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The ABC Model

Stress is largely personal — what’s stressful for you may not be stressful for someone else. That’s because people’s reaction to stressful events is based on their own perception of the event — not the event itself.

So, if your perception determines your level of stress, by changing your thinking, you can change your reaction. And that can lower your stress levels.

Typically, when people experience a stressful event, they first try to understand why it happened. People’s beliefs about the cause of the event then trigger their reaction. To understand this process, psychologist Albert Ellis designed the ABC model, which breaks down the chain of events.

(Actual) events, (personal) beliefs and (real) consequences

“A” stands for the actual event that causes a stressful reaction. “B” is for beliefs — how the event is understood or perceived based on your thoughts and feelings. “C” is for consequences — the feelings you have or the actions you take in response to the stressful event that are related to your beliefs about the situation.

So, keeping this model in mind, you can use a three-step process to manage your reaction to stressful events.

First, identify your beliefs. Ask yourself “Why did this event happen?” Remember, if your beliefs aren’t accurate, you may be overly negative or irrational in your thinking. This can trigger an even more stressful response.

Next, challenge the negative thoughts that are causing your emotional reaction. For example, ask yourself “Are my thoughts based on fact or opinion?” “Am I sure the event happened for the reason I think it did?” or “Can I view the event in any other way?”

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