Stress Secrets: How To Remove Hidden Sources Of Stress

Most people find it easy to identify the sources of stress in their lives. Ask Maggie M. about the stress in her life and she says, "I run a full time business and have an active toddler. My husband's job keeps him working 10 hours days, so I do most of the errands. I know exactly where stress comes from!" But many people find that even in times of great happiness, they find themselves feeling anxious, depressed or flat-out stressed. One possible cause of these feelings is invisible stressors, for example:

1) Marriage: Being a newlywed is supposed to the culmination of a dream. Women, especially, are often raised to think that marriage is the fulfillment of womanhood. But it's a huge change for men and women alike. Even if you shared living quarters before marriage, the event can give rise to new expectations and pressures from family, friends and work.

2) Travel. Many people schedule travel vacations as a reward for hard work. Beautiful beaches, a week away from the in-box, the out-box, and the phone, endless entertainments for kids. Unfortunately, even the best laid vacation plans can go awry: delayed flights, flat tires, or a sick child can snag even the most seamless vacation plans. And travel advertisement may not be realistic: the beach may be crowded, the best restaurant closed for repairs, the slopes snow-free. Maybe a hidden hope of romance didn't come true, or the antiques shopping turned out to be more expensive or less interesting than you expected.

3) Holidays. While the movie "Home for the holidays" plays on the humor of holiday stress, in real-life the stress takes place real-time. You may be meeting new people or parents who still treat you as if you're a teenager. We may expect gifts, family behavior, or meals that don't meet those expectations. And for many people, holidays bring up painful memories of people now gone, happier times gone by, or past dashed hopes.

4) Promotions. We often view promotion as a reward for hard labor or special ability, with a more prestigious title or increased paycheck. But promotions can shake up your self-image; you may ask if you're really up to the new tasks, deserving of the raise, or capable of handling the new people you'll be working with. Even the increased paycheck can bring up questions at home about how the extra money should be spent (or not spent) and how it will impact the lives of your children or parents.

5) Retirement or children leaving home. You may be thinking: "Ah, now I have time for myself." No more fussing and feuding about the job, the boss, the child's fluctuating grades or more dubious friends. But these milestones also involve a redefining of the self: who am I now that I'm not "a carpenter," "a manager," or "Dad"?

What's The Common Factor

The first key to finding hidden stressors is to look for changes. Any big change, even a positive one, is a change, and change - in our evolutionary pasts - were equated with danger. Our bodies go through a series of hormonal and neuronal changes to deal with potential danger, and we feel stressed until we've learned to accommodate a new situation.

The second key to finding hidden stressors is to look for situations where one's expectations don't match reality. This is the situation when vacations don't go as planned or we discover that our new spouse, wonderful though he is, owns three versions of a video golf game.

How To Manage Hidden Stress

So, how can we mitigate some of these stresses? First, understand that they are stresses. Give yourself the mental space to accommodate these changes; understand that it will take some time to adapt to these changes. Second, recognize what your expectations are about a big change - what are your hopes for your retirement? your pregnancy? Then garner information: talk with friends who've been to your chosen vacation spot, meet with other expectant fathers, talk with your favorite siblings about what worked about the last family holidays and didn't.

Plan for the problems that may arrive, but also make sure your plan has space and time in it for the problems you couldn't predict: don't plan the first event for an hour after you arrive in Orlando, schedule an activity for your weekend guests that will leave you an hour and an empty house to relax in. Make sure there's some dreamtime scheduled into your first few weeks of retirement and some time for spontaneous changes that can be the best part of any new event. While you can't plan for every event, you can give yourself the space to accommodate the unplannable and enjoy the new part of your life.

McConnell EA, "Myths & facts ... about stress." Nursing, Volume 30, issue 8, p. 82, 2000

Jones PS, "Adaptability: a personal resource for health," Scholarly Inquiry for Nursing Practice, Volume 5, issue 2, p. 95-108, 1991

Stokes SA, Gordon SE., " Common stressors experienced by the well elderly, clinical implications," Journal of Gerontological Nursing, Volume 29, issue 5, p 38-46, 2003

Copyright (C) Shoppe.MD and Ian Mason, 2004-2005

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All the best,

Ian Mason

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