The main causes of stress
There is lots of advice out there about how to manage stress; meditate, take deep breaths, be kind to yourself, have a daily massage, exercise, share your feelings, listen to music, laugh, eat healthily, get enough sleep, mindfulness courses…….the list goes on. All great advice, however, understanding and managing the causes of stress can help us avoid the unpleasant symptoms that are detrimental to our health and well being. The four main causes of stress are:
Threat - Feeling that an important aspect of our life is threatened, for example a relationship, a job, security etc. Visit self discovery for insightful eBooks on such topics.
Change – A change is about to happen and we fear the impact of the change or we fear the unknown. If a change is on the horizon, such as a wedding, moving home, a new job or baby, go to the Big Life Event eBooks for some guidance and tips.
Overload – We have too many things to do and think about and have lost our perspective on managing our lives and our time. If you’re feeling overloaded, break things down with Planners & Checklists.
Loss – We have experienced the loss of someone very dear to us or something that is very important to us. You can turn to Video Moods for some expert advice on how to deal with difficult situations.
Real or imagined stress?
Some causes of stress are based on reality and some are based on what we imagine. The diagram below (Figure 1) shows the two parts of the human mind that influence this. System 1 is the part of the brain that is responsible for fast reactions and decisions. System 1 has no reality and will believe anything. Once it believes something, it tends to make it happen. System 2 is the part of the brain that thinks logically, slowly and when engaged, helps us to think and behave in a way that is more likely to be based on reality. The problem is that system 2 is lazy and tends to allow system 1 to guide us most of the time.
Managing the causes of stress.
Step 1 – Catch it early
Rather than waiting for stress symptoms to occur, ask yourself some key questions on a regular basis.
- Am I feeling threatened by any aspect of my life right now? (Use the check list below.)
- Is a change about to happen that I’m concerned about?
- Am I feeling overloaded and/or don’t have enough time to do the things that make me feel happy and content?
- Have I experienced a loss that is negatively affecting me?
Step 2 – Is it real or imagined?
Next, know what you’re dealing with, real or imagined stress causes? To help you answer this, ask yourself these reality based questions:
- What evidence do I have that something bad is going to happen?
- How do I know the outcome will be a negative one?
- What is the worst that can happen? How would I deal with that?
- What positive things could come out of this?
Step 3 – Deal with it now!
The way the mind works means that our thoughts, behaviours and emotions are all linked. In other words if we have negative thoughts, it will trigger negative behaviors and in turn, negative feelings. As long as we stay in this negative pattern we are in danger of experiencing stress. An example of a negative pattern might be, “When I am in enclosed spaces I am sure I am in danger. I feel frightened and threatened, then I panic and I can’t breathe properly.” If you keep telling yourself this, you can guarantee it’ll happen.
Dealing with imagined causes
To manage stress, we have to take responsibility for our own thoughts and behaviours and turn the negative cycle into a positive cycle. Start by writing down positive thoughts, actions and feelings related to the situation. To trick system 1 into believing it (remember system 1 will believe anything!), make sure you’re writing them as if they are already happening. For example, “when I’m in enclosed spaces I know I am safe. I remain calm and I enjoy whatever is going on around me, as a result, I feel relaxed and confident.” Once you’ve written down the positive pattern, read it every day and visualise what you are reading. In other words see yourself calm, confident and safe etc. Do this for at least 30 days or until the positive pattern becomes a reality.
Dealing with real causes
If the causes are reality based, (e.g. the loss of a job whilst under financial pressure, breakdown of an important relationship, burglary etc.), think about what you can influence and take action to improve the situation. The act of doing something positive will make you think more positively and in turn make you feel better, so creating the positive pattern. Once you’re confident you’re doing all you can, let go of the things you can’t influence or control!
Of course all the usual advice about managing stress still holds; meditating, deep breathing, exercise, listening to music, laughing, eating healthily, getting enough sleep etc. All of these will go a long way to maintaining your well being – but if in addition you manage potential stress causes early on and take responsibility for creating positive thought and behaviour patterns, you’re far more likely to have a happier, stress free life! For some bite sized tips and strategies to help you through stress visit our Video Moods series.