Identifying Problems That Cause Stress

Every day we face numerous opportunities to experience problematic situations.  Problems are normal and should be expected. What is often useful is taking a good, hard look at your life  to determine which problem is causing you the most stress, and which is causing you the least.  It is often useful to examine your life, category by category and make a checklist to pinpoint where to concentrate your attention.  “While reviewing the following list, pay particular attention to problems that seem associated with tension, emotional distress or episodes of anger.”*

First take a look at your health.

Health problems may involve your own health problems and/or they may involve those of your spouse and your children as well.  The first thing you need to remember when everyone in your household is sick is that you have to take care of yourself first and foremost,  The others may be sicker than you are, but if you are not better than they are you eventually will not be able to care for them at all.  So you must take care of yourself first! “Health problems may involve eating (digestion, poor diet, weight), sleeping (insomnia, trouble getting up in the morning), or feeling chronically tired or run down (to name just a few).”*

Next consider your financial situation.

Who doesn’t have financial difficulties of some sort?  But here I am not talking about balancing the checkbook.  I’m talking about those situations which can really stress you out like insufficient funds for necessities, credit card debt and other debt (like student loans) that are out of control, difficulty being able to make ends meet or unexpected and possibly catastrophic expenses (like medical emergencies) that hit you out of the blue.*

Next consider your work-related issues.

Who hasn’t had work-related issues?  Just getting to work on-time can be stressful!  But once again I’m not referring to the job trifles such as office gossip and someone got your parking spot.  I’ thinking here of people who are unemployed  or under employed, people who are bored with work or who don’t get along with their boss or co-worker.  I’m worried about people who live in fear of being fired because the company is downsizing or their boss doesn’t like them.  Finally, I’m worried about those people who desire a career change but cannot seem to accomplish it.*

Next consider your living situation.

Are you getting stressed out because of where you live?  Perhaps your home is too far away from where you work, or you are living in a house which you can’t afford and you should really be living in an apartment.  Maybe you’re living in a bad neighborhood or worse, a dangerous neighborhood.  Maybe, because you are too depressed to pick up after yourself, your house is messy, which makes you more depressed.  Or perhaps things in the house are always breaking down and you don’t know how to fix them and you don’t have the money to hire someone to fix them. Lastly, maybe you are having landlord hassles.*

Next consider your inter-personal relationships?

Interpersonal relationships may be a problem if you feel lonely or left out, want more closeness but have few friends, “…feel vulnerable or shy or unable to get along with people or make conversation, are experiencing an ending or ended love affair, feel a lack of affection or contact with the opposite sex, or can’t find the right partner.”*

Is their enough “fun” (recreation) in your life?

Are you taking time (without feeling sad or guilty) to do the things that you want to do?  Are you traveling or hiking or biking or quilting or reading or going to a musical or a museum?  Are you having problems of thinking of anything good to do?   Are you overworked and find that you do not have enough free time? Or are you depressed because you don’t have enough skill at playing games?*

Family troubles?

“Family troubles include fighting and arguing all the time,  not getting along with parents or children, being worried or irritated with a family member, feeling rejected by the family, feeling trapped in an unhappy family situation or insecure about losing a mate, an inability to be open and honest with family members, different interests from your spouse, children having problems at school, interfering in-laws, a sick family member or a marriage breaking up.”*

Lastly, are you experiencing psychological difficulties?

Psychological problems can antagonize all the above problems and make everything feel hopeless.  You know what I’m talking about.  Maybe you’re feeling worried or anxious, maybe excessively so.  Maybe you’re nervous or depressed.  Have you been having problems with authority or are you feeling blocked from obtaining your goals?  Are you perhaps obsessed with unobtainable goals?  Are you experiencing a lack of motivation?  Or have you perhaps had a loss of faith?”


Once you have evaluated these problem areas and identified which areas are giving you the most stress, you can prioritize them from most stressful to less stressful.  Frequently the real difficulty is not the problem situation itself, but your response to the situation. “The real problem is actually the way you’re trying to solve the problem.  It is often useful to make a statement along these lines:

“In reality the problem isn’t ____________, the real problem is  _______________.”

“Some examples of how this statement might read: “In reality, the problems isn’t what is being done to you, the real problem is how you respond.” Or, “In reality, the problem isn’t how it happens, the real problem is why you respond.” Or perhaps, “In reality, the problem isn’t the situation, the real problem is when you respond.”  Creating statements like this may help you see that sometimes your attempted solution has only exacerbated the situation.”*

*McKay, Matthew,, When Anger Hurts (Oakland, CA : New Harbinger Publ., 2003)