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How To Describe a Stressful Situation

Before adding a stressful situation in a Stress Log it is important to decide which situations are worth taking the time to describe. Your negative emotions can be important; they are often telling you something is wrong.

Situations worth describing in a Stress Log may be clearly eventful (e.g. a friend just canceled dinner plans at the last minute) or not clearly eventful (e.g. contemplating the day ahead while laying in bed in the morning). As long as you felt negative emotions at the moment, it can be important to record in a Stress Log. Start by describing the situation.

When describing a stressful situation in a Stress Log answer the following:

  • When did it happen? Make this a specific, short period of time; usually minutes and no more than a few hours at the time of the event. Avoid broad timeframes, like "The whole weekend." Even if the irritating circumstances stayed present for a long time, it is better to focus on what was going on at a specific moment.
  • Where were you? Include your location at the moment.
  • What were you doing? At the moment you became aware of your emotions, or just prior.
  • What was happening? At the very moment you felt the negative emotion (or shortly prior). It may take a few minutes to fully digest a stressful event (e.g. a hurtful comment) before it gets to you and you start feeling a negative emotion.
  • Who was with you? It may be crucial to understand a situation to include if you were alone or with other people. If you are with others: Who are they? What were they doing at the moment?

A good example: "I was watching TV mid Sunday afternoon. It was a long weekend and I was all by myself, alone in the house."

How to Identify Negative Emotions

Don't think too hard about this one. Limit the description to the one-word emotions listed or add your own. People often say things like: "I feel like a failure," "I feel like a loser," or "I feel like I'm wasting my time." For MindQuire exercises avoid describing your emotions this way. These are thoughts or ideas that can be challenged, not emotions. Even if you are quite certain you are right about these views, they are ideas and thoughts, not emotions.

Sometimes emotions are easy to identify and name. You may clearly feel sad, anxious or angry. Other times you may feel discomfort, an unpleasant sensation in your body or simply an awareness that you are not happy. That may be confusing, so in the next section you will learn how to identify different emotions.

How to Identify Automatic Negative Thoughts

Start by asking: What thoughts or images were in your mind at the time you were feeling the negative emotions? Pay attention to when your mood changes and ask: What was running through your mind at the moment?

Automatic thoughts are usually in the background of a more conscious thought process and may be difficult to identify. Through practice you will be able to bring these thoughts into consciousness.

Sometimes images rather than words will cross your mind when you are feeling upset. You can picture a scene, a situation, someone's reaction, another's facial expression, or the tone of someone's voice. Try and describe this in your mind with words, even if there were no words in your mind at the time you were feeling upset.

  • Automatic thoughts can be related to how you view yourself.
    • Did you change the way you perceive yourself because of the negative emotions that were triggered by a stressful situation?
    • May the negative emotion you felt be linked to a change in what you know or assume of your self?
  • Automatic thoughts can be related to how you assess the future.
    • Are any thoughts or images in your mind related to how you foresee things turning out?
    • Are you expecting danger? Or failure?
    • Are you predicting your interpersonal life to be or stay in a certain way?
  • Automatic negative thoughts can be expressed as questions that imply something negative.
    • If you fail a test and think, "What kind of an idiot fails this?" the implied automatic thought is "I am an idiot." This is the thought you should label and challenge.
    • If you feel chest pain, you may think "Am I having a heart attack?" and become intensely afraid. The idea or thought to challenge is better phrased as "I am having a heart attack."
    • Common types of automatic negative thoughts
    • All or nothing thinking: Black or white thoughts that ignore the shades of gray of reality. "My boyfriend is the perfect guy for me." "The presentation at work was a complete disaster."
    • Overgeneralization: A negative event leads to conclusions that assume the negative experience will generalize to other areas, other people or over time. Overgeneralization usually include terms like "always" or "never", or "everybody" or "nobody" - "Nobody will ever care about me." "I'll never amount to anything."
    • Catastrophizing: Assuming things have or will end up in catastrophe. "The phone is ringing in the middle of the night, somebody must have died." "I won't pass this test, teachers will figure out how inept I am and I'll never graduate."
    • Disregarding the positive: Failing to see or incorporate positive feedback or events in the assessment of yourself or the current situation. "Getting an award at work doesn't mean anything. I don't really deserve it; many people could do a better than me."
    • Should statements: Self-defeating statements that emphasize rules and expectations. "I should be making more money." "I have to lose weight."

How to Find Evidence For and Against a Thought

Write here the facts and evidence you can think of that may support the idea that the thought being challenged is correct or that it is wrong.

