Stress: Learn to Control Your Thought Life

Everybody has stress. If you are alive, you have stress in your life.

Not a day goes by in my clinic that I do not treat someone with stress. It can come disguised as many things.

Fatigue is often secondary to stress. Insomnia almost always has something to do with anxiety. Headaches are often related to stress. Many conditions are also exacerbated by stress.  A diabetic’s blood sugars are elevated when they are stressed.

Depression and anxiety are usually related to stress. In broad terms, depression occurs when people dwell too much on the past. Anxiety is being too overly concerned about the future. However, these are generalizations and are not true for everyone.

Depression and anxiety are like a coin. One side is tails and the other is heads. I rarely see anyone that is completely depressed or totally anxious. People are usually either more depressed or more anxious, but they rarely have one without the other.

If you do not learn to deal with your stress, it will often lead to anxiety or depression. This will also affect your physical health as well. I have seen people worry themselves into having ulcers and heart attacks. One thing I know for sure: too much stress makes it very difficult for weight loss.

One of the keys to dealing with your stress is learning what to really stress over! Most people worry about things that are completely out of their control. When people are stressed, they tend to spend about 80 to 90 percent of their thought life on things they have no control over. They will ruminate on an issue for hours, and they cannot control the outcome.

One of the first things to do when you are feeling stressed and having repetitive thoughts is to ask yourself this: “Do I have any influence over the thought?” Can you change the outcome if you allow yourself to think through the thought? If the answer is no, try not to think about it. If yes, then allow yourself time to think through your options.

The research is fairly clear. When you get a thought, you have about one minute to deal with it. After a minute, if you have not dealt with the thought, you will tend to dwell on the thought.

It is human nature to take a thought and go to the darkest corner. This in one reason solitary confinement is the worst punishment for prisoners. They are left alone with their thoughts.

One of the keys then to dealing with your stress is learning to control your thought life. We tend to think about the things we see or hear. If you are under more stress than usual, limit your exposure to things you may find stressful. I find watching the news to be usually depressing, because all they do is show the dark side of humanity. Reading scary books or watching intense movies are probably not going to help you deal with your stress either.

Philippians 4:8 encourages us to dwell on whatever is noble, true, just, pure, and lovely. I have found this very helpful for calming my mind and my spirit.

When I am having repetitive and stressful thoughts, I imagine that I have an “outbox” in my mind. If I am having a repetitive thought I have no control over, I will put that thought into my imaginary outbox. (I know this sounds like psychobabble, but it works for me!) My outbox is God’s inbox. I will pray several times during the day—just a quick prayer. “God, you promised not to put anything on me I could not handle and you promised you would help me. I need your help on this.”

I often play ping-pong with these thoughts, but I keep on saying a quick prayer. Eventually, the thought will typically leave my mind. Sometimes answers come or the situation changes.

I try not to spend too much mental or emotional energy on things I cannot change. Every thought we have has an emotion tied to it. Some are negative, some are positive. Some thoughts are fairly neutral, but these tend to lean toward the negative. At the end of the day, we are the sum of our thought life. If we have a bunch of negative, depressing thoughts, we tend to be depressed. If we have had more happy and pleasing thoughts, we tend to be happy. Control your thought life.

Everyone has stress. Learn to handle your stress. Learn to control your thought life. Your body will appreciate it!

Wishing you an amazing life.