How to Deal with Stressful Thoughts

I awake from a gentle, peaceful sleep. Within a split second, swoosh!, a jumble of thoughts fills my mind. Another split second, and the peaceful sleep is gone. I start stitching thoughts together, weaving a rather dramatic story about my impending day.  

I begin a stressful dialogue with myself. “Our guests are going to be disappointed that it’s raining on their vacation. I feel responsible somehow. I’ve got to make sure they have a good time. I don’t want them to be disappointed. I resent them for making me feel responsible! No, I’m making me feel responsible for something that I can’t control. What’s wrong with me that I do that?  It’s crazy! I really should be working, not goofing off with family.” I continue the stressful dialogue, going down the rabbit hole of discontent all because of a little rain.

I fall for the dramatic story. Now I’m living the story. I regard the story I’ve created as reality. I give the story my full attention and energy. It takes on a life of its own. I am at its mercy and I feel the heaviness.

I remain ensconced until I become conscious of what I’m doing. In that moment, I’m able to see the stressful story for what it is. Made up. Once I wake up to what I’m doing, I no longer completely identify with it. There is a little space between the story and me. Now, I can breathe a tad easier. I can take the story less seriously and less personally. As I release my grasp on the story, it begins to release its hold on me.

Like clouds dissipating after a storm, the story begins to evaporate. The occasional stressful thought kicks up, trying to gain momentum, but dies down quickly as I simply observe it and leave it alone. I’m free now to go about my day, letting it unfold moment to moment.

Viktor Frankl, who was a holocaust survivor and had every reason to despair, said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” There is a space. In that space, we can choose to follow the stressful thoughts down the rabbit hole or we can disengage from those thoughts and face our day with clarity, whatever it may hold.

This can feel impossible in the beginning as we feel that there is something to fight or solve, but there’s not. Rather, there is something to notice. You could begin to notice how you focus on a particular stressful thought, how you stitch stressful thoughts together forming a stressful dialogue, and how that becomes an unconscious habit. Noticing it makes the habit conscious. Once conscious, you can see the space. Now you have a choice to follow the stressful thoughts or let them dissipate in their own time.

Even still, there are times I become aware of that space, that moment of choice, and I go down the rabbit hole anyway. At those times, all I can do is ride it out and give myself some grace and compassion. I’m learning. I’m imperfect. It’s OK. I’m waking up. You’re waking up, too. You could have a bit more compassion for yourself.


If this blog post resonates with you or if you’d like to explore a new perspective on stressful thoughts, I’m opening up one session on my calendar this next week for the first person who responds, at no charge. Contact Me