The Real Cause of Stress

We generally suck at understanding where the stress is really coming from.

The Real Cause of Stress

You are not stressed because you are busy

We often think we experience stress because we have a lot going on or we have a lot to worry about.

When I would visit a doctor because of some ailment, the typical thing she would ask first was: Are you experiencing much stress? My response to this brilliant question I somehow did not think of asking myself was: “Ah…, yes, I do…”.

The following brilliant question would be: Do you know what is causing it? And I would pour out a list of things like my busy job, doubts about my relationship, struggles with family members.

The best and most obvious solution to get rid of stress is to reduce these causes. So it was simple: I had to decrease my workload, reduce or overcome those doubts, and take care of the struggles I faced with family members.

I’d walk out and be good for another year or so. I would often not make any change, yet the stress would reduce. Just thinking I would be able to solve the stress by taking action was enough relief to continue doing everything the same way.

Nothing really changes, so the stress returns

For many years that was how it worked for me. Sometimes I would make some minor changes, but my job remained busy, and the doubts about my relationships kept coming back. There was always struggle within the family in one way or another. Nothing really changed. So the stress would always return at some point.

I see the same happen to many people. It makes you wonder: Is it because we keep making the same mistakes, are we not taking enough action, or do we experience endless misfortune?

It can certainly be that we indeed encounter a lot of severe misfortune in our lives. Severe misfortune like losing a house, losing loved ones, becoming terminally ill, and other such extreme circumstances. However, many of us also experience stress when not in situations like these.

The stress is not resolved because we do not get to the root cause of it. Even if we make changes, we end up in another situation that causes stress once again. We generally suck at understanding where the stress is really coming from.

The root cause of our stress is rarely what we face or how much of it we face. The doctor visits help regardless because they give a sense of control. We realize there is something we can change. So we feel relieved for a while. But that's always temporary. Changing jobs does not help in the long run when we keep taking the root cause of stress with us. Mentally solving doubts about a relationship does not change what is going on underneath that really causes the doubt, and so on.

How to get to the root cause of stress

To figure out why we often don’t get to the root cause of our stress, I want to share a tip that changed the way I see (and deal with) stress forever.

List all your reasons for experiencing stress at this moment.

Now, read through your list with this in mind:

The things you point out as being the cause of the stress are often the things you attempt to ‘use’ not to have to deal with the actual source of stress.

So, precisely those things you feel cause you stress are the things you may be using to not focus on the real cause of your stress.

We don’t do this consciously, and therefore, we may be solving only that what is masking the cause of stress for many years.

Now, look at the things you wrote down and reflect on what may be hiding behind them. Unless you are indeed experiencing great misfortune, your stress is most likely caused by one of three following things:

1. You fear something

2. You experience misalignment within yourself

3. You experience misalignment between your inner and outer worlds

You Fear something

When you fear something, it causes literal stress in your nervous system. And if you are not experiencing some severe misfortune, the fear is often about something you anticipate, like:

· If I do not do all the work I am asked to do, I may lose my job.

· If I lose my job, I may not be able to pay my rent or mortgage.

· If I end my relationship, I may regret it.

· Etc.

So look at the causes of stress and check if you can relate them with any of these fears.

Then look at them again while considering the second potential root cause.

You experience misalignment within yourself

When there is misalignment within yourself, one of the following things is probably happening:

There is an inner conflict: Different parts of you want or need something different. This is causing an internal battle that exhausts you without you realizing it.

An example can be: On one hand, you desire to be loved by your partner in a more caring way. On the other hand, a part of you fears receiving love that way because of the disappointment of not getting this caused you much hurt in the past.
You are not in integrity with yourself. For instance, your thoughts or feelings are fooling you, misleading you, or moving you away from integrity with yourself in some way.

An example is: You tell yourself that the person who just dumped you was an **** anyway, while really you feel hurt because them not wanting you makes you feel rejected.
The way you are being with yourself, for instance, in the way you care for yourself, is not in alignment with what you know is right for you.

An example is: You have a need to eat a nutritious meal, but instead, you eat a pack of cookies.

All these things cause stress in you because the misalignment is felt by you. It eats away at you, whether you are aware of it happening or not.

You experience misalignment between your inner and outer worlds

When there is a misalignment between the inner and outer world, you experience one or more of what's described below:

You don’t say what you mean, and therefore your words are not in integrity with your truth.

So, for instance, you say to a friend that you are tired because your job is so busy, while in reality, you are tired because something inside of you is deeply hurting you.
You don’t do what you want to do but pretend it is what you want.

An example of this can be that you agree with friends to hang out today, while deep down, you feel like being just with yourself, in silence.
You say things about yourself but don’t live up to it.

If you say, for instance, that you love all people, but in reality, you despise your neighbor, you know that you are out of integrity.
You promise but don’t fulfill your promise. Every time you promise something and don’t do it, you suffer. You can pretend to forget about it and tell yourself it’s not important, but inside you do know that you did not follow through on something you promised.
You manipulate. Manipulation can be so subtle that it may seem harmless. Even if you don’t intend to manipulate, you may do it as a reflex, and it can happen before you know it. I believe deep down, we know manipulation is not right, so when it happens, we feel it. We feel we are not in integrity with ourselves or with the other person.

Uncover the deeper layer

So, when you feel your stress is caused by your job, look for what about your job brings up fear and or creates misalignment. When you feel your relationship causes stress, look for what about your relationship brings up fear and or misalignment, and so on.

Maybe you experience continuous misalignment in your job through unfulfilled promises, by not saying what you mean, or by not taking care of yourself in the way you know you should. Maybe your relationship is built upon a basis that once was in alignment but is not anymore, and you don’t know what to do to find re-alignment within yourself and between each other.

So, you may indeed need to make some changes in your job, relationships, or the way you take care of yourself after all. The trick is, however, to not just look at the subject itself but move a layer deeper. Where is the misalignment or fear within yourself? This way, you avoid just changing the subject and still running into the same issues. It will also help you get motivated to actually make a change.  

Focusing on alignment may be harder than ignoring it at first...

It may not be easy to find the fears and misalignments within yourself. It will also not make all the stress go away fully because focusing on alignment may be harder than ignoring it. Aligning to one thing can lead to misalignment elsewhere, which then can be another source of stress.

However, when you focus on alignment, you train yourself to align better and to notice inner conflicts faster. In the long run, you'll benefit greatly as you are able to reduce stress in more sustainable ways.

If you want to live a joyful life, alignment is going to help you tremendously. It is not the easiest road, and it may take many years to find the best way for you to continuously attune to yourself and to those around you.

We are used to unbalanced alignment

I believe it is worth it, and I know it is incredibly hard and challenging too. So look at all this with a ton of compassion for yourself. We all experience fear and misalignment, and it is 100% explainable. We learned to misalign with ourselves since we were babies and trained ourselves (and have been trained by others) to perfect it throughout the years.

It is part of human life. We learned that unbalanced alignment with others, ignoring inner conflicts, and suppressing our pain and fears, were needed to survive or not be rejected.

Some alignment with the world around you is always needed, and for some of us, this is a whole challenge on its own. I'll certainly write about this more. Let me know in the comments what alignment challenges you face.

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