Month of March MENTAL STRESS AT WORK Part 2

Mental stress is at work when expectations are not met.

“He or she should know what I want.

How can he or she not know what I want?”

I detect frustration that you are not getting what you want because of the lack of knowledge of your partner.   You have an expectation and it is not met by your partner.

The higher the expectations, the more unmet they are, the greater the disappointment and the mental stress.

Image result for high and unmet expectations + high disappointment

An expectation that depends on the competence or response of another person has much more chance of disappointing you.   That’s because you have no control over what the person would do.  Any effort you make to try and help him or her to see your point may end up in further damage to the relationship, thus creating more mental stress.

To reduce mental stress, expectations can be made more realistic and have more chance of being successful. One way is to phrase the expectation in an ‘I’ message.

I want to be calm.

I want to express myself clearly.

I need to communicate better.

Let’s take the first goal, ‘I want be to be calm’ as our discussion point.

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It’s a good goal to be calm as calmness has much health benefit. It reduces fatigue, muscle tension  and pain; it improves moods and focus; it boosts confidence to problem-solving and it is a good platform to build better relationships.

Because it’s you who is doing the calming, it’s much more controllable as you know your own limits and your strengths and you can take the relevant actions.Mental stress is more manageable when it’s more controllable.  You are better in charge of the situation when you have enough resources to deal with it.  Remember,  “Stress is most felt when the demands constantly exceed your available resources.” (Mental Stress At Work Part 1)

Dr Robert Kegan, professor in adult development in Harvard University, said that there are entrophic forces threatening to tear apart whatever noble goals we have.  Some of these forces are uncontrollable and unpredictable and the more uncontrollable and unpredictable the stress, the more stressful it is.

As a young parent, for example, when you thought everything has calmed down, the colicky child decided to start his or her yelling again.  You can’t control the body clock of your baby.  How annoying is that!  And if your goal of being calm depends on your baby’s crying pattern, then you will be mentally stressed by the uncontrollability of it all.

Another example is you were about to sleep as you had a long day at work when the phone rang from the office requiring you to solve some problems. I certainly hope that this is not your everyday life unless your job is a standby officer on a paid permanent night shift.  If you are a regular day worker, being called anytime after hours is no deal.  Being randomly expected to respond to calls and meet needs is an unfair expectation.  When that happens often enough, you might experience high levels of mental stress as you don’t know when people will phone and if you are up to it after hours to attend to them.

But not everything needs to be uncontrollable and unpredictable.  Dr Robert Kegan said that whilst entrophic forces are at work, negentrophic forces are also available to us to help us manage situations and take the stress out of them.  You negate the entrophic forces for example by setting goals to be calm and having the power to achieve calmness.

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For Christians, they will profess that they can do all things through Christ who strengthens them (Phil 4:13).  For people who are inspired by Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, they have the force with them to overcome weakness.

One thing that can be done to reduce mental stress is to put healthy boundaries in place to ensure that things are under control.


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You can’t stop a colicky child from crying at any particular time, but you can identify the time frame he is most colicky and get more childcare support during that time.  You can’t stop your office from calling you but you can negotiate with them the time slot of the standby.  Instead of waiting up and attending calls for the whole night, you can suggest distributing the hours among the other colleagues.

Healthy boundaries also involve forming realistic perspectives about yourself and the situation.


Forming realistic perspectives is a good stress reliever.

Any colicky child is hard to manage.If you are a first-time mother, you must not think you are a bad mother just because your child can’t settle well.  Definitely it’s a ‘no no’ to compare with your friend who is an experienced child minder and the sixth-time mother, who is handling her equally colicky baby so well.

Have healthy beliefs about yourself and the situation:

  • I’m doing my best here.
  • My child will get better – colic is not permanent.
  • I’ll read up to see how I can minimise discomfort
  • Etc

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In the second example of attending to calls and needs after office hours, have realistic perspectives of your energy.  You need rest after work hours.  Your family needs your attention too.  Your inability to negotiate with your company regarding your after-hour work can cost more damage than just your own mental health. Your families can suffer greatly from your poor work choices!


Your goal is to be calm but you don’t necessarily do calming things.  The result is mental stress.  You need to stick to your goal.

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“Ladies and Gentlemen, This is your captain speaking. Thank you for choosing to fly with us.  And thank you for being my first passengers, I just finished my training, hope everything will go smooth.”

Some worried whispers started and eventually people started shouting that they wanted to get out from the plane. A flight attendant ran to the cockpit to inform the pilot.  After that the pilot spoke again.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, This is your captain speaking. Please calm down. I was joking about the training. Actually my twin got sick, I am covering him today.”

Of course this is a joke but it illustrated my point. The captain wanted to calm his passengers down but he obviously did the opposite and the effect was disastrous.

I want to be calm I kept taking calls at unacceptable times of the night.  I jumped everytime the phone rang.

I quarrelled with my spouse whenever I get those calls

If accepting those calls is not making you calm, you need to think of alternatives to help you stay calm.  Perhaps setting a time boundary is helpful.  I will only take calls between 6-8pm and all calls will be returned and attended to the next day.

Conflict with your spouse is more damaging as that relationship is long-term.  To be calm, you may need to have an honest conversation with your spouse to see how you can get her support, how you could cut back on your inattentiveness to the family needs.  You may want to plan some calming family activities to build trust and love.

Mental stress is always at work.  You can’t prevent mental stress just like you can’t prevent birds from flying over your head.  But as the saying goes, you can prevent the birds from building nests on your head.  You can certainly prevent mental stress from ruining your life and mental health.


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