Biggest Causes of Stress
Some of the biggest causes of stress are actually controllable. It is much more reasonable to eliminate what stressors you can and then manage the rest, than cause yourself additional stress by trying to fit in “a relaxation program”.
Biggest Causes of Stress Overall
- We have high expectations. The media and advertisers constantly hold up what we should have because all the cool people do. We see the lifestyles of the rich and famous and start to think this is normal or usual. We insist on instant gratification and demand life give us more and more. The western world is one of overall discontent, even though we have so much.
- This discontent and our perception that others expect more from us drive us to busyness. We are no longer content to do one thing to completion. We multi task everything from eating to relating.
- Our busyness and multi tasking of relationships spreads our attention and care very thin. Marital stress particularly can be very destructive. It can stir up core conflicts, reduce our confidence and health, and deprive us of the most important stress reliever – a strong supportive relationship.
- Our sped up world creates conflict. We are so rushed and so distracted that it is difficult to pay attention to other people’s needs, hopes and fears. We don’t notice changes in tone or micro facial expressions.
- Other people also have high expectations. They want things from us yesterday. Everything is urgent and everyone seems impatient.
- This urgency and impatience increases irritability and anger. Anger and other strong emotions are contagious.
- We are hard wired to defend and improve our status. In our cave person days, our survival depended on our status within the group. The higher up the pecking order you were, the better your access to food, resources and mates. In modern times, food and resources are much less dependent on our status, but we can still behave as though perceived threats to our status were a live and death situation.
- Our need to maintain or improve status shows in many ways. We strive to acquire way beyond our actual needs, even when it harms our health, relationships and enjoyment of life.
- Our need to achieve can also get out of control. While striving is a pleasurable and enjoyable activity for humans, it is all too easy to become addicted to achieving and competing for its own sake, even when it undermines other priorities. Achievement stress comes from this imbalance, but also from using deprivation to motivate you.
- Being busy is something Western culture values and can be a kind of status symbol in itself.
- Conflict can be a great source of stress. When your needs are at odds with the organization or other people’s needs you can experience from mild to catastrophic stress. Conflict can be at many levels
- territorial – disputes about ownership of property, assets and also about violations of personal space
- Behaviors of others in trying to achieve their outcomes can stop your goal setting efforts.
- Beliefs – different beliefs have often been the foundation of conflict on a mass scale.
- Values can create conflicting ideas about which important goals to pursue
- Personal rights and responsibilities. My right to sick leave may conflict with your right to get what you pay for.
- Our self image and roles can be in conflict with those of others. Cultural changes for instance in gender roles can trigger create damaging conflicts. If you think your role is to be the dominant decision maker and your partner doesn’t see herself as submissive, you could be in for a rough ride.
- Loss can be very stressful. Studies show we feel twice as much pain in losing than pleasure in gaining. We are hard wired to learn to avoid loss. Loss can be anything from resources, connections, capabilities, status to the way we see ourselves. Many cultures invest heavily in avoiding “loss of face”
- Competing can be very motivating in certain circumstances. When we frame everything as a competition, or we compete with people we should be cooperating with, it can be damaging and stressful.
- Communication skills can make or break our ability to get our needs met. Improving negotiation and conflict resolving skills can be one of the most powerful ways to manage stress. If everyone gets what they want, no one gets stressed.
- Our average working week has increased from 40 to 50 hours, that’s a 25% decrease in leisure time. We cannot recover or recreate ourselves.
- Commuting and traffic jams take even more of our time. And, you can’t fight or flee from a freeway pileup.
- Our world is much less predictable. The pace of technology and change means our pattern recognition doesn’t work as well. We are faced everyday with new challenges we may never have considered, because they had never happened before.
- If it wasn’t bad enough to have the working week extended, communications technology means we cannot get away from work. Cell phones, instant messaging and email make us available & accessible.
- The media indulges our need for instant gratification. Editing is fast paced, jumping from scene to scene so we don’t have a chance to get bored and change the channel.
- Control is something we all need and want at some level. Children naturally seek to control their environment and themselves. Whether it is control over our choices or control over other peoples’ choices, not having control when we want it can be upsetting. Witness any 4 year old not getting what he wants.
- Money is a big stressor is many people’s lives. We have such high expectations, but this is not the whole problem. Having money is a symbol. It tells us we are good enough, special and that we belong to particular groups.
- Our sense of control in our fast paced and changing world is often very tentative. Most of us feel an overall lack of control. We can have a sense of never completing anything or being on top of tasks. The world keeps changing and we aren’t keeping pace. By the time I finished my last degree, at least 50% of it was obsolete. We can feel like Sisyphus pushing that darned rock up the hill.
