During my career as a clinical psychologist I focused on the treatment of anxiety and stress problems. People who came to see me were often desperate to get better, but they didn’t know how. There is a lot of misleading information out there about stress and anxiety and charting the correct course is often not clear or intuitive.
People need simple and clear information that is based on solid research. My graduate studies had led me to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), an evidence-based treatment for anxiety. After reviewing hundreds of CBT studies, I realized that four basic coping skills seemed to underlie all the successful treatments of different types of anxiety.
In my 30+ years of clinical practice, I worked successfully with many patients in helping them to develop these coping skills. Many of those patients were members of the business community. The following is a description of my work with one of those patients. Let’s call him Tom to protect his identity.
I clearly remember Tom, a top-flight pharmaceutical salesperson. He had come to see me because he had experienced a recent downturn in his sales figures. He told me that a few months earlier there had been a negative news story about one of his products. He said he now found it stressful to make phone calls or even walk into a doctor’s office to talk about medications. He reported that these problems started when he first failed to meet his monthly sales goal. He told me that he’d lay in bed at night worrying about calling contacts who would reject his attempts to schedule an appointment, and, worse yet, being rebuffed in person when he was finally able to see them. The problem had gotten so bad that he was not making his usual number of contact calls and now he didn’t even want to go into the office.
Over the next few appointments I helped Tom see that meeting his sales goals was not completely in his control. He also had no control over the negative news story or what his contacts might have thought about it. On the other hand, however, he could take control of how many contacts he called each day and he could rehearse his sales information and how to give good answers to his customers’ questions. Tom also learned to take a few long breaths while relaxing his tense muscles just before making his calls or meeting his contacts. I helped Tom counter his own unrealistic thoughts that popped into his mind when he was about to talk with a customer – for example, “I will fail to answer their questions” could be countered with, “If I plan and rehearse good answers, I will be able to answer them well.” Finally, I helped Tom to set realistic goals for the number of contact phone calls he would make each day. Tom began to meet his contact goals and within a few months his sales figures had returned to their previous high levels.
What were the four coping skills that Tom learned? “A” for Acceptance of what is and what is not under your direct control; “B” for Breathing slowly while relaxing muscle tension; “C” for Countering unrealistic thoughts that may pop into your mind; and “S” for Stay with it and face your fears.
For more about coping with anxiety and stress, you can read my book The ABCS of Coping with Anxiety. Click here for more information: https://www.crownhouse.co.uk/publications/the-abcs-of-coping-with-anxiety.
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