Psychological Self-Help

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51
decisions quickly and with unjustified optimism. They deny their
anxiety and don't think much about the situation before or afterwards.
If you take risks, which type fits you best? Obviously, too much fear
inhibits us too much and too little fear doesn't inhibit us enough. 
Decision-making is known to deteriorate under intense or prolonged
stress; we become confused and irrational emotions may take over
(Janis & Mann, 1977). See chapter 13 for ways to improve decision-
making as a part of coping with stress. 
How and what you think determine your stress level
Humans are constantly anticipating what is going to happen,
sometimes accurately and often times incorrectly. We especially dwell
on the good and bad possible consequences of our actions and
choices. We can imagine how others will feel and act in the future. We
can understand and misunderstand why others do and feel the things
they do. All these cognitive abilities can serve us well or poorly; careful
planning for the future can help us cope and reduce our stress;
pessimistic predictions can make us miserable. For some reason, in
our current culture, we seem very unaware of the many ways we could
be viewing and interpreting a situation but aren't. Here is a classical
example of cognitive processing: 
Suppose you are waiting for your boy/girlfriend who is half an hour
late, which is unusual for him/her. You will think, "Why isn't he/she
here?" And, you may answer the question from several viewpoints
(called schemata by cognitive psychologists) or ways of understanding
the situation, e.g. you can apply a rejection interpretation: "he/she
isn't very concerned about or interested in me," or a threat
interpretation: "I wonder if he/she has met some attractive person on
the way here," or a catastrophe interpretation: "Oh, God, I hope
he/she hasn't had an accident--I heard a siren a minute ago," or a
shame interpretation: "I hope no one sees me waiting here, it's
embarrassing to be stood up," etc. All these interpretations would be
wrong if he/she simply got caught in traffic. Yet, each different
interpretation leads to a different emotion. But, you don't have to
force the data into any category (interpretation), you could refuse to
draw a conclusion and just find something else to do until the
boy/girlfriend shows up." But, most of us have our "favorite"
expectations or schemas or ways of looking at things--it is part of our
personality. By becoming aware of our tendencies to take certain
viewpoints that may be wrong, we can start to change by testing the
validity of our interpretations and opening our minds to more accurate
ways of understanding our situations (see the later sections describing
self-help methods). 
Let's consider the kind of cognitive schemas or structures of
agoraphobics that lead to feeling afraid of having a panic attack
(Hoffart, 1993). Such patients have certain beliefs: (1) once anxiety
about becoming terrified starts, it doesn't stop and just gets more
intense, (2) specific symptoms will lead to a disaster, e.g. rapidly
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