Have you ever wondered what causes stress in your life? Normally, when people think about the causes of stress, they often imagine stress triggers like work, parenting or relationships.
It's pretty easy to say that work is the cause of your stress, but I am not so sure that any type of work is really what causes stress. So then, we break it down even further and maybe we say the real problem is heavy workloads, too much responsibility, working long hours, having a lousy boss or working under dangerous conditions that are the real causes of stress; however, once again, I am not convinced.
While I agree that these issues and situations may feel stressful to some people, the question I always ask is, "Why do some people feel stress in these situations and others don't?" Some people experience high levels of stress and others have no trouble enduring these so-called stressors and they even rise to the challenge and leverage these stressors to their benefit. It seems very strange to me that one person can find these types of challenges highly stressful and another person finds them highly invigorating and even empowering.
So, what's the difference between these two scenarios or between these two types of people? Why is the question of what causes stress such a unique experience for different people?
I believe that one group of people has become stress victims and the other group of people has become stress heroes.
A stress victim is a person who is disempowered or who has a defeatist attitude about life and a stress hero is a person who has learned how to leverage stress so they can become stronger with each stressor that comes their way. A person who is victimized by stress will always find life harder and more stressful. A person who has learned how to leverage stress will always find challenges exciting and invigorating.
So, basically, what I am saying is there really isn't a clear answer to the question, "What causes stress?" because stress really isn't a thing. Rather, stress is all about perception, tolerance and reactions.
If you think about it in terms of a chair and a heavy object being placed on that chair, we know there will be a weight limit as to how much pressure the chair can withstand before it breaks. There are two possible solutions in this situation. You can either reduce the weight on the chair or you can strengthen the chair to be able to handle more weight.
However, when it comes to the idea of stress in the workplace, you don't always get both choices. Since, you can't often change your working environment, the only thing you have real control over is yourself. Instead of trying to change the work environment, perhaps, a better goal would be to strengthen yourself or change yourself to become a stress hero instead of stress victim. The same would be true about what causes stress in a relationship (you can’t change your significant other, you can only change yourself) or with regards to what causes stress in raising children (you can’t change the kids, you can only change how you respond to them).
Did you know there is an actual field of study called Hormetism, which is based on a phenomenon known as a Hormesis? This is a great subject to study if your goal is to understand what causes stress in life. Some people (skeptics) think that Hormesis is only a pseudo-science; however, the fields of biology and medicine define it as an adaptive response of cells and organisms to a moderate, usually intermittent stress. Not to call the bluff of all the skeptics in the world, but it turns out that Hormetism has been around since the days of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, when it was practiced by the Stoics.
Basically, hormesis means that we have the ability to adapt to what goes on around us, meaning we can control what causes stress in our lives. Applied to the human condition, it means that applying stress, on purpose, and in small doses can actually be good for us.
If you decide to follow the tenets of Hormetism, then you will slowly expose yourself to more and more stress over time in whatever area challenges you so that you become stronger and more able to deal with that stressor as time passes.
An easily understood example would be a weight lifter who slowly adds weight over time so the muscles get stronger and the person is increasingly able to handle heavier weights.
In a work environment, a comparative example could be dealing with office politics. If you feel stressed when faced with office politics, then you might decide to learn how to master office politics in small doses. First, you might expose yourself to some learning about the topic of office politics, such as reading some simple articles and then you can try to find ways to practice the new skills a little bit at a time. Maybe you try to apply the basic skills for mastering this challenge in other less threatening areas of your life so that you can slowly change your perspective, tolerance and reactions to office politics. As you get better at the skills, you can slowly expose yourself to more and more office politics in the actual workplace. In doing so, you have taken what causes stress in your work environment and you have found a way to leverage it, instead of being victimized by it.
Of course, this is just one example, but this basic idea can be applied to any perceived stressor. As you get stronger or more skilled, you will no longer find the situation as stressful and you can move from being a stress victim to a stress hero.
It's kind of like getting used to taking cold showers, which I am told are more invigorating that warm or hot showers. You start by slowly turning down the water temperature over time. The first day, you may really feel cold, but this is just neural noise. After a few weeks, water that seemed really cold on day one, will now feel invigorating.
What about kids? While it is possible to learn to be more adaptive as an adult, it is a much better idea for a child to learn the skills of adaptation in the early years of childhood. That way, the process is much more natural and doesn't have to be forced in any way.
So, if you are still responsible for the care of a child, then you have truly been given a gift because you have the opportunity to teach Hormesis to your child at a very young age.
Why is this a gift? It's a gift because there have been several hundred studies done since the early 1970's that prove the people in this stressed out world who become the happiest, the healthiest and the most successful in every field are the ones who learn to control what causes stress in their lives. In short, they have learned how to adapt to stress. They are the ones who do hormesis naturally. They are the ones who learned it in childhood, while they were still very impressionable and malleable. They are the ones who are stress hardy and resilient. Academic skills or IQ are both important to open doors in life, but it is adaptation, stress hardiness and resilience that keep those doors open wide and allow young people to achieve the real leadership positions without compromising health and happiness. Being in charge of what causes stress in a person’s life makes all the difference in the world.
Now, I don't know about you, but I definitely want that for my children. So, in the future, don't waste your time worrying about what causes stress; instead, start thinking about how to leverage stress to become a stress hero rather than a stress victim and be sure to teach your children to do the same.
You really can't avoid stress in life, so you might as well stop trying and instead make stress work for you. Start taking control today of what causes stress in your life and do the same for your children.