Where Stress Comes From and How to Mitigate It
Rev. Dr. Kitty Boitnott, NBCT, RSCP
Heart-Centered Career Transition and Job Search Coach | Stress Management Coaching
When it comes to causes of stress, there are some obvious causes. And then there are the not-so-obvious causes.
The obvious stressors include the loss of a loved one or the loss of a job. Stress can also be caused by illness, or any number of traumatic situations, like, for say, a pandemic that disrupts your life in every way for over a year.
And then, there are the more subtle causes of stress, such as a difficult work relationship or worry over finances. Stress is often related to a general sense of not being in control in some area of your life.
Now it is important to note that not all stress is necessarily bad.
In fact, some stress is good. It can help you perform better on a test or during a performance. It can help sharpen our ability to meet the moment.
The thing is our stress response is often automatic. It is the result of our brain is trying to keep us safe.
We are hard-wired to respond to stressful situations.
For example, the stress you feel as you begin to cross an intersection and someone suddenly runs a red light is crucial to your fast, physical reaction. Slamming on the brakes is a good stress response.
When stressed, your body automatically responds with a "fight or flight" reaction. You don't even have to think about it.
Your natural defenses kick in full-force. Your adrenaline level immediately shoots up, giving you the strength and speed you would never have without it.
So, in the right situation, stress can be helpful.
However, chronic stress, which is more than just an incident here and there, can have a detrimental effect on your health. In a nutshell, stress is the body's response to intense or difficult situations. Those situations can be sudden and traumatic or continual and subtle.
Here are just a few possible causes of chronic stress.
1. Difficult relationships
Being "trapped" in a difficult marriage or familial relationship can be extremely stressful. And it can become a source of chronic stress if you don't do something about it.
Divorce is said to be one of the most stressful relationship situations that people can experience.
I can vouch for that. I was in a difficult marriage with a man I loved but who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder a year after we got married. I often felt like I was walking on eggshells because my life was so closely bound to his moods, which were mercurial at best. He could be charming and wonderful. He could also be cruel and hateful.
It took me a long time and several marriage counselors to conclude that I couldn't stay in the marriage. But divorce is equally stressful, at least for a time. So, I am all too familiar with the stress associated with living with someone who is emotionally ill. And I also know that breaking up brings on its own set of stress-filled challenges.
Yes, retirement can be a stressor. Any major life change can be stressful, and retiring is definitely a major life change.
You won't have work-related stress anymore. But we all need to feel that we have some sort of purpose, and retirement without a plan can cause you to feel like you are at loose ends. It is better to plan ahead and know how you will fill your days after you retire from your work.
It can also be stressful if a husband or wife retires while the other spouse continues to work. It changes the household routine, and it can cause stress for everyone concerned.
Grave illnesses like cancer are very stressful for both the individual and the entire family. Cancer isn't the only illness that can cause acute stress, however. Lots of auto-immune diseases can also create long-term stress.
People with Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis are dealing with what is referred to as chronic stress as opposed to acute stress or episodic stress. They are constantly dealing with their illness and depending on what stage they are in, stress can exacerbate their symptoms.
Sustaining an injury can be a big stressor, too, especially if it affects your daily routine for very long. Depending on the nature of the injury, your entire lifestyle may experience upheaval. And you may suffer from chronic pain as well. Chronic pain of any kind can create stress on the body and on the emotions.
Whether your injury is from a fall, a car accident, or some other source, stress is a natural reaction to the pain and the disruption in your life. Like illness, the injury affects both the injured person and his or her loved ones as they strive to provide care.
Do you feel like everything has to be "just right," or else you're a failure? Are you constantly looking forward to a time when things will be "perfect" so you can finally be happy?
If so, it may be very stressful when things aren't "perfect" because they rarely, if ever, are. Perfection is really an illusion. But there are some people who consider themselves to be perfectionists, and they can't be happy unless everything is "just right."
It may help to try to give yourself a break and recognize that perfectionism isn't necessarily a virtue. In fact, it can be a hindrance in your life if you expect yourself to be perfect or if you hold your loved ones up to unrealistic expectations.
No one is perfect, and it is too much pressure to put on someone to expect them to live up to standards of perfection.
In the book The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz cautions readers to "Always do your best." But only do your best. Don't strive for perfection. It is not only stressful, but it is unrealistic. Give yourself a break and simply do the best you can. Give up on the idea of trying to be perfect.
How to Mitigate and Relieve Stress
You need to be in tune with yourself and check in periodically. How are you feeling in the moment? Are you responding to events in your life appropriately, or do you feel like everything is out of control?
We are all stressed right now because of COVID and the changes it has forced upon us this past year. We will all be changed forever because of the experience.
But that doesn't have to be a bad thing.
Some good things about COVID are that it has made us appreciate the little things more. It has certainly forced us to slow down. And it has made us more aware of just how closely connected we are. Those are good things.
As for mitigating and managing your stress, it might help to slow your mind down as well as your body.
- Take a long, soothing bath to help wash away some of the stress of your day.
- Cut back on the caffeine and drink a decaffeinated tea.
- Go for a long walk and listen to your favorite music while you walk.
- Call a friend and talk out whatever is bothering you.
- Commit to getting the sleep you need every night.
These are just a few things you can do to take control of your stress actively.
We all need to be kind to ourselves and others during times of stress. At the end of the day, we are doing the best we can. Hang in there. Be kind to yourself first and foremost. And remember to be kind to others.
Until next time.