beliefs create the world that we live in, and our beliefs and thoughts therefore also create the stress we experience. If we think something is safe and possible to conquer, then it is. But if we think the opposite then that will be our experiences"
(Janice Calnan, Psychotherapist)
Stress and the Role of Beliefs (Rules for
We come into this world with no beliefs and as soon as we start to learn we begin to develop from our parents, peers,
school, media, a set of beliefs and views that we use to interpret ourselves, other people, events, experiences and the world
in general. All of us have a belief system with different Rules for Living that we use on a daily basis to interpret,
measure and deal with ourselves, other people and the world in general. We
have beliefs about how things are, how people should behave, about ourselves and events that happen to us. We develop these rules for living based on what we learn as we are growing up, on our own life experiences,
as well as from other people and the culture we live in. A lot of these
beliefs are held unconsciously and so most of the time we don't give them much thought, although they do influence our thinking. They can be realistic or unrealistic, helpful or unhelpful and we can keep these under
control. However when we are stressed these stress exacerbating thinking errors and beliefs can become less controllable.
We have literally thousands of these beliefs, a few examples can include:
· People can't change
· Nobody likes me
· I'm stupid
· I'm a bad parent
· I'm not pretty
· I'm ugly
· I'm not clever
· I'm no good
· I'm lazy
· I'm a failure
· I'm useless
· I'm not good enough to get that job
· I'll never get a boy/girlfriend
· I must be perfect at all times
· People don't like me
· People are always unkind
· I'll never be happy
· If anything can go wrong it will
· Life's a bitch and then you die
· I'm not good at mixing
· I'm worthless
These beliefs are not 100% factual they are personal opinions. The problem
is that because we think them, we believe they are correct and they create for us a psychological straight jacket, and if
they are rigid and inflexible they can cause resentment, anger and frustration and can exacerbate any stress we are under. These beliefs are held by many of us, they are not a sign of illness, but when we
are having difficulties with stress, they can compound the stress we are under.
The philosophy of western culture can play a large role in forming unrealistic beliefs and expectations. A lot of our thinking arises from growing up and living in a world where performance standards are
set high, praise for a job well done is seen as encouraging an undesirable swollen head, and criticism of mistakes is never
far away. Clinical psychologist Dr Oliver James, author of the book Britain
on the Couch, partly blames the increased incidence in Stress, Anxiety and Depression on unreasonable performance standards.
Many common stress-induced beliefs include the words ought, should or must, for example:
I ought to have done better
Life should be fair
I must get all this done today
Some common Shoulds and Musts are:
I should drive an expensive
He should be more polite.
I should be a better tennis
She should look where she
is going when she drives.
I should always look perfect
when I go out.
He should never interrupt.
I should have done better.
· I should be living in a better house by now.
I should be earning more money.
I must not make a mistake.
I must cope with everything.
Things must go well.
Other beliefs and thoughts often use the words "awful", "terrible", or "can't stand it", which usually exaggerate the
reality of the situation.
Challenging our Beliefs
can be a potent source of internal stress so we can help lower our stress by looking at our thoughts and beliefs and assessing
them for their accuracy. However many of our beliefs can actually prevent us
from taking action and often we have never been taught how to assess our thinking. We
should remember our thinking is not fixed for life; our beliefs are not irreversibly etched for evermore in stone, we can
change them. We will be talking about how to challenge our beliefs later in the
Some Examples of Common Stress Inducing Beliefs
We have many types of beliefs, some of the most common ones include:
Demand for Approval
In the Demand for Approval Belief we tend to think that others must always treat us well. We must have love or approval most of the time, from everybody who is important to us, otherwise we are
not worthy. The problem with this belief is that we don't like everybody
and therefore it's unrealistic to want everybody to like us. Just because somebody
doesn't like us doesn't mean we are failing.
High Self Expectations
In the High Self Expectations Belief we tend to believe that we must achieve success and be thoroughly competent
in everything we do to be worthwhile. We should never make mistakes; if we do
make mistakes or perform poorly we are a failure as a person. Instead of realising
everybody makes mistakes and what we should be concerned with is learning from our mistakes.
The fact that we are concerned about our behaviour shows that we are not such a bad person.
In the Dependency Belief we tend to think we need to depend on someone or something stronger than ourselves because
we cannot cope with life by ourselves. Instead of the realising that it is better
to take the risks of thinking and acting independently.
In The Helplessness for Change Belief we tend to think that our past is all-important and that because something once
strongly influenced our life, it is the cause of our present problems today. The
past will keep determining our feelings and behaviour, we cant change, this is how we are and were helpless to do anything
about it. Instead of realising that everyone has the capacity to change.
In the Emotional Control Belief we tend to think that our feelings are caused by external pressures such as other people
and therefore we cannot change the way we feel or have any control over our emotions. Instead of realising that by altering
our perception and thinking we can have a positive effect on our emotions.
In the Blame Proneness Belief we tend to think that people, including ourselves, must not do anything wrong and that
certain acts or behaviours are awful or wicked; those who behave badly (including ourselves) should be severely punished. Instead of realising that certain acts are inappropriate or antisocial, and that people
who perform such acts are behaving stupidly, ignorantly, or neurotically and would be better helped to change rather than
In the Personal Idealism Belief we tend to think that the world and other people must be fair and just.
In the Frustration Reactivity Belief we tend to find it difficult when things or people are not the way we would like
them to be. Instead of realising that it would be more helpful if we were able
to change or control conditions so that they become more satisfactory, or if that is not possible, to temporarily accept their
In the Problem Avoidance Belief we tend to think that it is easier to avoid rather than face life's difficulties and
responsibilities. Instead of realising that very often this leads to more complex problems than if we had been proactive and
dealt with the issues in the first place.
We Must Be Free From Anxiety At All Times (Discomfort Anxiety)
In the Discomfort Anxiety Belief we would rather be without pain, comfortable and free from anxiety at all times; we
think that we would find it difficult to cope if this was not the case. Instead
of realising that this belief often stops us doing things that would be beneficial to ourselves or others and that in fact
situations are very often not as bad as we had perceived they would be.
In the Perfectionism Belief we tend to seek a right and perfect solution to every problem and wish to be certain, and
in control, of all situations. We believe people and things should turn
out better than they do and that things must go well. Instead of realising that
the world is full of probability and chance and that one can still enjoy life despite this.
Hypersensitive to Potential Dangers (Anxious Over Concern)
In the Anxious Over Concern Belief we tend to feel anxious or hypersensitive when faced with risky, uncertain or potentially
dangerous situations. We worry about them constantly and are on our guard in
case they might happen. Instead of realising that the worry about a situation
is often much worse than the situation itself, and things often don't turn out as badly as we had thought they would.
In the Over Caring Belief we tend to think that we should become upset over our own and other peoples problems and
that those who don't are uncaring, and uncompassionate people.
Fear of Losing Control
In the Fear of Loss of Control Belief we tend to worry that when we are stressed or anxious, we may be going mad and
wont be in full control of ourselves; we fear we will have a nervous breakdown and/or be admitted to hospital.
Click here to be taken to The ABC Model of Stress