Understanding what triggers your stress is key

Why is it that a people pleaser will nearly always burn out? asks Richard Hogan

In our rapidly lived lives stress can come from many places. We have myria, complicated relationships to navigate in any one day, from our family to our friends, to our work colleagues, not to mention the strangers that manage to make an appearance in the humdrum of our daily lives.

Some of the stress we encounter might blind-side us because we never saw it coming and we hadn’t prepared for it.

However, we all know that occasionally our working life will bring us a certain amount of stress and disharmony.

And yet it is something that more and more people are finding difficult to balance.

How do you get the equilibrium of your work demands and your family and social life right?

It is something that I increasingly hear in my clinic, men and women seeking help because the stress they are under from their job is putting untold pressure on their mental and physical health.

And yet we all know that work can be a stressful place at times, even all consuming — depending on the type of job you do.

I have many clients who come to me due to the fact the high-powered job they are doing is causing them to feel like they are out of control, powerless to the intense demands their job is placing on them.

They generally know their relationship with work is unhealthy and causing them illness but they are at a loss as to how to go about regaining some perspective on it all.

They are desperate to understand how it all spiralled out of control in the first place.

What does ‘balance’ actually mean?

When we talk about work and home life we generally hear the word ‘balance’ being thrown around a lot. But what does that word mean?

How can you balance something when you are not the one in control of what you are balancing?

If you kept handing a juggler on the street more pins to balance eventually they’d all spill onto the street but what if you had told him, as you were handing him more, to balance them better, would it have impacted the outcome?

It is an important word to think of, because achieving a healthy equilibrium is not as simple as saying ‘ah, you just need to get some balance in you work life’ because the majority of the work we do gets placed on us, the majority of the work we take on we do so because of some presupposition we hold that if we don’t take it on someone else will do it and we will lose some standing in the firm, company or business.

And it is often this type of thinking that sets us up for failure because we take on too much; we stretch ourselves too thin and like the juggler when it all comes tumbling down we have very little insight into how we got there in the first place.

Stress triggers

One of the most important aspects of dealing with stress is understanding what makes you stressed.

We call these our ‘triggers’, and gaining an awareness into what it is that overwhelms you could be one of the most significant insights you make this year because when you know that, you can then work effectively to combat it.

Rather than saying ‘I need balance’ you should be saying ‘I need to know my trigger?’ That is a far more productive way to look at work related stress.

We often encounter a colleague who is stressed about an issue that we find perplexing because to us it is a non-issue and we can’t comprehend why that colleague is so put out about something so manageable.

Well, that is, something manageable to us. Our triggers are uniquely ours, and they come from the layers of meaning we attached to ourselves during those important formative years when our character was forming.

    When a client comes to me after experiencing a very difficult and challenging time in work I ask the following series of questions:

    1. Where were you when you first felt stress come on you?

    2. Who was with you?

    3. How did you react to the situation?

    4. Would anyone else have known you were stressed?

    5. What situation from your past does this experience remind you of?

A set of questions like these are really trying to get to the root of what the clients’ triggers are.

We all find different aspects of our working life challenging.

Why is it that a people pleaser will nearly always burn out, become overwhelmed and disillusioned?

Because you cannot please everyone all the time, and why do you feel the need to please people in the first place?

That is the important question to ask. We all know that colleague, smiling all the time desperate to please everyone but themselves.

How exhaustive that must be. Like the colleague who believes they can never make a mistake, for to do so would elucidate their worst fear.

When we understand what it is that is motivating us to do any one thing we can gain insight into our triggers and by doing that we can work to elevate the symptoms when that stress does appear.

Significant change is possible

Work-related stress is something we all feel from time to time.

Understanding what it is that stresses you out and gaining an insight into where that comes from could be one of the most significant changes you make this year as you go about your busy working life.

Richard Hogan is clinical director of therapyinstitute.ie, a school teacher, systemic family psychotherapist, and father of three. If you have a question, contact info@richardhogan.ie

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