How To Identify Your Stress Triggers

Today we live in a very hectic society that thrives on instant gratification, and practically everyone is starting to feel the burn - enough that it can no longer be swept under the rug. 

Stress levels are on full blast, as everything must be done fast and achieved faster.
It’s akin to living in a pressure cooker!  Either you learn to let off steam, or you’ll explode… metaphorically speaking.  And literally speaking, stress has been linked to at least 6 of the major causes of death.
To some degree and in small amounts, tension and stress are good for us.  They stimulate the hormone cortisol, which then influences the fight-or-flight response; without these responses, we wouldn't be alert to danger. 
Healthy stress is called 'Eustress' ... which means relatively minor stress on an occasional basis.  This type of stress kicks in when you’re about to give a speech or any other public display, and can actually help you to perform better.

However, chronic stress and/or anxiety can have really damaging effects on your health.  Being a recognized gateway into depression, inflammation and other ailments, chronic stress is also known to increase blood pressure.

Chronic stress can be a habit, and it can take time to learn new responses.  Identifying what triggers you, is one of the first steps you can take towards a lighter heart and a happier mind. 

Keep a Trigger Journal or Notebook

Try to start writing down everything that stresses you throughout the day...
For example traffic, your boss’s voice, someone's critical comment, the lady who cuts in line when you’re already running late, an empty promise from a friend.  It doesn’t have to be rational – you just have to make note of it. 
If it triggers you, it's important!
You may also want to rate each situation on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the most stressful.  The idea is to get a look at the amount of stress you handle on any given day.  Once you do, it’s likely that you will realize just how much and how soon you need some management techniques.

Look for Patterns

After you’ve diligently noted everything for a few weeks, identify patterns with as much detail as possible...  
What has stressed you out the most and why? 
Was it the lady who cut you off?
If so, why?
Is it because you were running late?
Or was it her inconsiderate attitude that annoyed you specifically?

If you were running late, try starting out 10 minutes earlier next time.  Try it a few times and see if you feel better getting your coffee.  If it's because you were annoyed with the person, then consider working on your assertive communication for the next time someone cuts you off or doesn't consider you.

There are many ways to address each trigger, but the general idea is to examine what sets you off on a daily basis.  You'll also find that if you start your day stressed, there’s a much smaller chance of it improving.

Perspective Shift

Thoughts come to be feelings very easily, and what follows negative feelings is usually stress and anger.  For example, a colleague might have made a remark that was very hurtful to you.  You didn't address it in the moment, and now it remains festering in your mind.

You're mad, you really feel let down, and you can't believe that you must deal with another rude person every single day.  And due to the fact that it's the middle of the night, you're possibly at home losing sleep over this and unable to do anything.
This would be the exact moment to address your thoughts and perspective... 

For example, when the thought of “vicious colleague” comes to mind, cut it off immediately.  It will try and come back, so be alert to silence it again.  Try to look at the situation from a few possible angles, and ask yourself if they are the sort of person who’s in the habit of making critical remarks.

If the answer is definitely "no", then the comment was probably worded badly and not meant to offend you.

If you're not completely sure, be willing to approach this person when the time is right.  Prepare a script before you go.  The last thing you need is for the situation to blow up and cause even more stress!

You may want to simply ask and clarify what was meant by the comment, before making any more assumptions.  You could say something like “Hey, you made a questionable comment this morning, and it sounded like you were taking a dig at me.  Did I read that wrong?”

This way, you’ll find out for sure if your intuition was correct.
If it was, you have every right to stand up for yourself and tell them you won’t tolerate anymore B.S.  If they know you’ll confront them after certain types of displays, chances are high that they won’t try it again.

Deep-Rooted Triggers From The Past

Let's presume you have a manager that talks to you in a certain arrogant tone of voice, as if she is talking down to you.  Others seem to manage it just fine but try as you might, you just cannot tolerate it, and it majorly stresses you out on a daily basis ... but you're not exactly sure why.

In cases like these, it may be useful to work through some of your triggers with a counselor.  Another option is to do guided meditation with a certified practitioner who can help you figure out why you are particularly sensitive to that tone.

It may be that you were bullied as a kid and something about your boss’s voice reminds you of that.  It could be that the tone brings back a forgotten incident that made you feel small and unworthy.

Your manager may not actually be attempting to affect you in that way, but the tone brings back emotions that puzzle and hurt you.  Once you’ve identified the trigger, you can completely separate her from things that happened in the past, and you'll be able to hear her voice without feeling scared or mad.

It’s very important to work through these issues with a qualified practitioner.  No app is a substitute for past trauma repair and in this instance, it could end up doing more harm than good.

Stress is a gnarly fact of life.  There’s no way to avoid it, so the best thing to do is become aware of your own response patterns in order to navigate it with a little less pain.  Becoming more aware will help you avoid unnecessary stressors, and also become more vigilant about the things that cause the most stress. 

