Both internal and external stress can cause us to question ourselves and our purpose. However, external stress is interesting in that it impacts us out of nowhere. Take earthquakes, for instance. They strike without warning and have the potential to devastate our lives. War, floods and economic recession are three other examples of external factors that cause huge stress. These external crises and catastrophes affect our relationships with others and increase our internal stress.
A Temporary Shift in Perspective
Earthquakes and other external stressors can cause temporary shifts in perspective that turn into long-term attitude adjustments. Think of an external stressor as a seed. It can grow and become a major, destructive force. That "temporary" change in perspective (the seed) affects how we react to one another and to our loved ones. Of course, each person's reaction is unique. Many people react to crises in a healthy way, but here are some common thoughts/reactions:
Shaken to the core emotionally
Feelings that life is out of control
More easily startled
More easily irritable
Withdrawing into one's self
Obsession with the external stressor
Any of these reactions have the potential to negatively affect our relationships and the pleasure we derive from them.
Why We React the Way We Do to External Stressors
External stressors are unpredictable. We can take steps to mitigate their impact, for example, building a "rainy day" fund in case of an economic recession or following preparedness tips in case an earthquake occurs. Still, these stressors can strike at any time and make people feel like they have little or no control over their lives. We need to feel like we have a degree of control over other people and our environment. If we lose this control, we feel adrift. We look at life from a different emotional and cognitive perspective. These different perspectives start out temporary, but as touched on above, can have far-reaching effects.
In the end, external stressors can cause us to lash out at others, whether intentionally or unintentionally. We may be inadvertently aggressive and hurt other people emotionally and physically.
What We Can Do in These Situations
External stressors are a fact of life. We may not be able to control when and where they occur, but we do have some control over how we react. Healthy reactions commonly include the following:
Spending more time with loved ones
Focusing on nurturing and loving others
Reducing the controllable stress in one's life so that external stressors have less effect
Using outside resources such as professional counseling to look at the crisis/external stressor from a different view
Taking advantage of stress-reduction strategies to adapt to the new situation
Any of these steps helps us feel less threatened by external stressors. Take the case of an earthquake. When a severe quake strikes, some people react by obsessing over the possibility of future earthquakes. They might spend a significant portion of their money (money needed for essential items) on building shelters and stockpiling supplies. They might demand that their loved ones find work closer to home or order that they quit their jobs altogether, lest everyone become separated again. Whenever loved ones suggest that these people are not reacting well, they're met with anxiety, frustration or even rage. Meanwhile, a step such as professional therapy helps people reduce the stress they can control, prepare for quakes in more productive ways and empower their loved ones instead of snapping at them.