Challenge Your Ways of Thinking to Transform Negative Stress

Written by Andrea Williams, Organization and Professional Development.

Stress affects each of us in different ways. For some, it provides the motivation to finish a difficult task, but for others, stress has an extremely negative impact. Part of why this occurs is because our reaction to stressors is based largely on our own perception of the stressors rather than the stressors themselves. Since our perception helps determine our level of stress, we can change our reactions and help lower our negative stress levels by adjusting our thinking.

One approach is to utilize the ABC model to help reframe how we experience and manage stress.

  • A: Activating Event — the actual event that causes a stressful reaction
  • B: Belief — how the event is perceived based on your thoughts and feelings
  • C: Consequence — the feelings you have or the actions you take in response to the stressful event that are related to your beliefs about the situation

Put the ABC Model to Work

When you experience a stressful event — anything from a tight work deadline to an argument with a colleague to a major life change — keep the ABC model in mind as you go through the following three-step process to manage your reaction:

  1. Identify your beliefs. Ask yourself, “Why did this situation happen?” Keep in mind that if your beliefs aren’t accurate, you may be overly negative or irrational in your thinking, leading to an even more stressful response.
  2. Challenge the negative thoughts causing your reaction. For example, consider:
    1. Are my thoughts based on fact or opinion?
    1. Am I sure the event happened for the reason I think it did?
    1. Can I view the event in any other way?
  3. Replace your negative or irrational thoughts with positive, rational ones. Determine the aspects of your thought process that led you to react negatively — perhaps you tend to overgeneralize, take things personally or place blame. Checking your beliefs in response to a stressful event can lead to a more resilient reaction to the stressful situation you face, lowering the overall level of stress you experience.

Challenge Your Irrational and Negative Thoughts

Inaccurate perceptions of events, particularly irrational and negative thoughts, can lead to elevated stress and make situations worse than they already are. Common irrational or negative ways of thinking include:

  • Thinking in absolute terms
  • Assuming you know what others think or know
  • Assuming you know how a situation will turn out
  • Assuming similar situations will always turn out the same
  • Making excuses

When you find yourself experiencing negative stress over an event or situation, change your perception of the event by challenging your thinking. Try asking yourself the following questions:

  • Is my understanding logical?
  • Is there any evidence to support my understanding?
  • Am I overreacting?
  • Are my expectations realistic?
  • Am I taking things too personally?
  • Am I wrongly blaming myself or others?

Although we can’t always avoid life’s stressors, we can manage our negative stress when we understand how it affects us. Taking deliberate steps to examine and transform negative stress can help improve everything from your job performance to your physical and mental well-being. For additional stress management assistance, take advantage of the many resources available to MSU faculty and staff, including the Employee Assistance Program (EAP)Health4U, and the MSU WorkLife Office.


Skillsoft Ireland Limited. Take a Deep Breath and Manage Your Stress. Retrieved April 22, 2021 from

Motivational Monday Round-Up

Do you find yourself struggling to feel motivated? Todd Bradley, Senior Learning and Organization Development Specialist in HR Organization and Professional Development, is here to help. Designed to encourage you during a time with many stressors and unknowns, Todd’s Motivational Monday videos provide quick and easy inspiration to start your day off right or get you back on track during a mid-afternoon slump.

Motivational Monday: Positive Influence

Todd offers ideas to help you create positive influence and feel more in control. Learn how to change your perspective using the “art of thinking.”

Motivational Monday: Keep Moving for Stress Reduction

Reminding us that people do better when they feel better, Todd recommends we “keep it moving” to reduce stress.

Motivational Monday: Reflection

When facing challenges and the anxiety that can accompany them, it can be helpful to reflect on the common ground we share with those around us.

Motivational Monday: Responding to Change

Todd discusses the rapid change we’re currently experiencing and how we can better equip ourselves for being in the “hot corner.”

Visit the MSU HR YouTube channel to view additional Motivational Monday videos as they’re posted. You may also find benefit in the resources below, which expand upon the ideas featured in Todd’s videos:

HR Source blog posts

elevateU online courses