Thinking about Stress

Life can be stressful.   While the media bombards us with talk of war, recession, and layoffs, we are busy working, raising our children, and caring for elderly parents.   The content of our minds reflects the way that we live, with thoughts rattling around all day and sometimes well into the night.  We review, plan, worry, and obsess, and can end up feeling stressed and out of control.

So, what can you do to manage your level of stress?  The common wisdom is that you should change how you think:  stop worrying and replace the negative thoughts with positive or more rational thoughts.   Think better and you will feel better.   Right?

This may work for some people, at least in the short-term.  But for most of us, this not a realistic long-term strategy.  Trying to change the content of your thoughts can be a very frustrating experience.  You push a thought away only to have it come back, sometimes stronger.   The realization that your thinking is “out of control” or at least beyond your control, can result in feelings of helplessness.   Why can’t I change this?  What is wrong with me?  Why can’t I control my thinking?

If controlling your thoughts doesn’t work, what can you do?  The solution is to give up the fight, to let go of your efforts to control your thoughts.    Even though you may not be able to change the content of your thoughts, you can change your relationship with your thoughts, the meaning that they hold for you.

Rather than viewing all of your thoughts as being true, valid, and important indicators of who you are and what your world means, try thinking of them as nothing more than habitual patterns that reverberate in your mind.   They are, for the most part, outside of your control.  They just sort of “bubble” up out of nowhere, products of your past history, your experiences, the media, and the world around you.  You can’t control them and you don’t need to control them.  You can accept them for what they are.

Practice taking the perspective that you are separate from the contents of your mind.  A useful metaphor is to think of your thoughts as being like cloud formations in the sky.  You can see how they form and change, but you know that you cannot control them, and you have no reason to try.  They simply are what they are.   Even though your thoughts may not be pleasant, as long as you view them as “just thoughts” and don’t imbue them with any special significance, their power to affect your mood and behavior is greatly reduced.

If you can cultivate this perspective and begin to let go of your need to control your thoughts, you can devote more energy to living the life that you want to live, and you may find that some of the stress and worry in your life will begin to fade away.

Dr. Albert Jerome is a Clinical Psychologist who specializes in treating anxiety, depression, and stress disorders.   To speak with Dr. Jerome or to schedule a consultation, he can be reached at (703) 723-2999.  Below please find Dr. Jerome’s bio.

Albert Jerome, Ph.D.

Dr. Jerome is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist.  He received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Ohio University after completing internship training in the Department of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry at the West Virginia University School of Medicine.  Further post-doctoral training was completed at NeuroScience, Inc. in Herndon, VA.

Dr. Jerome’s clinical practice focuses on anxiety disorders, health psychology, and problem behaviors among children and teens.  He specializes in treating panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social phobia, specific fears, (such as fear of flying), and childhood anxiety disorders.  His work in Health Psychology includes treatment of headache and chronic pain, health anxiety, and tobacco and drug use.  A wide range of problem behaviors among children and teens are addressed through a combination of individual therapy, behavioral reward systems, and parent training.

Dr. Jerome employs the latest in evidence-based therapeutic interventions, blending  Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with mindfulness training, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and solution-focused therapy.  A tailored, individualized treatment approach is developed through an active collaboration with each client or family who seeks his services.

Dr. Jerome has been the recipient of more than 20 research grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) for the design, development, and evaluation of self-help and minimal contact behavior change programs, and he is a recognized expert in the area of gradual reduction techniques for tobacco cessation.