Start with the argument for supporting your automatic thought:

  • What makes you think so?
  • What objective information about the situation that triggered your Stress Log entry rationally supports your automatic thought?
  • What evidence from the past can you recall that may constitute further evidence that your automatic negative thought is accurate?

Then consider any available information, reasoning or experience that may be against the veracity of your automatic thought:

  • Is there anything about the situation that just happened that goes against the automatic negative thought being challenged.
  • Have you ever had an experience that shows the statement being challenged is not always completely true?
  • If your statement includes a prediction of the future, what other outcomes are logically possible?
  • If somebody close to you had this thought, what would you tell him/her?
  • If you were feeling more optimistic or calm, what would you think of this statement?
  • Are there any positives about you or your current situation you may be ignoring?

How to Create Alternative Balanced Thoughts

After a rational consideration of the evidence for and against the thought being challenged, you are likely to come up with a more balanced statement that can replace the automatic negative thought.

Write an alternative thought or view of the situation that is consistent with the evidence.

Avoid any "positive thinking" you rationally don't believe. This statement needs to be something you believe. Be rational, but truthful.

The idea here is not to go from a "I'm finished" to a "Everything will be alright." Statements like "Not all is lost" or "Things may go wrong, but it is not certain or even likely." may be closer to what you rationally believe to be true.

How to Re-rate your certainty

After doing this Thought Challenge exercise, how much less convinced are you about the statement being challenged? Are you now 100% convinced the automatic thought being challenged is not true at all? If so, then change your certainty to 0%.

Are you less certain now that this may be accurate, but still think it may be so? Re-rate how certain you are now of the statement being challenged. Try to do so thinking rationally, not rating how you feel about it. You may be convinced by now your automatic thought is completely false, or very unlikely, but still feel as-if it was true. Let your rational brain here decide what's true, or how certain you are about the statement, even if you still feel otherwise.

Recording a Log of Daily Activites

Information is Power. Knowing how you spend your time and how you feel when doing different things can be uniquely helpful. You may think you already know how you spend your time and how you feel about the different activities in your life, but research consistently shows that the human mind distorts the recent past when trying to recount events. And this is even worse if you are anxious or depressed.

Be curious. Wonder what you will learn about yourself. In just a few minutes a day you can easily enter many activities with one or few words and rate the emotions you had at the moment. You'll be gathering powerful information for you and your therapist.

Try using the same word(s) for the same activities on different moments, so you can see summaries of how much you do that same thing and how you've felt about it over time. For example, don't enter "Watching TV" as "TV" one day, and then "Watch TV" another day. You can call any activity how ever you want, but whatever you consider to be the same thing, name it exactly the same every time. If you consider two different activities to be different things, then call them differently. For example, if watching the news, to you, is significantly different from watching TV otherwise, you can call them "news" and "tv."

Monitoring Symptoms of Depression

Depression is not only feeling sad. It also affects your interest in things, how much energy and motivation you have, how much you can enjoy life and how you think, sleep and eat.

Blue Scale helps you easily quantify how you are doing in all aspects of depression.

For each symptom of depression listed pick a number from best (0) to worst (100) by simply moving each slider to the right. To move each slider quickly you can simply click on the bar around the spot where you want to rate each symptom. For fine tuning you can use the arrows in your keyboard in order to move the sliders to the right or left one point at a time.

At the end of the page you'll find a slider to rate "Overall Depression." You may consider the previous symptoms as much as you want here. This one slider is for you to score your depression overall, however you define it. It doesn't need to be the average of the previously entered symptoms.

By default, Blue Scale will assume you are reporting the intensity of your depression for one day (today). If you want to report how this symptoms have been over the past week or two weeks (or any number of days), you simply need to select a different date range on the top right of the page, under "Days to Report."

Monitoring symptoms of Anxiety

Anxiety can affect the way you feel (afraid, nervous, panic), the way you think (worry, problems sleeping) and the way your body works or how you perceive it (muscle tension, palpitations, shortness of breath.)

Anxiety Scale helps you easily quantify how you are doing in all aspects of anxiety.

For each symptom of anxiety listed pick a number from best (0) to worst (100) by simply moving each slider to the right. To move each slider quickly you can simply click on the bar around the spot where you want to rate each symptom. For fine tuning you can use the arrows in your keyboard in order to move the sliders to the right or left one point at a time.

At the end of the page you'll find a slider to rate "Overall Anxiety." You may consider the previous symptoms as much as you want here. This one slider is for you to score your anxiety overall, however you define it. It doesn't need to be the average of the previously entered symptoms.

By default, Anxiety Scale will assume you are reporting the intensity of your anxiety for one day (today). If you want to report how this symptoms have been over the past week or two weeks (or any number of days), you simply need to select a different date range on the top right of the page, under "Days to Report."