The Two Causes of Stress

Mixed media painting of a cracked heart
A Mama’s heart cracks a little bit more every time she realizes life doesn’t always go as planned.

Holy Flaming Stress Balls!

It’s been a week – you know the kind, where you feel like you can barely breathe because you’re constantly dashing from one mini-crisis to the next? It’s already Wednesday afternoon, and I’m just getting a chance to sit down and try to make sense of it all.

I won’t get into the details – the minutiae of each crazy little crisis isn’t really important. None of it has really been life-or-death important – not really. The phone ringing, the dogs barking, the appointments booked too closely together, the messy kitchen that led to yet another frozen pizza for dinner. In the grand scheme of things, we’re all going to survive.

The Two Causes of Stress

But it all adds up to STRESS. The kind of stress that wears you down, making it harder and harder to deal with the next thing coming along. There are two big sources of stress:

  1. Unmet needs
  2. Unmet expectations

That’s it. We experience stress when our needs aren’t met, or when things don’t go the way we expect them to. It’s easy to understand why we experience stress when our needs – physical, emotional, or spiritual – aren’t met. That’s pretty straightforward. But expectations are more elusive.


If the kids are out in the back yard playing with the dogs, the barking doesn’t upset me. I expect the dogs to bark. But if I’m sitting at the computer trying to work and one of them comes up behind me and barks, I’m startled. I feel a rush of fight-or-flight-or-freeze adrenaline, then a sense of irritation because I’ve lost my train of thought and have to interrupt what I was doing to go attend to them. Same behavior – barking dogs – but vastly different responses, based on my expectations.

What to Do In the Moment

I’m trying to reframe my response to stress based on this understanding, and asking myself the question – in the moment if I can:

Is this stress because of unmet NEEDS or unmet EXPECTATIONS?

If it’s my needs that aren’t being met, then the situation needs to change. If it’s my expectations, then it’s fuzzy. Does the situation need to change, or is it my expectation of the situation that needs adjustment?

This is important: sometimes it’s my expectations that are out of alignment with reality. But sometimes reality is messed up and this stress is a signal that something needs to be fixed or addressed in some way.

Check This Out:

I’m spending much of my time right now working with stress and anxiety, and pulling together the tools and techniques I’ve used to manage both. In the next few weeks, I’ll be inviting you to join me in creating your own First Aid Deck for Stress & Anxiety. Lots of juicy details still to be worked out, but I can tell you the ultimate vision for this work is to help you shift from a Fight/Flight/Freeze reaction to stress into a Calm, Creatively Compassionate response.

Sneak peek 🙂

I’d love to add you to my notification list when early access is available! Drop your email address in the box below:

What about you? Have you been juggling stress balls too, or enjoying a time of peace?

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