The Hidden Causes of Stress – How to handle them

This post is the second of a two-part series on the hidden causes of stress. Part 1 focused on what those hidden causes are; this one discusses what we can do about them.

You’ll remember that stress sometimes has obvious causes like traffic jams and work deadlines. Sometimes, it has hidden causes like either/or thinking or excessive expectations of ourselves and others. But when the two combine, the result is overwhelming stress.

I must point out here that when people begin to recognize their hidden stressors, they can very easily fall into a very common trap that can hamper their ability to deal with stress: They blame themselves. When you begin to uncover those previously hidden causes and determine that some of your stress may be internal. you might begin to blame yourself, too. But it’s a mistake to assume you could have (or should have) thought or acted otherwise. This is simply not true!

As you must be aware from experience (like that gained from trying to change your eating habits), it’s very difficult to abruptly stop habitual thoughts simply because you’ve become more aware of them. In fact, odds are high that you’ll continue to have these thoughts for quite some time. However, there are specific skills that you can learn and practice in order to get really good at handling your stress more effectively.

Try this three step process:

  1. Become aware of your hidden causes of stress
  2. Separate yourself from them.
  3. Deal only with the problem at hand; i.e. the obvious cause.

Let’s go back to the example I used in Part 1. You’ve just had an argument with a loved one. This is the obvious cause of your stress. But the hidden cause might be the either/or thought (“You must not love me anymore”) or the excessive expectation (“Why are you arguing with me? Don’t you know the day I’ve had?”). Once we’re aware, we need to remind ourselves that actual life events and our interpretation of them are two separate things. Now you can tackle the actual problem by talking about the difficult day you’ve had and work toward better understanding.

This is not easy! It will take practice. But once you can do this regularly, you will no longer be stuck with your negative, stress-producing perspective, and you can respond to life events in more productive and effective ways.

This isn’t a miracle cure for stress. But don’t stress over it! Of course, if you do, you’ll be able to deal with it like a superstar.

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.