Now that you've identified some of your own triggers, here are some of the most commonly reported stress triggers (not in any particular order):
1. Work Pressures and Deadlines

This is one of the leading cause of stress for all sexes.  The pressures at work to perform and please your superiors are never-ending.  With the current climate of job uncertainty, one always needs to be on their toes to avoid losing their job.

Research has shown that if your boss is abusive or unreasonable, things at the workplace can get even more stressful.  Even those in jobs that are considered less demanding, for example, security guards at the mall, may face stress too.  Their wages may not be enough to live on.  This is a form of financial stress.

2. Family Commitments

Another common cause for stress.  Men will face the constant stress of making sure that their family is adequately provided for.  Women may have a career and still feel the need to perform household chores such as cooking, cleaning, raising the kids, etc.

That makes it even more stressful for them.  Juggling a career and family commitments at the same time can cause you to have frazzled nerves.

3. Holidays

We might want to think that holidays are a festive time, when everyone is meant to be happy.  Yet, we all know that holiday stress is a very real thing...  

Meeting up with family members, unrealistic expectations, unemployment (many are laid off at this time of year), not enough $$ for kids' gifts, dealing with in-laws, or even being alone, not having any family, grieving loved ones who have passed, etc, etc...  
Any of these things can cause huge amounts of stress and also depression! 

4. Illness

It goes without saying that no one is going to be overjoyed at being sick.  Illness and disease that cause discomfort and pain over prolonged periods, can take a considerable toll on your emotional, mental and physical well-being.

In fact when a client comes in seeking therapy for chronic depression and other symptoms - in order to rule out a primary health issue with secondary depression, it is wise to recommend the client seek a physical from their primary care Dr. first. 
A wide variety of medical issues bring secondary symptoms of depression, in addition to other things; and thorough assessment often reveals things that need to be further treated before any emotional work can begin. 

All of these aspects cause additional types of stress, on top of the medical illness itself… each one needs to be dealt with so that it doesn’t also exacerbate the condition.

5. Divorce

Most divorces are stressful events.  If there are children involved, it gets even more stressful.  Messy divorces are common and spiteful partners may try to cause more distress to their ex-spouse as a form of revenge.  Once again, unnecessary stress.

6. Relationships

Relationships always come with stress.  Expectations that are not met, unreasonable partners, verbal and/or physical abuse, cheating, neglect, codependency, etc. are all common scenarios in millions of relationships.

Stress is part and parcel of being in a relationship.  Like the old proverb goes, “Where there is love, there is pain.”

7. Pregnancy

Finding out you’re pregnant can be a wonderful experience.  However, the symptoms such as mood swings, food aversions, fatigue, etc. can stress you out.  Over and above that, you may be worried about being a parent and wonder if you can manage it.

This is especially true for first-time mothers.  Very often, the stress is caused by unfounded fears and worries.

8. Sexuality

This is another common but not often mentioned form of stress.  Men who have erectile dysfunction may feel pressure to perform and be miserable if things don’t work as they should.  This can be embarrassing and stressful.

Women may wonder if their body is good enough to be attractive to their partner.  Are they too fat?  Too thin?  Too wrinkly?  There seems to be no end to cultural confusion, stress and peer pressure in this regard. 
As well, the stress concerns of those in the process of negotiating gender identity can bring a profound layer of complexity.  Although increased support is gaining momentum for this population, many fear the finding of adequate support without judgement; and may be less likely to seek support at all.
*Note To Self:  Please remember, the right partner will love and embrace you no matter what sex, gender, age, size, functioning, etc etc etc... The wrong person will leave you constantly questioning these things!*

9. Tests and Exams

Once again, it’s all about performing and achieving success.  Tests and exams in school, trying to get your driver’s license, or even a blood test to see if you have diabetes can cause huge amounts of stress.

10. Birthdays

Another joyous occasion that stresses millions of people out.  They may feel like life is slipping by and they’ve not achieved enough.  They may also fear aging, or any other expectations that haven't been met. 
11. Moves, Endings, Big Changes
It goes without saying that change is stressful for everyone.  But we often overlook the fact that even happy endings and changes can cause huge amounts of stress - even if we wanted the changes to happen!
The problem with change, is that it's the only thing that stays the same! ;)  So we will be able to count on this type of stress sticking around for the long haul.

And while there are many other major causes and types of stress, those mentioned above are some of the most common experienced by millions of people globally. 
Now that you know what they are, if you find yourself feeling stressed out by any of these causes, rest assured that you’re not alone.

Stress can be managed and prevented if you know what to do.  The greatest weapon against stress is your ability to choose one thought over another.  You can learn to strengthen this muscle and exercise your choices wisely. 
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