Managing Stress by Managing Expectations

A stressor is anything that can cause a response in us either physically, mentally, or emotionally. Stressors are not positive or negative; good or bad – they are neutral. It is our perception of the stressors that defines its meaning and thus the consequences of the stressor.

For example, discovering that your in-laws are about to visit or that the Houston Texans just a lost a game can illicit a variety of responses based on your perspective and expectations. What we thing about a situation often determines how we feel and thus how we respond. By changing our attitude, we can change the experience of the stressor. A simple formula for the reduction of anger, stress, and frustration is:

X – Y = Z

X = Level of Expectations

Y = Level of Expectations that are Met

Z = Level of Anger, Stress, or Frustration

There are 4 possible solutions to the formula.

  1. Communicate your expectations more clearly. This often leads to more of those expectations being met. (Raising Y in relationship to X decreases Anger.)
  2. Adjust your expectations to match the reality of the situation. (Lowering X in relationship to Y decreases Anger.)
  3. Live Angry. If you don’t change your expectations and don’t communicate your expectations, then you guarantee that your frustration and anger also remain unchanged.
  4. Move on. If you don’t want to change your expectations, don’t want to communicate your expectations, and don’t want to live angry, then you have to move on to a different relationship, job, situation, etc. Sometimes it is important to maintain our expectations in order to reach the goals we have in life. Unfortunately, not all situations or relationships support those goals. As a result, we have to move on to a new environment or a new relationship where are needs are more likely to get met.