Question: What are some ways that I can think about stressful situations in order to make them less stressful?
Answer: Well I think we need to begin with an understanding that all of our emotional responses first derive from a cognitive appraisal of the situation that we find ourselves in. So that we don't respond emotionally to anything until we interpret it, until we attach meaning to it.
This is illustrated in an example of someone who has learned that other drivers can be rude. And someone told me once about an incident where they pulled up to a traffic light and driver pulled up right behind them, and the instant the light turned green, that driver honked his horn. Well my friend responded first with irritation, but eventually responded with real anger as the guy behind him kept beeping his horn. Only then did he realize that the horn wasn't being honked because this guy was kind of a jerky driver. He was honking his horn because my friend had left his briefcase on top of his car, and his laptop was about to be distributed all over the highway.
In the moment that his appraisal of that situation turned from this guy's honking at me because he's not a very pleasant driver to, he's trying to be a good Samaritan, his emotional response to the situation changed completely from being angry and upset and enraged by this to being grateful and wishing him a nice day.
So we need to recognize that there really are ways in which we think about situations, we interpret them that attaches meaning that drives how we respond emotionally and if we find ourselves in a situation in which we have a routine emotion in response to a stressful situation. It may be helpful to think through how we think about that situation -- the assumptions we're making about it, or the beliefs we hold about it -- to interrupt our stress response.
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