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Chapter 4 - Self Induced Stress

Some people are just so driven that they actually create their own stress. Not only do they create stress for themselves, but for others around them. You can often observe this in parents of young children who are so busy projecting their dreams onto their children that they create a tidal wave of stress throughout the house. These people are so obsessed about being “the best” at everything that they lose sight of what life is about. They rarely enjoy their lives and make sure that their children also do not enjoy the lives they have, either. They can be found heading up PTA drives and in a dozen other activities. People often look at them with envy because they seem to have it all and are so ambitious. In reality, they have very little. Ambition is good - driving everyone around you nuts to validate your life because of personal insecurity, is not.

Take the example of Shirley. A corporate attorney for a large company, she expected no less than the best from all of her employees. She couldn’t understand why anyone would settle for anything less than perfection and became known as “Shirley the Slave driver” throughout the office. Shirley knew that this was the nickname that had been given her and didn’t care. She was proud of being a “perfectionist.” A perfectionist, by the way, is not a good thing to be. Because it has the word “perfect” in it, many people proudly call themselves “perfectionists.” It stems from gross insecurity. A perfectionist will never be satisfied with anything and will rarely be happy. Worse yet is the perfectionist who becomes a parent or a boss.

Shirley caused many of her employees to quit or ask for a transfer because of her incessant demands. Many of her employees considered themselves to be “under stress.” The more she demanded, the more stressed they became and it seemed to them that she was downright impossible to please.

In addition to being herself a major stress factor for her employees, Shirley was also a stress factor for her children and husband, of whom, of course, she expected “the best.” Her children felt compelled to excel in everything they did in order to please their mother. Her husband felt that Shirley was beyond being pleased and sought refuge in other women on occasion.

When the children were young, they were “exposed” to many different sports, each of which they were expected to excel. Shirley was never really athletic, so she projected her wish to be athletic onto her children. After work, she spent most of her time driving her children back and forth to various games and sporting events. Her friends marveled at how much energy she seemed to have.

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In private, Shirley worried about everything. She had come from an impoverished household and wanted to make sure that her children wanted for nothing. She wanted to be sure that they had every advantage to succeed in life that she never had. She remembered growing up and feeling inferior because of her poor clothing and the fact that she had to take charity lunches at school. Kids made fun of her old shoes. Even though she was now a successful corporate attorney, inside was a little girl with holes in her shoes eating a government subsidized lunch.

Despite the fact that she seemed to “have it all,” Shirley was far from a happy person. She felt like she was on a roller coaster all of the time, yet she didn’t know how to stop it. Unfortunately, a heart attack was the result of her continued, self induced stress.

Fortunately, Shirley survived her heart attack, after which she began to look at life much differently. It no longer seemed to be important if her children were in every sport known to man or if they got a “B” instead of an “A on a quiz. When she finally returned to work, she began to realize that the place had been running well without her, despite the fact that she felt she was the only one who knew what she was doing.

The heart attack forced Shirley to relax and get grounded. She began to realize what was important in life. It also got her to understand that she was driving herself and everyone around her, into a state of stressful frenzy. She was really fortunate to have discovered a whole new life. Her husband also appreciated her new attitude and became more attentive. Her children relaxed. Her employees stopped calling her names behind her back and began to see her for the truly talented individual she was.

Many of us have only ourselves to blame for our stress. It is self induced because we feel compelled to have to “do everything.” Self induced stress is a product of modern times. People today tend to judge success on how many material possessions they have and how well their children compete with others. Many parents today involve their kids in some sort of organized sport in which the parent, instead of the child, is competing. While organized sports are great for kids who express an interest in athletics, it is not right to force your child to participate in sports that he or she is not interested in joining.

The fact that most women work outside the home has also led to more stress in our daily lives. Thirty years ago, many families had only one car. A woman usually stayed home while the man worked. A man got home from work, the family ate dinner and the kids went out and played until it was dark. The kids came in, went to bed and the husband and wife had time alone.

Today, a man comes home from work and, if it is his turn to cook, heats up something or whips up a meal or picks something up from the nearest fast food restaurant. A woman comes home from work to do the same. The family wolfs down a few bites of their meal and it is off to one of the following:

 Soccer practice
Cheerleading practice
Baseball practice
Dance lessons
Karate lessons
All of the above and more It is no wonder that people are stressed out. We never give ourselves, or our children, a chance to just relax! When was the last time you went with your family on a picnic? Do people even do this anymore or has it become “a waste of time?”

There is little that we can do about the fact that both spouses work or that women work outside of the home. This is not a bad thing as it has given women an opportunity to be able to financially support their children. Years ago, if a husband died or decided to take off, many women had little choice but to just find another husband. And in some cases, the husband was not nice to his stepchildren. Today, neither men nor women are forced to stay married to someone who is abusive because they are unable to support themselves and their children.

However, this new way of life is not without a price. And the price is that most people end up eating poorly and feel “stressed out” because of their lifestyle. When we add kids into the mix and our expectations for them, which are really based upon our expectations for ourselves, we end up with one heck of a stressed out life.

We can either live with self induced stress and continue on a merry go round of anxiety like Shirley, or we can slow down and eliminate some of the stressors from our lives.

Are you experiencing self induced stress? How do you feel when you come home from work - are you happy to come home or do you feel that you are just coming home to a life of chaos? Many people say that they are more relaxed at work than they are at home. If you cannot relax at home, when can you relax? Do you even know how to relax? Some people actually feel guilty when the are “doing nothing.”

People today tend to expect way too much from themselves and very few people know how to relax. As a result, they are raising children who also do not know how to relax. What have we got to look forward to except a bunch of future stressed out adults? The only ones who will benefit from this are the pharmaceutical companies who are busy cranking out better and better medications for stress.

Allowing self induced stress to control your life or even enter your life is like volunteering to be shot out of a cannon. Other people will watch you appear to soar, but in reality, you will be in a lot of pain that could end up to prove fatal, even if it is just metaphorically.

Some signs of self induced stress are the following:

 You do not have time to talk to friends on the phone because you are always “running around;”
Your children are involved in no less than two activities a week to which you provide transportation;
You look forward to the day when Taco Bell offers charge accounts;
Your kids do not know what mashed potatoes are unless they come in a KFC package;
You feel you can relax at work better than you can at home;
You feel guilty if you have nothing to do;
You eagerly count the days until (pick one) Soccer, Basketball, Baseball or Ballet season ends.

If you identified with one or more of the above situations, chances are that you are experiencing some signs of self induced stress. Superman and Wonder Woman were fictional characters - stop trying to be a superhero to yourself and learn how to relax.
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