Stress Management for team members (continued)
What are the causes of stress?The factors that contribute to the experience of stress are many and varied. A useful overview of these causes can be gained by using the 'analysis wheel', to view them. Using this wheel, you can take six different perspectives on the causes of stress. Each of the lists below contains a sample of ideas only - there are many more causes of stress than those listed.
BiologicalThe causes of some stress lie in the biological make up of your body, or the interaction of your body with the food you eat or environment you live in. Some examples of the biological causes of stress include:
- Lack of fitness
- Poor diet (eg: deficiency of vitamins; too much caffeine)
- Allergic reaction to chemicals in food
- Genetic disorder resulting in chemical imbalances in the body
- Changes in bodily functions, such as pregnancy, puberty, menopause, PMT or ageing
Social/culturalStress can be caused by a whole range of social and cultural pressures, such as:
- Change of social circumstances (eg: bereavement of spouse, moving job, marriage, holidays)
- Pressure to conform to social or employment patterns of behaviour, especially where these behaviours are not the preferred behaviours of the individual (eg: demands on an introvert to behave in an extrovert manner).
- Conflict in relationships, or an absence of praise and being valued by others
- Lack of support, time to be listened to, and time for relaxation.
- Having a high-pressure job, being unemployed, or only having a small range of social circumstances (eg: rarely leaving the house, few hobbies).
PsychodynamicThe term 'psychodynamic' refers to subconscious thoughts and feelings, which often arise from childhood experiences. The way in which you learned to cope in childhood is by using defence mechanisms that involved a degree of self deception. You still use those defences today. Examples of psychodynamic causes of stress include:
- Inner conflicts that have not been addressed, but repressed (ie pushed out of conscious awareness).
- Encountering situations that evoke stressful feelings that were experienced in childhood
- Expending effort to maintain defences in situations that threaten self-esteem.
- Lack of self-awareness
- Increasing self awareness and personal growth
RationalThe rational processes in our minds constantly interpret and evaluate the world around. Events can be interpreted in many ways, and the way in which this is done can influence the level of stress that is felt. Some examples of rational causes of stress include:
- Perceiving the consequences of actions as being dangerous or threatening. These perceptions may or may not be accurate - ie the stress might be beneficial, in preparing for a real danger, or harmful, in creating unnecessary stress.
- Having an inaccurate perception of self.
- Believing one is capable of achieving far too much - setting standards and expectations too high (and therefore falling short of them).
- Misinterpreting the actions of others so as to discount (ie: not accept) the love and support that is given.
- Not having the skill or knowledge to cope with certain situations, such as not having a rational approach to problem-solving, or conflict resolution, and therefore being unable to cope with problems as they arise.
ExperientialWhat are you experiencing at this point in time, and how are you, personally, reacting to it? The way in which each individual experiences each snapshot in time, even in very similar situations, is very different. One person may find a situation highly stressful, whilst another may find it stimulating or enjoyable - every reaction is unique. There may be many instant pressures that cause an individual to experience stress, such as:
- Too many simultaneous demands from different people
- Environmental stresses, such as noise, cramped conditions, or cluttered surroundings.
- Needs that are being unmet or frustrated.
- The appearance of a threat to survival, self-esteem, or identity.
- Change in patterns of eating, sleeping, time zone, relationships etc..
SpiritualThe need for individual spiritual development has long been recognised by religion. It is only during the last 30 years that psychology has acknowledged the existence of a spiritual side to the individual. Some spiritual causes of stress include:
- Violation of personal or religious moral code, contravention of accepted group practice, or violation of laws ("sin")
- Lack of spiritual development
- An absence of truth (eg: self-deception and deception of others)
- The lack of a sense of personal agency - ie that one can influence events - or the failure to recognise and exercise choice.
- Absence of a relationship with God, and lack of forgiveness.
Addressing the causes of stressOnce you have identified the causes of your stress, you can then make plans to address them. For example:
|Cause of stress||Action that can be taken to reduce stress|
|Need for time of privacy and solitude not being met||Find a place and a time of day when you can be on your own, or go on a retreat|
|Lack of fitness||Engage in some sport or fitness activity (may need to consult your doctor)|
|Unexplained inner feelings of stress||Consult a doctor, and perhaps get referral to an appropriate specialist (eg: a counsellor or dietician)|
|Stressful job circumstances||Negotiate different working schedules with your boss|
|PMT||Consult your doctor about available treatments|
|Lack of skill to resolve conflict or manage demanding workload||Attend training courses in assertiveness, conflict resolution or time management|
In conclusionThe analysis wheel can be useful in both recognising the causes of stress and in planning how to address them. Each perspective offers a different way of explaining the origins of stress. These perspectives do not necessarily provide 'either..or' explanations - they can be complementary and provide different views of the same cause.
For example, if someone is looking after a large number of children, and finding it stressful, the different perspectives might offer complentary explanations:
- From a psychodynamic point of view, the children may be invoking unpleasant memories from childhood (say, of being bullied by a large group of children), and defence mechanisms try to suppress those memories and feelings (to keep them out of conscious awareness).
- From an experiential point of view, the person may be an introvert, and find lots of external demands difficult to cope with.
- From a rational point of view, the person may be fearful that they are not going to be able to cope.
- From a biological point of view, there may be chemical imbalances in the brain that cause the individual unpleasant feelings in such situations.
- From a social point of view, there may be little support from other people to help the person through a difficult period, or a lack of skill in dealing with large groups of children.
- From a spiritual point of view, the individual is unable to find an inner peace, and is in inner turmoil. This then 'resonates' with the chaos in the world around.
- The person, naturally an extrovert, may have become introverted as a result of bullying in childhood.
- The inner preference for extroversion is in conflict with a self-perception of introversion, which may be contributing to a lack of inner peace.
- The person is fearful that they are not going to cope because they know they do not have inner peace.
- The individual feelings of not coping may also be based in past feelings that he/she did not cope well when being bullied in childhood.
- There might be a relationship between the defence mechanisms formed whilst being bullied, and chemical imbalances in the brain.
- Because the individual is behaving in an introvert manner, a network of friends to provide support has not been built up.
When you read books on stress management, bear the analysis wheel in mind. Ask yourself whether the book is considering stress from a number of perspectives, or whether it is focussing on just one. For example, a book on stress that focuses on physical fitness and diet is using (primarily) the biological perspective. For some people, whose causes of stress lie primarily in biological causes, such a book is very useful. But if your stress is rooted in social or psychodynamic causes, taking a biological approach to managing stress is going to be of limited benefit.
SummaryThe stages involved in managing stress are:
- recognising the symptoms of stress
- identifying the causes
- taking action to address the causes and thereby reduce the symptoms
- where necessary, taking interim steps to relieve the symptoms until the underlying causes have been addressed.
It can help you to identify the causes and solutions of stress by using the analysis wheel (right).