The things that cause us stress are known as stressors. Often we think of stressors as negative things, such as a hectic work schedule or an unhappy relationship. But in fact anything that puts a lot of demand on us or forces us to adjust to a new situation can be stressful. This can include positive events like getting married, buying a house, or winning a promotion.
What causes us stress depends on our perception of it. Something that you find stressful might not ruffle someone else; they might even enjoy it! My grandparents loved moving house – they wouldn’t stay in a place for more than a couple of years before they wanted to move again. My aunt on the other hand has lived in the same house for over 30 years – she says the very thought of moving brings her out in a rash! The same event (moving house) produces two very different reactions. To my grandparents moving house represented fresh starts and adventure. To my aunt it was upheaval on a traumatic scale.
There are however some common causes of stress – we’ll split these into external and internal causes.
Major life changes – job, house, relationship
Work pressure, lack of direction, lack of support
Having too much to do
Children and family issues
Internal causes of stress
The following are some of the internal causes of stress:
Living with uncertainty
Being a perfectionist
Whilst we can’t always control the external causes of stress, we can control the internal ones. Sometimes shifting our attitude or beliefs about a situation can have a major impact on how much those events stress us. For example, if you have a belief that you’re a flawed person, you’re likely to ignore a lot of evidence that you’re good at things and only notice the things you’re not doing well – and therefore feel stressed about them. The fact that you find it hard to balance the good events with the bad gives you a skewed perspective on how well your life is going and how valuable you are as a person. Improving your self-esteem doesn’t make the balance of events any better, but it does allow you to notice more of the good – which means you get a better perspective on the bad stuff.
But perspective is only one part of the solution. Knowing what your stress triggers are, recognising your own feelings of anxiety, and having some practical strategies for calming yourself when life gets stressful are all important too.
It’s also useful to have some positive beliefs about stress. Remember that it’s a natural, protective instinct of our bodies. It’s designed to help us. It cannot kill us – sure, left unchecked it can cause long term damage and potential health problems, but short term, it’s not going to hurt you. It feels bad – but don’t add to the stress by stressing about the fact that you’re stressed! Accept it and do something about it. Fighting the stress escalates it and makes it worse.
So what can you do, Well, you probably know a lot of things already. When I’m working with people one of one or in a training room there’s no lack of suggestions for dealing with stress – it’s remembering to put them into action that’s the problem.
Here’s what I advise my clients – make yourself a stress buster list of activities you know help to soothe, calm and relax you. If you love the outdoors put going for a walk in nature on your list. If you’re an exercise junkie, put running or cycling on there. If you’re an extrovert, put going out with your friends or a club on there. It doesn’t matter if you like to bake, skate, play the trombone or sing karaoke to relax – just do it. Build in time to do the things that restore and rejuvenate you. THAT is what will make the biggest difference to your stress levels – whether you actively invest the time to keep your stress levels in check.