Are you causing your stress? A study suggests you might be

Whether it’s a deadline at work or simply a bad day, you definitely have experienced certain levels of stress. The thing is that stress is relative to your health, so it affects your eating habits, mood, blood pressure and mental health. Hence, you need to find the factors that stress you out and deal with them; however, one study suggests it is actually you

Stress caused by your choices 

How odd, right? But, hear Fallon Goodman [1] out first. She teaches psychology as an assistant professor and holds the Emotion and Resilience Laboratory director position at George Washington University. Goodman suggests that individuals can create stressful events as a result of their behavior. 

Don’t get it wrong, though. Some stress comes from an unruly force that something out of your control. Goodman is much interested in the role of the person itself in identifying the degree of stress to experience. It is more like how much stress you put on yourself about an event. 

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Dependent and independent stressful life events 

Moreover, the study looks into the stress generation hypothesis, suggesting that individuals experience stressful events because of their behavior. In psychology, it is called “dependent stressful life events (dSLEs),” stressful experiences caused by your choices.

Some examples of dependent stressful life events can be procrastinating on a challenging task or starting an argument with your partner. Dependent stressful life events are also known to be associated with major depression [2]. 

Are you causing your stress? | Stressful situations

On the other hand, there are also called “independent stressful life events,” which involve those large, uncontrollable things that may happen. Some examples can be a car suddenly breaking in the middle of the road or a deep freeze bursting the water pipes.

Stress generation and social anxiety: are they connected?

Knowing that the degree of stress can be self-inflicting, as per Goodman, people with anxiety could be stressed all the time, don’t you think? Anxiety refers to a persistent feeling of fear, dread and uneasiness, causing you to feel restless and tense most of the time [3]. 

Consequently, the study of Goodman and her colleagues explores the relationship between stress generation and social anxiety, which is a type of anxiety characterized by consistently feeling fear and avoiding social situations.

The research found that people with higher social anxiety symptoms and social anxiety disorder experience more dependent stressful life events compared to those with lower social anxiety. 

The study also looked into different perceived intensity, chronicity and self-blame of stressful life events among the participants. In the end, the researchers found that people with social anxiety disorder believe that dependent and independent stressful life events are equally impactful.

Interestingly, people with social anxiety put greater blame on themselves for the occurrence of dependent than independent stressful life events [4]. 

The facets of social anxiety can make it hard for the sufferers as it generates and escalates stress even more. For instance, you did not ask questions during a work meeting because of your fear of attention and looking foolish in front of your colleagues. As a result, you might disrupt your productivity later since you missed important details. 

Another example is not showing up on your friends’ night out because you fear that there would be many people around the bar, and so you stayed in your room feeling lonely and left out. 

The results of Goodman’s study were published in the Journal of Affective Disorders. The researchers provided initial evidence of the relationship between stress and social anxiety, which can be quite promising in effectively understanding and managing stress even more. It suggests that we truly have more control over stress than we actually thought. 

Controlling stressful life events 

Experiencing acute stress from time to time is not concerning and is considered normal. However, when stress is experienced over a long period of time, it becomes chronic, which can lead to major depression.

Worse, chronic stress can cause you to develop:

  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Skin problems
  • Menstrual problems for women

Hence, controlling the way you deal with stressful life events is a must [5].

The findings of Goodman’s work in determining the relationship between stress generation and social anxiety are believed to have similar effects on people with other mental health issues. A person’s symptoms may get worse because of stress, creating an unhealthy cycle of mental habits. So, how do you really control stress? 

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Taking control over stressful life events is more like positive mind conditioning. It would help to think about how you would respond or cope with the stressor. Some ways can be seeking support from loved ones, walking in your neighborhood or doing hobbies that make you feel good about yourself [6]. 

Also, you can try to find the root of the stressor and think of ways to deal with it. Find solutions and try to communicate with people involved in the situation. Goodman urges you to ask yourself questions like “What are you doing, saying, or thinking? What problematic patterns caused this stressor?”.

More importantly, people with social anxiety should take the line of questioning a step further and realize how their fear of social rejection is making their situation more difficult. 

Stress management | Writing down

5 tips for managing stress 

It can be frustrating to experience frequent stress as it can get in the way of achieving success or affecting daily life activities. As presented in the results of Goodman’s study, you can ultimately influence personal stress and help flip the script to have more power over your life.

You can simply follow some tips below on effectively managing stress. 

1. Write a list

Identify specific events and areas of your life that you are consistently most stressed about. You can write a list and arrange them into one being the most stressful. Then, reflect on your role in all the stressors you jut down on your list.

Being honest is the key to helping deal with your stressors. As Goodman says, more often than not, one’s personality or behavior fuels the stress fire.

Some questions to ask yourself: 

  • How much control do I have over the situation?
  • What am I doing — or not doing — to make this situation better or worse?

2. Change the situation

Figure out ways to change the situation so the problems you are facing in the present don’t reoccur in the future. You may need to improve your communication skills and the ways you operate your daily life.

Expressing your feelings rather than bottling them and letting them fester is also a good step. Try to consider confronting the issues as well, rather than hide from them, and be willing to compromise. 

3. Adapt to the stressor

Most of the time, you can’t alter the situation for independent life stressful events. Hence, you can simply adapt to the stressor.

Find an acceptable way to reframe the issue so that it doesn’t stress you that much anymore. It is more like developing a new perspective on the problem to make it less stressful. 

You may look at the big picture and see the lessons that life challenges might be teaching you. For some, you need to adjust your perfectionist standards and reshape your personal attitude. By following this, you can embrace the situation and learn from it instead of resisting and fighting. 

4. Schedule time for fun and relaxation

Leave time to nurture, recharge, have fun and be creative and free – or simply relish life. It will help if you start striving, stretching and achieving even smaller goals to have healthy mental health.

In fact, a study suggests that people who spend time on leisure have been reported to be 10 percent happier and 30 percent less stressed [7]. You can simply follow some tips below to fuel your mind with good thoughts: 

  • Make a regular schedule to have fun and adopt healthy ways to relax and recharge.
  • Keep a good sense of humor. 
  • Bring gratitude and happiness to the forefront.
  • Do not set aside relaxation time. It is a must, similar to eating and exercising. You need to add rest to your daily schedule.
  • Connect with people you find interesting and admire. Spend time with positive people who add value to your life. 
  • Develop hobbies and perform them whenever you have time.

5. Have a healthier lifestyle

To effectively handle the stressors in your life, you need to increase your resistance to stress by strengthening your physical health.

  • Work out regularly – add exercising or doing a workout to your everyday schedule. Do it for at least 15 to 30 minutes three times per week.
  • Follow a healthy diet – there are many types of diets that can help you consume enough vitamins and minerals, like the Mediterranean diet. Having a well-nourished body can help you cope with stress.
  • Avoid caffeine and sugar – lower your consumption of coffee, soft drinks, chocolate and sugary snacks to make you feel more relaxed and sleep better.
  • Avoid alcohol, cigarettes and drugs – avoid drinking alcohol or consuming drugs that may provide you with an easy escape from stress. 
  • Have enough sleep – ensure to have adequate and quality sleep to fuel your mind, as well as your body.
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