This post is Part 1 of a two-part series on the hidden causes of stress. Part 1 will focus on what those hidden causes are, and Part 2 will focus on what we can do about them.
One thing is certain: our modern lives are stressful! They’re full of responsibilities, difficult people, conflicts in our relationships, illness and injury, financial pressures, and a host of other problems that cause stress. We call these “obvious causes” because they’re the ones everybody notices. Traffic jams and work deadlines are obvious causes.
But “hidden causes” are the missing puzzle pieces that most of us typically fail to recognize, hence their name. Often, these stressors are equally important. Sometimes, they’re even more important.
So what are these hidden causes? They’re our own thoughts, beliefs, opinions, attitudes, expectations, etc. The two most common hidden causes come in the form of either/or thinking and excessive expectations of ourselves or others.
From a very young age, we are culturally conditioned to think in either/or terms. For example, when following the 5 & 1 Plan, we are either on plan or off. In reality, we can be making progress toward our goals even if we are not 100% on plan. Not acknowledging that middle ground causes us stress because it’s too simplistic to recognize our achievements.
Likewise, excessive expectations cause stress because they are frequently unrealistic or untrue. Unrealistically high expectations can set us up for failure, which can lead to frustration, anger, and disappointment. Or we can have unrealistically low expectations, causing us to perform way below our capabilities, and that may cause us to fail to act on opportunities or achieve our goals.
When we experience an obvious cause of stress—like having an argument with a loved one—then our hidden causes of stress appear and make things worse. Perhaps we fall prey to either/or thinking: “You must not love me anymore.” Or perhaps we think: “Why are you arguing with me? Don’t you know the day I’ve had?” an example of excessive expectations.
We all have these hidden causes of stress; however, having the ability to recognize and deal with them is the critical difference between people who are really good at dealing with stress and people who aren’t.
But awareness of your hidden causes is just the first step in learning how to more effectively cope. In Part 2, we’ll discuss how you can do this.
In meantime, start to call those less obvious causes of stress out of hiding. What are your either/or thought patterns? What are your unrealistic expectations?
Information adapted from The 14 Day Stress Cure: A New Approach for Dealing With Stress That Can Change Your Life, by Doc Orman M.D.