STRESS from the outside

By Steven T. Padgitt, Ph.D.

Stress can be generated from both internal and external forces. Not only must we confront stress generated from within ourselves and our relationships, we also have to contend with the stress that comes from outside our relationships - events over which we may have no control. In this article we will talk about how externally based stressors can impact us and our relationships with others.

When we are suddenly reminded through such experiences as economic recession, earth quake and war that we are but a small part of what surrounds us, we can be shaken to the core emotionally and left feeling like our life is out of control. The impact of this anxiety producing experience is not only something we experience internally, but it also effects our interactions with others. Such externally based stressors, which have no direct bearing on the nature of our relationships with others may ultimately prove destructive to our important relationships; particularly loved ones.

Simply stated, when life and environmental crises occur we respond. How we respond varies from person to person, but often our responses serve to further stress our relationships. For example, many people become more easily startled, generally more anxious and more irritable. Others may tend to withdraw into themselves or on the other side become obsessed with the stressor. In either case more pleasant or intimate aspects of the relationship may be temporarily lost and our relationship may suffer.

We all need to feel we have some control over our environment and ourselves. When we lose this confidence our emotional and cognitive perspective shifts and we lose the sense of having any certainty in our lives.

While we might call this a "temporary" shift in perspective it can have more permanent effects by setting the stage for a change in the way we respond to one another. Inadvertent hurt and unintended aggression, which may be the direct result of environmentally produced stress, can plant a seed that grows to a more permanent destructive response style within the relationship.

It is important to recognize, during such times, that both we and our partners and other loved ones need increased nurturance and reassurance. We must take better care of ourselves and of our loved ones. We are well advised to spend more time together nurturing and loving one another. In addition, it is helpful to focus on reducing the controllable stress in our lives as a way of compensating for the uncontrollable stress. It may be helpful to take advantage of outside resources to enhance or change our view of the crisis and hence feel less threatened. Adapting to externally based stress through specific stress reducing strategies can have important positive benefits both individually and in our important relationships.