I’ve been thinking about stress quite a bit this week, trying to work out an easy way to identify where in our lives ‘stress’ comes from. Sometimes it’s easy as indicated by the image above: my dog is stressing me out (he is a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, a breed known for it’s persistence and determination) .
Sounds pathetic doesn’t it? But wait a minute! He is extremely good at pursuing exactly what he wants, namely: to Play…”Oh good you’re going outside to play with me, no”? “No, I’m going to do some gardening”. “That’s what you think, matey”.
“I’ve got a lovely stick; throw it for me”. “Later”. “Now!!!!!”. “No I need to plant this plant in the new border”. “Yeah right!” “I’m right behind you; did you see my nice stick? I’ll get a ball if that’s better…”.
And so it goes, with me trying to work and my dog (Ozzie) stalking me. When I manage to ignore him for a while he makes sure to throw his ball in the hole I just dug, just in case I didn’t remember his presence. (“I’m still right behind you matey”!)
It’s like some type of psychological warfare and it does stress me out, and, what’s worse, he knows it! He is also much better at keeping up this behaviour than I am in resisting it. Well, at least it’s easy to identify the source of my stress in this instance.
But what if things are more complicated in our lives? It can be hard to disentangle the different pressures having an impact on us. Let’s have a look at how we might go about figuring their different sources.
Generally speaking ‘stress’ is an imbalance between the pressures on us and our coping resources, with the former being greater. To a certain degree then, stress is in the eye of the beholder.
We can try and tease out the different factors that contribute to how we feel, both internal ones (thoughts; feelings;physiological responses) and external ones, such as social, occupational and environmental.
First come our Personality traits of course as we’re the ones processing all the information. This includes how well integrated our personality is and what sort of coping skills we have (for example typical ways of thinking).
Next comes our assessment of the level of pressure or threat we face, for example daily hassles or a life-threatening situation.
Also important is the level of control we have, with less control being potentially more stressful (depending on our personality development).
Alternatively there are such pressures from outside, for example climate, traffic noise, pollution, level of local crime, etc.
And then there is the duration of the stress, either short-lived or chronic.
Depending on our assessment we can take action to either improve our coping skills, or reduce (or avoid) external factors.
With Ozzie it’s straightforward: I can take his ball away until I’m ready to play. Or I can go indoors to avoid him (but he’ll find me!). I could get rid of him and solve the problem for good (I wouldn’t!).
On the other hand I could start a training course in Meditation to make my mind peaceful and undisturbed. Lots of different options to choose from. But he’s only a dog I hear you say; indeed he is and a lovely one at that.
Now imagine that in our example we replace him with a child with behavioural difficulties, say ADHD, or a bullying or abusive spouse. We could consider similar options once we look at things in a structured way.
We could ask for help to improve our coping skills to try and manage our child’s behaviour better; we could go on an assertiveness course to learn to stand up to bullying; we could leave our abusive spouse.
There are various routes to take and some are obviously quicker and easier than others, but therefore also potentially more harmful, such as the use of stimulants or sedatives…
And Ozzie? Well he doesn’t really mind so long as someones plays with him. After all he’s a Terrier and was born ready to rock!