp52M&feature=youtu.be.
Grohol, J. M. (2019). 15 Common Cognitive Distortions. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/lib/15-common-cognitive-distortions/.
Hare, J. (2017). ‘Epidemic of stressed university students.’ The Australian. Retrieved from https://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/epidemic-of-stressed-university-students/news-story/6faa252ef18984e39bc5cd24f6413a22.
Neenan, M. (2008). ‘From Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) to Cognitive Behaviour Coaching (CBC)’. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 26, 3–15. doi:10.1007/s10942-007-0073-2.
Pascoe, M. (2018). ‘Why we should put yoga in the Australian school curriculum.’ The Conversation. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/why-we-should-put-yoga-in-the-australian-school-curriculum-89962.
Posen, D. B. (1995). ‘Stress management for patient and physician.’ The Canadian Journal of Continuing Medical Education. Retrieved from http://georgiadisaster.info/MentalHealth/MH11%20CopingandRecovery/Stress%20Management.pdf.
Raghavan, S. (2018). 6 health problems caused by overthinking. Retrieved from https://www.thehealthsite.com/diseases-conditions/stress-diseases-conditions/health-problems-caused-by-over-thinking-k0118-553937/.
Stallard, P. (2018). Think good, feel good: A cognitive behavioural therapy workbook for children and young people (2nd ed.). Retrieved from https://books.google.com.au/books?lr=&id=0YB_DwAAQBAJ&dq=fortune+telling+thinking+trap&q=.