- A lack of time is predictable with our busyness, expectations of self and others with less actual leisure time than ever before. The urgency spiral demands more, faster, higher. We can feel like we are on a speeding train and cannot get off. The need for downtime, to recreate, get perspective and find pleasure in relationships and hobbies can go unfulfilled or unnoticed.
- We are increasingly exposed to external pollutants we’ve never before encountered. Chemicals in the air assault us, toxins in our food and water are always present and constant noise surrounds us
- Other external stressors included temperature and injury.
- Internal stressors include substance abuse, infection, hunger and lack of movement (we did not evolve to be couch potatoes). Muscle tension can affect posture and breathing
- Dietary stressors include our attempts to lose weight by food deprivation and worry about how much we are eating, as well as poor food choices generally.
- Alcohol, use of stimulants, and tobacco are often our ways to combat stress. Alcohol seems to relax us initially. Alcohol produces toxins that our bodies then have to process. It then increases anxiety & depression as blood alcohol drops, making us want more.
- Tobacco initially makes us alert and relaxed, but we start withdrawing in minutes. That pleasant feeling is from endorphin release to reduce the pain your lungs feel. There are some 4000 toxic chemicals in cigarettes that our bodies have to detoxify.
- Caffeine raises adrenaline & cortisol. Our bodies experience the accompanying dehydration as stress.
- Sleep deprivation is extremely stressful, leading to fatigue, frustration and impatience. Some studies attribute increasing road rage to lack of sleep.
- We can feel pressure from many sources. Our perception of pressure is entirely self-generated.
- Responsibilities take many forms. We take on particular roles and the responsibilities that go with them. We then insist that we have no choice about the role, trapping us in a prison of our own making. Our caregivers and culture hypnotize us with beliefs and expectations about what we should, must and have to do and be.
- We respond to how things used to be or could be. We resist changing – we are designed to cruise on auto pilot – it is much more efficient for our brains. Imagine if we had to do everything consciously. We couldn’t multi task anything. We couldn’t walk and talk at the same time. When events change our world or our capabilities however, we try to regain what we have lost.
- We tend to over commit. When we say we will do something, we often have a completed picture. We don’t consider how much time, energy or resources we will need. It takes a split second to say “yes” to a request or demand that might take months to complete. We are social creatures who want to please and connect with others. We enjoy seeing close others happy. Authority figures like bosses also affect us. We can frame requests as non-negotiable commands.
- Often our biggest source of pressure is ourselves.
- We try to prove our competence, often by competing with others.
- We burden ourselves with our modal operators of necessity (shoulds and have tos) without questioning what would happen if we didn’t.
- We must be liked; right; in control.
- Things have to be done right; done now; done by me.
- We “motivate” ourselves with negative consequences, leading to disengagement and alienation.
- When we don’t achieve something we beat ourselves up. When we do achieve it, we just move on.
- We dwell on our faults rather than our abilities and things we can be proud of.
- We overwhelm ourselves with details and urgent tasks without a big picture or an ability to prioritize.
Work Place Stress
For many people, organizations are very stressful.
- Unclear goals, a lack of specific measurable objectives and ambiguous expectations, can make it difficult to complete tasks and fulfill responsibilities.
- Poor communication overall
- A lack of meaningful feedback undermines feelings of accomplishment and the ability to improve.
- Lack of flexibility can lead to a great deal of pressure to juggle other responsibilities and goals.
- Lack of meaningful participation and engagement can lead to boredom, disconnection and mindlessness. Boredom can be extremely stressful.
- Politics, status and dominance games can not only undermine the goals of the organization, but the human need to create, achieve and improve.
- Arbitrary and artificial deadlines contribute to the overwhelm of too many tasks in too little time.
- Constant interruption can make it impossible to get into a flow state (a great stress balancer). Technology is largely responsible for this modern day stressor.
- We have never had so much information available. Yet our filtering, categorizing and prioritizing skills lag far behind. What do we pay attention to? What is important, urgent and /or irrelevant?
- According to statistics, (1) workplace bullying has affected nearly half of all American workers as a target or witness. Some 80% of the bullies are bosses. Being unfairly treated, humiliated or undermined can cause extreme stress as well as negative effects on health
- A lack of challenge and /or boredom is just as stressful as overwhelming challenges. Positive stress, also called eustress keeps our brains and bodies youthful and flexible.
- Alienation and isolation is stressful. We can be surrounded by people and yet have no meaningful connection with them. When we treat each other like parts of the production process, we detach ourselves from them. Feeling connected increases your life span and quality of life.