How many of you would like to live a stress-free life? I'm guessing it would be quite a few. Most people I know view stress as a negative experience. Yet like any emotion, it doesn't have to prove detrimental to our health or overall well-being.

Stress is actually less complicated than one may believe. Like anger, it is only a symptom of a deeper issue.  And like anger, there can be thousands of triggers but only a handful of root causes. Stress is defined as "a state of being characterized by feelings of physical, emotional, or mental tension". The true causes of stress lie not in what is occurring around us but rather by what is taking place within us. All emotions, of which stress is one, originate internally. Consider the following internal origins of stress:

Fear: Feelings of worry, anxiety, concern, and apprehension all contribute to an individual feeling stressed out. We worry about finding a good job, moving to another city, losing our spouse or being alone. Each time we anticipate a negative circumstance we generate feelings of uncertainty. And fear of the unknown is one of life's greatest causes of distress. Do you struggle with the What If Syndrome? What if I get lost? What if my husband gets cancer? What if the plane crashes and I die? What if my child doesn't get into the college of his choice? Or what if he does and I can't afford the tuition? We project the worst possible outcome and proceed to worry over things that may never manifest. 

Fear is a lack of trust in a situation, another person, ourselves or God.  In a situation, we may feel unsafe, such as sky diving for the first time. This is a dangerous sport. I could be seriously injured. Or we may fear others  - a person is perceived as untrustworthy, a threat to our security and well-being. A jealous co worker has the potential to get me fired.  There is also a lack of trust in ourselves - we lack confidence in our abilities to handle whatever situations life presents to us. I could never survive the loss of a child. And finally and most importantly, fear is a lack of trust in God. We question our understanding of Him:  if He really is a loving God, why do bad things keep happening to me? I pray for healing every day and still I suffer with chronic back pain.

Solution: The way to overcome fear is two-fold. On a practical level: by building our self-confidence, in part, by reminding ourselves of everything we have faced, survived, and overcome thus far in life. On a spiritual level: by exercising our faith in God, knowing that He never promised that life would be easy nor fair, only that He would never abandon us, that whatever we truly needed (not just wanted) would be provided for us, and that if we followed His directive we would reap abundant blessings. Just look around you - everything you need is all ready here.

Frustration: Feelings of anxiety derived from the need to control a situation or individual lead to anxiety. When people don't behave in a manner I deem appropriate, when they won't comply with my wishes or demands, or when a situation does not proceed as I anticipated, I feel helpless and powerless. Being out of control causes apprehension within me as I realize something or someone else is determining the outcome of this situation and/or possibly my life. I do not trust anyone enough to give them power and authority over me nor do I want to leave my fate up to chance. I do not believe that either has my best interest at heart.

Solution: When I realize that control is an illusion (I have zero control over situations and/or others) and recognize that whatever enters my life is ultimately there for my higher good*, then I do not need to have the final say in how life reveals itself to me. I can relax and be more at ease, knowing that I have full dominion over how I maximize every experience I participate in. I choose how I think, feel, react to, and utilize each and every occurrence. I can transform any perceived negative situation into a positive simply by my internal choices and how I express them.

Perception: How we choose to see things, events or people defines our reality. Our perception is not determined by the actuality of our experience but rather by the thoughts we form about them. Here's an example: the reality: I've told my children dozens of times to keep their rooms clean yet every time I check on them they are a disaster by my standards. My perception: They do this just to drive me crazy! The truth is that most children are not concerned with the order of their rooms. Messy is their normal. A simple shift in my perception can instantly alleviate my stress. They're just being kids. They'll eventually learn, I hope. And if not, it's really not that important."Life isn't about truth and reality; life is all about perception." - Janet Pfeiffer

Solution: Perception can be changed at any given moment. One only needs to re examine their thought process. Am I being fair and reasonable in the way I see myself, others or the world in general? Am I being judgmental and/or arrogant? I can remove labels from myself and others or modify them to be more understanding and realistic. In this way, when I adjust my perception (how I choose to view others and situations) I can reduce or eliminate stress and replace it with a sense of calm.

Expectations: We all have expectations that we place on others and while there is nothing inherently wrong with this, many times what we are seeking from others is unfair or unrealistic. When our demands are not met, for whatever reason, we become stressed, angry, and disappointed. But is it realistic to expect that my husband have the same interest in music as I do? Is it reasonable to think I can work a full-time job, raise my children, and care for my elderly parents on my own, and do it all really well? Do I have a right to dictate to others what they should think, feel, believe, or how they should act? Is it reasonable to expect that what I am seeking in an given situation would manifest in the time frame I've allotted, in the exact manner in which I desire it considering all relevant factors? 


We demand a lot of ourselves and live in an age where multitasking and workaholism (that's not a real word but you know what I mean) are considered virtues.  When we fall short of those ideals we label ourselves as failures. Likewise, we place an excessive amount of pressure on others to conform to what we believe is right and/or acceptable. We impose our beliefs, lifestyles, interests, work ethics, etc. on our families, friends, coworkers, and others and when they do not comply we become frustrated and angry. 

Solution: While it is useful and reasonable to have some expectations in life, we must be careful to make certain that they are in alignment with reality and are fair and just to all concerned. If they are extraordinarily high or unreasonable, we are inviting stress into our minds and bodies. Eliminate any demands that are unnecessary, readjust those that are unfair, and take a kinder more gentle approach to life. Remind yourself that life and those in it are not meant to conform to your dictates. Embrace what works for you and gently relinquish that which doesn't. Allow life and others to simply be.


In conclusion: If you want less stress in your life, it is not always necessary to change your circumstances (although that may be a viable option). Sometimes, a simple shift in perception (how we view things) or an adjustment in our expectations (being more realistic and fair-minded) can make all the difference in the world. Remember, if you can't change the world, change how you view it and how you interact with it. You will be much more relaxed and peaceful, able to more fully enjoy life in all its wonder and glory. And isn't that a worthy goal?

People and events that contradict my ideals will always be a part of my life. By addressing the underlying causes of stress and living a faith-based life coupled with the wisdom to fully embrace every situation I experience, I can approach each day with greater peace and composure thereby significantly reducing the amount of stress that enters my life. And a peace-filled lifestyle supports a joy-filled existence.

*Q: "I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." - Jeremiah 29:11

"We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose." - Romans 8:28

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