Stress and the Question “Why”

I Really Don't Know

When faced with situations or circumstances that are difficult to understand, we often ask the question “why.” We may use different wording like “I don’t understand;” “how could this happen;” what were you thinking?” Although these questions do not include the word “why,” the desired answer satisfies the question “why did this happen?”

Here are three facts to consider:
Having an answer does not change the circumstances or the feelings regarding the circumstances.
Seeking an answer to the question “why” is an effort to gain relief from the pain, stress, and discomfort.
Stress increases tremendously when there is no reasonable, understanble answer to the question “why.”

The stress response is initiated by perceived threats. These are events or situations that make us feel as if our emotional being is under attack. A co-worker gets the promotion that you hoped to receive. Your immediate reaction may be to ask “why” and then to wonder how you are deficient. This leads you to believe that you cannot get ahead in this organization. The supervisor speaks to your office mate using his first name. He does not know your name and barely makes eye contact with you. You wonder if you have done something to offend your supervisor. You also may think that your supervisor does not like you. This leads you to believe that your job and livelihood are threatened.

The above situations describe events that pose a threat to your self-esteem, self-worth or ego. Your feelings regarding situations like those described results in the initiation of the stress response. The stress response is also initiated by events or situations that are overwhelmingly difficult to comprehend or understand.

You have worked for an organization for 10 years only to be told that your position has been eliminated. You design a project and provide the specifications to your supervisor. The project is adopted by the organization. Your supervisor takes credit for your project design and promotes it as his own. Both of these situations violates trust and a violation of trust represents an emotional threat. As previously stated, an emotional threat initiates the stress response. These situations also cause us to ask “why.”

Asking “why” does not change the circumstances or the feelings regarding the circumstances. It causes the stress response to continue because the answer eludes us. Either we do not get an answer, or the answer does not adequately address what is needed. What is needed is relief from the pain and discomfort the situation caused. Pain from a violation of trust is not addressed by knowing “why.” Discomfort caused by mistreatment is not dissipated by knowing “why.”

Seeking the answer to “why” contributes to continuous stress. The heart pumps faster and harder, the blood pressure increases, muscles tighten, and the body stays poised to fight or run. Each time we think about the situation, the stress response is initiated.

Are you really saying we should not ask “why?” Be real, Real Social Worker.

I am saying that it is important to understand the outcome you want when you ask the question. If you desire relief from emotional discomfort or a perceived threat then a different line of questioning may garner the information you need to attain closure. You may also need to shift the way you perceive or view the situation.

When you were about four years old, your favorite question was probably “why.” You asked it repeatedly and each time you asked, the adult answered. You learned to expect an answer. Most four year olds, would not know whether the answer was real or nonsensica, but an answer is an answer. You have also been around four year olds who constantly ask “why” and you try to answer the questions in an effort to satisfy the four year old’s needs. It begins by playfully providing extensive answers to each question. As the questioning continues, we get tired and our answers get shorter and more realistic.

Why is the sky blue?”
Because blue is the color of the ocean and whenever a bird dips its tail in the ocean and flies to the sky, it paints the sky with the color blue.
Why what?
Why is the ocean blue?
Because when it rains, the blue color is in the raindrops.
Why does it rain?
Because the rain makes plants and flowers grow?
Why are plants green?
Because the blue raindrops mix with yellow sunshine and make plants green.
Because blue and yellow make green.

I would love to hear from you. You may join the conversation by commenting on this post on our Facebook fan page REAL Social Workers Online Magazine, joining the “Social” Social Workers Project or connecting with me on LinkedIn.

M.L. Bailey Consultants, Inc. Copyright ©2016 Marcyline L. Bailey All Rights Reserved
Real Social Workers Online Magazine Copyright ©2016 Marcyline L. Bailey All Rights Reserved

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