The most common cause for stress I witness as a therapist is a refusal to adopt to change. Stress itself is not bad. We experience stress when we experience a heightened sense of arousal in response to negative experiences our brains have interpreted as worrisome or a potential threat.
For example, if you are experiencing a bad relationship with a supervisor at work, it is perfectly natural for you to experience stress, in response to your brain seeing this as a potential threat. After all, your supervisor is responsible for rating your performance on the job and in most cases a deciding factor for how long you keep your job. If you are in a position where your job is a sole source of income it is understandable that you may feel threatened if you suspect that your supervisor is not happy with you. If you lose your job, your ability to sustain yourself in regards to your basic needs will become inconvenienced until you find another job.
So what if you find yourself in this position? What do you do? Most people in this position would approach their supervisors and attempt to find out how to remedy the situation. I have counseled with people who have taken this route, only to continue to experience the same negative encounters with their supervisors.
In most cases like these I have dealt with, once the person runs out of options he or she continues to go through a sequence of activities they have traditionally done. Show up for work on time, remain courteous, to co workers and supervisors, address official issues with the supervisor all the while experiencing an emotional breakdown on the inside. In a few cases the person would have made an attempt to find a new job, but after one or two rejection letters they usually give up on this route. All the while, the primary stress-or he or she is experiencing continues unabated.
This post is not meant to discuss work issues per se, it is meant to address why some people deal so poorly with stress. The primary reason? Our beliefs. What we come to believe plays a primary role in how we deal with stress. Our beliefs are like doors to other realities, one belief can open your life up to multiple opportunities, while others can lead to dead ends. So if I were to use the example of an employee experiencing being emotionally stuck as a result of all his strategies to end the problems with his supervisor not working, I would say that the employee is operating on a set of limiting beliefs.
On the surface that belief could be that the current employment he has is the best he can do, and there are no more opportunities out there for him. When people make these statements with me, I dig deeper to learn if this is really what they believe, then the belief changes to people are just refusing to hire. Upon further investigation, once the person comes to realize how irrational this belief is, he later comes to the conclusion that he holds unto the belief that he should not suffer, which has lead him towards playing by a rigid set of rules in his work life and thus, his current situation.
So yes, I am writing in this post, that the common cause for stress is the belief that suffering is intolerable, and therefore should be avoided as often possible. When we come to believe this, we run into dead ends, in our professional and personal relationships. We avoid change because we want to avoid suffering.
Suffering is inevitable, I have found that when clients come to accept and make peace with this fact, they come up with surprisingly simply solutions to the problems they experience.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
In this previous post, I discussed how we use cognitive rules which lead to us being upset, while in this post I am going to discuss how to transition getting past being upset to a more rational mindset. There are three ways we upset ourselves, the first is only accepting ourselves conditionally, having irrational rules of engagement with others and being resistant to disappointment.
Unconditional Self Acceptance.
One of the most common ways people upset themselves is only accepting themselves conditionally. Without realizing it, if we set up certain conditions for our happiness, such has having a certain type of wealth, a certain type of profession or being involved with a certain type of person, we have set up ourselves to become upset if any of these conditions to our happiness are not met. Being upset in this instance should not be confused with disappointment, this is because disappointment is an acknowledgement and acceptance of things not going your way, while being upset is an acknowledgement of things not going your way, but a refusal to accept things not going your way. One way of learning to get past being upset is to practice unconditional self acceptance. Seeing yourself as a worthwhile human being simply because you exist, and not based on your accomplishments or your relationships.
Preferential Treatment from Others.
We love to be accepted by others, our drive to be accepted by others is so powerful that we even want others who we do not accept, to accept us. Yes, at our primal level we are irrational beings, which lends some explanation to our irrational expectations to be liked and accepted by others. One of the best methods of getting past our tendency to become upset in response to rejection from others, real or perceived is to change our rules of engagement with others. This means that expectations of acceptance from others become preferences. To preference your expectations for favorable treatment from others, you simply have to recognize that people like yourself have personal power. This means that you to come to place of acceptance that people have a choice as to whether or not they are going to accept you and that you are powerless to their opinions. We can’t force those who reject us to accept us, but we can certainly come to a place of peace regarding our powerlessness over the choices of others.
Things aren’t supposed to go our way all of the time, if they did life would cease to have meaning. Challenges in life are what give us a sense of meaning and purpose, which makes the idea that things should mostly go our way an unhealthy one. It is easy to see why people become easily upset when things don’t go their way, given that difficulty in coping with disappointment comes from placing one’s sense of happiness on one hopeful outcome.
Happiness in life comes from from our ability to see ourselves as worthwhile people and our positive interpretations of our life experiences. This best way to overcome being upset over disappointment is to see the disappointment as a part of your process and journey towards a desired outcome.
In summary,while being upset is a normal human phenomenon, it certainly isn’t a state of mind that’s healthy for anyone to be in for a prolonged period of time.