Through the years in my psychotherapy practice, I've noticed that people basically have the same issues. I've discovered that there are 12 core attitudes that underlie all our problems, although each person has a slightly different story based on his or her particular situation and upbringing. These attitudes are things like feeling the need to control, or being selfish, or being judgmental. The 12 attitudes and the problems they cause stem from three core emotions that often go unexpressed: sadness, anger, and fear.
I designed an online survey that would help me find out which core emotion causes people the most trouble in their lives, and which attitude is most predominant. Based on answers from 1,000 participants, I discovered that the most dominant emotion they experience is fear. And that fear manifests as stress and anxiety. My Attitude Reconstruction Survey shows that many of us have forgotten the "be here now" mantra of the 1960s, which promoted happiness and inner peace. The most prevalent attitude I identified from my survey is that people aren't able to live in the present very well. More than 7 out of 10 (71.4%) participants reported that they're preoccupied with the past or the future half or more of the time. Focusing on past "what ifs," or dreading what might happen in the future — the next shoe that's about to drop — are classic symptoms of fear. Interestingly, almost 6 out of 10 of those surveyed (58.6%) said they also feel a need to control half or more of the time. Control is another common fear symptom. The problem is, living with fear on a daily basis can lead to chronic stress. These attitudes mirror our culture today. We're trying to do too much, and are sacrificing our health and well-being in the process. It's interfering with our ability to relish the moment and enjoy our lives. We're being ruled by fear! Here's a short list of some strategies that quickly dissolve fear-based stress in one's life.
1. Shiver away your fear.
It works. While shivering, try not to think of all your worries and stressors. In your mind, repeat these two simple statements over and over: "It's OK," and "Everything will be all right."
2. Don't "pile up" your worries.
One of the ways we get overwhelmed is by entertaining thoughts about everything at once. Try to focus on one concern, and think it all the way through. This mental exercise can be very calming because it requires that you slow down your thoughts and organize them in a linear fashion.
3. Make a detailed task list.
Writing down a list of to-dos is a good way to break a problem down into smaller, easier tasks that can be more easily accomplished when tackled individually. Make a list of what needs to be done and attend to one thing at a time.
4. Don't go it alone.
Any overwhelming situation becomes less so when you delegate or ask for help. If a task really does require your brain and your skills, you can still make it easier by asking a friend or colleague to help you with a less demanding aspect of your work or life — one that's taking your precious time and energy from the more burdensome problem.
5. Be kind to yourself.
Doggedly interrupt those critical thoughts about what you didn't do well and lavish yourself with appreciation about what you did do. Repeatedly remind yourself that you're doing the best you can, or that you did the best you could at the time.
6. Get into the now.
When you feel fearful and worried, do something that gives you a break and brings you into the now. Close your eyes and focus on taking some deep breaths. Grab a few minutes throughout your stressful day to step back from the overwhelming workload or problems and do something to refresh yourself. Throw water on your face. Do some jumping jacks. Walk around the block. Or take a 15-minute nap.
Want to find out more about the attitudes and emotions that dominate your character? Take a quick self-quiz here, then try the coping strategies designed to address them.
Jude Bijou, M.A., MFT, is a respected psychotherapist, professional educator, and workshop leader. Her award-winning book is Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life.