Defeating rumination – How to reduce stress and build resilience

While recognizing stress as a major problem in the workplace, many people assume that there is no escape from such stress. The demands of most jobs are going to create stress — such is the nature of work. This assumption is wrong, however, and the core reason is the failure to distinguish between ‘pressure’ and ‘stress’. Pressure results from external events, such as, for example, a failed project or a looming deadline. Pressure is, indeed, inevitable, and there is little we can do about it. Stress, in contrast, emerges not from an event — past or future — but from our reaction to the event.

University of York professor Derek Roger has been researching stress for 30 years — 15 of those years in collaboration with myself. This research has identified why reactions to pressure produce stress. The culprit is rumination — the tendency to think over and over about something that has happened in the past or might happen in the future. We torture ourselves with never-ending thoughts of regret — “I should have done this,” — or negative conjectures — “What if this happens?”

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