If I asked you why you’re feeling stressed or anxious this very moment, you might tell me it’s because the client has rejected your pitch, or your boss has re-assigned a project to someone else (when you thought you’d be the best choice), or your co-worker shuns you no matter how nice you are to her. There are so many answers to this question there isn’t room to write them on this page.

Let’s just say that those are some of the answers you give me.  Legitimate reasons to be stressed and anxious, yes, but it’s less so the external situation that is the cause of worry and stress, and more the internal processing of external events.

The brain is designed to keep us from harm. When it senses danger, it will help us cope with the threat with a huge injection of cortisol, the stress hormone. And, when it does this, we will respond according to the way we’ve become wired.  You’ve seen or done this:  we’ll argue (fight) or withdraw (flight) or be unable to speak (freeze) or even begin to apologize profusely (appease); unconscious modes of protecting ourselves.  When we respond in any of these ways, we are not using the thinking parts of our brains (the pre-frontal cortex, which is behind the forehead), we are just unloading the surge of cortisol onto the world.

Suddenly, your client might hear you ask for forgiveness; your co-worker might just not get copied on an important email (this is a passive-aggressive ‘fight’ response) or your boss might be told exactly what you think of him, unfiltered, as you are ushered out the door.

In order to really protect ourselves, we must get to the heart of the matter.  And that means analyzing the beliefs we have about our situations.  This is the work of  Dr. Albert Ellis and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy; it is the look at how our beliefs, and in this case, those that are irrational, impact the way we end up behaving.

Irrational beliefs start with, “I should,” or “He must,” or “It would be a disaster if…”  What follows will be the body’s attempt to gain control of a situation that doesn’t align with these beliefs (hello, cortisol) and suddenly we are in stress hell, unable to cope logically, rationally or objectively.  Over time the brain has created pathways that have stored these beliefs, so there’s nothing wrong with you that you are acting in a way that is counter-productive.  Cortisol packs a powerful punch that knocks thinking to the ground. That being said, now that you know what’s going on under your skull, you can engage your thinking brain and do something about it.


1. Your co-worker shuns you and you’ve tried to be easy and pleasant and helpful.  This triggers any number of irrational beliefs (based on who you are).

Irrational Beliefs: She should be nice and respectful towards me!  Maybe it’s because I’m unlikable.  I’m stupid.  I’m a burden.

Objective Thinking: What happened to her that she’s so unhappy as to treat others this way?  What’s going on in her life that she’s so miserable?

2. Your boss assigns a prized project to someone else.

Irrational Beliefs:  He should have chosen me!  I’m the best person for this.

Objective Thinking:  The boss needs me focused on something else now.  The boss wants to challenge this other person and help her grow. There is no such thing as winning or losing, except in my mind.

When we use the thinking brain we literally stop the flow of cortisol and calm down.  The situation might not feel great, but at least you’re not emotionally drained! The more we practice objective thinking in the face of stress, worry and anxiety, the more we can tolerate situations that make us uncomfortable. Then we can dislodge ourselves from taking external things personally. Then we can start to operate from objectivity, confidence and strength.  Then we feel better because we’ve used our brains to get to the heart of the matter.

Thoughtfully yours,


Copyright, PointMaker Communications, Inc., 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jackie Kellso and PointMaker Communications, Inc., with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.