We’ve almost come to the end of January 2020 and if you’re like most people, your December holiday and rest is probably a distant memory by now. The relaxed attitude, enjoyment of life and being present has probably been replaced by the busyness of work and life and even though it’s symptoms might not be evident yet, stress is insidiously trying to gain a foothold somewhere in your body.
Stress is so commonly accepted within society nowadays that it’s often worn as a badge of honour by some people. The prevalent attitude among some people is, if you’re not stressed then you haven’t worked hard enough or you aren’t making some meaningful contribution. The 13 billion dollar, a year, industry for anxiety medication is proof of how prevalent anxiety is amongst people. The research literature gives 3 main reasons that lead to stress and anxiety; uncertainty, lack of information and loss of control.
If you consider the above 3 causes of stress they seem pretty straight forward but what was most unnerving to me is that the highest cause of uncertainty, lack of information and loss of control for people is the stressor of trying to fit your life into the expectations of other people. This was the biggest cause of stress for people? It almost seemed a little strange and I wondered if the same scientists that work for the food industry, and come to “scientific conclusions” like consuming large amounts of sugar is perfectly fine for us, actually did this research.
Anthropology is the study of human culture and was one of my majors along with psychology during my degree studies. The corner stone of anthropology is ethnographic fieldwork (studying culture by placing yourself in the culture you are studying’s shoes) and so I looked around and thought about all the times I had not fitted into someone else’s expectations. There are many instances and involve my wife, children, family, clients and even rugby guys I coached and just thinking about these times caused an uneasy shifting in my chair. An embarrassment, a feeling of failure and I could literally feel my neck and shoulders tighten.
We have expectations placed on us all the time and expect things from the people in our lives. As children we have the expectations of our parents (Carl Jung said that nothing has a stronger influence on their environment and especially their children than the unlived life of the parent). We have the expectations from an outdated schooling system that doesn’t cater to the individual and flimsy cultural expectations from a society that doesn’t serve us anymore as our future approaches. As children we are primed for stress if it’s caused by fitting our lives in the expectations of others.
As adults we have the expectations from our work environment and colleagues, our partners and our friends. If you think that expectations don’t cause stress, how do you feel about SARS’ expectation during tax season? 😁. You add to adult life the experience of trauma, unhappy marriages, financial stress, long working hours and unsafe environments and you have a recipe that fuels a 13 billion dollar a year industry.
People come into clinic all the time and ask how do they stress less? (because really all I treat are different forms of stress on the nervous system). My answer is always, “I don’t have that answer”. I do know that cold showers, exercise, meditation, breathwork, time with my family and having downtime all help me cope with my stress but each persons expectations placed on them are unique. So what works for me won’t necessarily work for them.
So learning and knowing that my expectations of Candice and my kids is possibly causing them stress (I’ve seen many people with diseases as a result of repressed emotional stress) I’m trying hard to accept more and expect less. That doesn’t mean boundary less lives for me or them. It’s just an acknowledgement that it’s easier said than done because I have a life that has bits that are still unlived 😁. So bringing those unlived bits to the surface of my consciousness will require knowing that peace begins when expectation ends.