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Column: Exaggerators amplify their own stress

The world is fast becoming a universe of infomercial-style exclamations: “It’s the worst!” “It’s the best ever!” “You’ll never need to go to the gym ever again.”

We’re unknowingly being trained to think of and express ourselves in extremes. Words such as everyone, all, always, nobody and never are commonly used. Yet black-and-white language is not an accurate depiction of life. Most of life happens in the gray.

I hear people sharing their experiences in terms of extreme certainty. They say things like: “You’re always late.” “My boss is killing me.” “You never call me anymore.” “Everything has to be your way.”

Events and people don’t cause stress — it’s your interpretation of those events.

Because every situation is processed through your mind, it is from there your feelings are produced. How you view things makes a difference.

For example, your phone battery dies. Are you angry (you can’t check social media) or relieved (I can use it as an excuse as to why I couldn’t return calls) or irritated (this is bad timing).

How do you interpret situations? If you exaggerate the description of the situation, even to yourself, you’ll exaggerate your feelings and consequently your outlook. Take a moment to reflect on what causes you to exaggerate. It probably occurs in more than one area of life. Think about how you exaggerate at work, on the phone with friends or when you tell a story.

When you complained of the traffic, did you tell people you were stuck in it for “literally an hour,” but really it was 30 minutes? Has your computer really been frozen “all morning” or did it go out twice for 30 seconds? Does everyone “hate you” or is one person upset with you?

This week, monitor exaggeration and rein it and see how it positively affects your anxieties, panic and frustration.

If you say to yourself, “I can never do this,” you’re setting yourself up for failure before you’ve even realistically assessed a situation.

Do these two things to begin a new habit of curbing exaggeration:

>> Listen for it: When you consciously start to listen for exaggeration, you’ll hear it many times each day. Enlist a partner so you can hold each other accountable when you employ this bad habit.

>> Correct it: Once you realize you’ve exaggerated, correct yourself immediately.

If someone uses extreme descriptors to you, ask, “Is that true? Does everything always go wrong in your life?”

As you begin speaking factually about your experiences, notice the shift as you form this new habit. You’re likely to feel a lot more centered, and gain perspective as you view life as less polarized.


Alice Inoue is the founder of Happiness U. Visit yourhappinessu.com


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