If you listen to different people talk about stress, you will find you can break it down into two opinions on what is the cause of such stress. The first opinion is that the stress is caused by the situations we encounter. It is claimed that people who are stressed are having the wrong life events, and need to make better decisions on where to take their life. I.e. “You’ve got the wrong job, wrong house, wrong partner, wrong friends etc etc.”. This is the philosophy which leads people to believe life is about “finding your path”, and that people can be in need of guidance down their correct path.
For example, say you are driving to work and you take a wrong turn and end up on a road that is completely congested with traffic. As you sit there looking at the car in front blocking your way, you start to get a bit stressed out. You glance at the time and notice that you’re going to be late. Your heart rate goes up, you start breathing faster and getting very frustrated and angry with yourself for taking the wrong turn. You think to yourself “if this event hadn’t happened then I wouldn’t be so stressed. I’m having the wrong event – that’s the cause of my stress”.
The second opinion is that stress has nothing to do with the events we encounter, but is rather triggered by our mental assessment of such events. If two people can face the same event, with one being stressed and the other not so much, it means they are assessing the situation via different beliefs. It is our thoughts and beliefs which are the real cause of our stress, even though events do play a role in how we come to hold certain beliefs.
Going back to the traffic example, say you then starting thinking about the real cause of your stress. Maybe you thought “hang on, does every person who is in this situation get stressed?” Because if the situation of getting caught in traffic and running late to work directly caused psychological stress then it would be impossible for someone to be in that situation and not feel stressed. Yet surely there are some people who may even laugh at the situation. This is because they are viewing the event though different belief systems.
This is something that I discovered firsthand when full blown panic attacks would come out of nowhere even when I was doing something like watching a favourite TV show while on holiday or eating a favourite meal. I learnt quickly that the difference between misery or happiness has little to do with what situation I am in, but is instead governed completely by what such situations mean to me and what I was thinking.
None of this means we shouldn’t try to change a situation we don’t like. Obviously if you are in a relationship where you are being beaten up, it would make sense to try and get out of that relationship. But if you want to know what the cause of your stress is – look at your beliefs.