Causes Of Stress: Obvious vs. Non-Obvious Causes

by Doc Orman, M.D.


When it comes to recognizing the true causes of our “stress,” we are good at identifying certain causes and not very good at identifying others.

Consider the following example of John, a 35 year old sales executive, who frequently experiences traffic jam stress:

John:  “I have a terrible time coping with traffic jams. I’ve got a very busy schedule, and I really get steamed when some jerk doesn’t keep his eye on the road and causes me to miss an important meeting. Sure, I know what’s causing my stress to occur, but most of the time, it’s beyond my control.”

Missing Puzzle Pieces

John thinks he understands the causes of his stress: poor drivers.  But he’s only identifying half the puzzle pieces.

Poor drivers are just part of reason John gets so upset by traffic jams. There are other causes involved, but John doesn’t recognize these causes, because they’re not obvious to him.

If John did have all the puzzle pieces (including these hidden causes) available to him, however, he would better understand why he gets so “stressed” in traffic jams.

He might even find that he has much more control over his emotional reactions to traffic jams than he gives himself credit for.

Obvious .vs Non-Obvious Causes 

Almost always, when human beings experience stress, both obvious and non-obvious causes are going to be involved.

  • Obvious Causes:   These are the ones almost everyone easily sees, such as traffic jams, the behavior of other people, a difficult boss, a bad economy, a heavy workload, an impending deadline, etc.
  • Non-Obvious Causes:  These are the ones that occur within us, such as expecting that you will never get in a traffic jam, rushing to judgment to blame other people for their behavior, thinking negatively, failing to anticipate and prepare for a traffic slowdown, etc. 

These more subtle types of non-obvious causes are always involved whenever we experience stress.  Unfortunately, we’ve been trained by our society to only focus on obvious causes.  Even worse, we’ve been taught to believe that these very obvious causes are either the only ones, or they are the most significant causes, when in truth they are only part of the story.

Here’s a little quiz for you.  How much of a role do you believe obvious causes play in most of your stress?

  •  90% or more?
  • 50%?
  • 25% or less?

If you answered 90% or more, you probably have lots of company. This is how most of us, since early childhood, have been taught to think about the causes of our problems.

If you answered either 50% or 25% or less, you are much closer to the truth.

While obvious causes usually do play some role, the hidden causes of stress are either equally important, or sometimes even more so.

One of the main things you will gain, as you follow this blog, is a deeper understanding of, and appreciation for, the role that non-obvious causes play in the origins of your stress.  And as your knowledge of these non-obvious causes increases, so too will your ability to deal with many different types of stress in your life.

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