Three stress factors and how they help me

Three factors stress people out: 

  1. a loss of control
  2. uncertainty
  3. a lack of information

If a person believes any of these factors are present and threatening to them, they will feel stress.1

Knowing these factors helps me assess stressful situations and learn from them.

Assessing stressful situations

Where is my stress stemming from? Am I sensing that something important to me is out of my hands (loss of control), in doubt (uncertainty), or over my head (lack of information)?

Sometimes one factor looms larger in my mind than others. Sometimes I perceive all three to be happening at once.

For example, a person I love struggles with alcohol use disorder. Not having control over the other person’s actions (loss of control), fearing for their welfare (uncertainty), and not knowing what to do about it (lack of information) created a stress trifecta for me.

On many occasions, I let this stress trifecta dominate me and send me into a frenzy. These reactions were not productive for me or anyone else. Over the years, people have helped me learn from the experience.

Learning from stressful situations

Knowing the universal factors of stress helps me ask myself, What aspects of this stressful situation are in my control that I might be overlooking or under-appreciating? Where can I find or bring certainty to this situation? What can I do to get more information?

In the alcohol situation, reading books and talking to other people helped me find answers to these questions. I was encouraged to establish boundaries, learn the difference between supporting and enabling, and focus on healing myself. (It was much easier for me to act like all the problems were outside of me, but that wasn’t true. Just like my loved one, I had my own work to do. In many ways, focusing on the hard work I wanted them to do was a convenient distraction from all the hard work on my own plate—the stuff I could actually control.)

I see now . . .

1. What parts of the situation I can control—namely, the steps I take to heal myself. My healing influences the ways I react to and support others.

2. How to bring elements of certainty to a generally uncertain situation—namely, by establishing and enforcing boundaries, learning healthy techniques for self-regulation (walking, meditating, and sleeping more), and identifying when I am not doing so.

3. That I don’t have to feel my way through the dark. I can read In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts to learn about addiction, When the Body Says No to learn about boundaries, Self-Compassion and Owning My Own Shadow to learn about healing. (I have not taken advantage of Al-Anon, but I hear wonderful things about the camaraderie of it.)

Wrapping up

As you work this week, how might you bring yourself a greater sense of control, certainty, or understanding? Similarly, how might you do so for your teammates?

No matter the size or shape, I hope these factors will help you look your stress in the eye and examine it—1% at a time, with self-compassion.

Thank you for reading,

This is Max’s note—a weekly message from Lessonly’s CEO about learning, leadership, and doing Better Work. Sign up below to subscribe via email. No spam, we promise!

1. Page 34, When the Body Says No: Exploring the Stress-Disease Connection by Gabor Mate, 2011.

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