The Stress Cycles

Negative Stress Cycle

When people talk about being "stressed out," it's usually because they are caught in the Negative Stress Cycle. There are important similarities between the Negative Stress Cycle and the Vicious Cycle of Perfectionism - mainly setting unrealistic goals.

Positive Stress Cycle

It is almost impossible to eliminate all stress, and as we learned in "What is Stress?" there is such a thing as "good stress." Our goal should be to keep our stress level manageable.


Print out the Negative Stress Cycle worksheet and pick a recent stressor (something that caused a lot of anxiety and worry.) Try to pick apart what happened with your recent stressor and see if the Negative Stress Cycle applies. As you already learned in the animation, "automatic thoughts" are just another name for worries.

Neg Stress PDF

Then print out the Postive Stress Cycle worksheet and try to create a new way of responding to stress. Remember that it doesn't have to elminate all of your stress to be useful. It's supposed to help reduce your stress.

Pos Stress PDF


FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions

1) "Positive self-talk" sounds like psychobabble to me. Why would I do that?

2) Why are worries called "automatic thoughts?"

3) I've tried the Positive Stress Cycle and it isn't working. What am I doing wrong?


"Positive self-talk" sounds like psychobabble to me. Why would I do that?

Most people, especially people who are frequently stressed or anxious, already engage in negative self-talk. They say things to themselves that are self-critical or assume the worst about someone or some thing. Positive self-talk is a way of "re-programming" ouselves so that we don't automatically assume the worst is going to happen. It's not about being unrealistically hopeful or self-delusional. For example, instead of assuming that the attractive person you are interested in won't give you the time of day, you could say to yourself, "I have good qualities. If I don't approach him/her I won't ever know if I have a chance." Try the "cognitive distortions" module, also.

Why are worries called "automatic thoughts?"

Many of the worries and anxieties we have are not based in the here-and-now circumstances of our lives, but are projections into the future - a future that may never happen. They are often habitual ways of thinking that we engage in without deliberately choosing to do so. In that sense, they are automatic.

I've tried the Positive Stress Cycle and it isn't working. What am I doing wrong?

You didn't get into the Negative Stress Cycle overnight. It probably took years of practice for it to become a habit. Changes that come from using the Positive Stress Cycle will not take years to appear, but it will take a while. Don't give up! Keep at it. If you forget or become discouraged, that's okay. Just keep trying.

Remember to Think Small

Think SmallWhat's one small thing you can do to change the way you respond to stress? Try it as an experiment and see what happens. You can always go back to your old way of doing things.




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