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Statistics Canada followed over 10,000 adults between 1994 and 2001 to identify the main sources of stress in their life.
The participants reported an average of five sources of stress which were usually chronic or ongoing concerns. When 34 different sources of stress were analyzed, the top three were ongoing concerns about time, money and relationships. The most common concern was time pressure (44%) – trying to do too many things at once. This was followed by financial problems (38%) and relationship difficulties (31%) – feeling that others expected too much of them. Women reported a higher prevalence of stress than men and it was hypothesized that this may be due to women being more socially conditioned to be sensitive to others needs and often involved in a more nurturing role.
The adults that suffered high levels of stress in 1994 had a greater risk of developing a variety of chronic health conditions seven years later – such as, arthritis and rheumatism, back problems, bronchitis or emphysema, and ulcers. For men there was also a greater incidence of heart disease and for women it was asthma and migraines.
These concerns can be particularly magnified during the holiday season when our expectations of what we ‘should’ be able to do may exceed what we can realistically accomplish – e.g., how much we should spend and who we should be with. A general principal is that when our expectations exceed what is realistic and reasonable – the result is often frustration, stress and discontent.
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
You may have heard of the woman who told her friend, “I’m responsible for making my husband a millionaire.” “That’s incredible! What was he before he married you?” the friend asked. “A billionaire.” If you think about it, our discontent and frustration is often a result of an unmet expectation. For example, even multi-millionaires can be financially discontent and frustrated if they expected to be – or were – billionaires.
If we are always looking for what we don’t have – approaching life from a perspective of ‘deficit’ – we will likely be discontent, frustrated and stressed. However, if we can bring our expectations more in line with what is realistic and reasonable – and appreciate what we do have – then we are more likely to feel content and reduce our frustration and stress. The Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius stated, “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
So, during a stressful time like the holiday season it may be helpful to take a moment to reflect and ask yourself, “Are my expectations for the holidays realistic and reasonable?” If not, by having more realistic expectations regarding time, money and relationships, we are likely to enjoy a more relaxed and contented holiday.
Dr. Martin Phillips-Hing is a registered psychologist (#1361) with a private practice at Oakhill Counselling and Mediation Services in Abbotsford. Comments or questions can be sent to him via his website – www.psychologist1.com