Avery Post

Managing Unrealistic Expectations : Stress Response Part 5


Many people have experienced an increase in stress during the past four months of pandemic. For parents it has been stressful managing expectations of work, home schooling, and decreased finances, coupled with restricted access to family, friends and recreation. For them there is too much to do with not enough time or support. For others it is the lack of things to do that is causing their stress, as they feel alone and disconnected. For others it is the worry about staying safe and not contracting or spreading COVID 19 that is stressful.

Therefore, how to manage competing demands has an element of also managing expectations. Is it realistic to expect yourself to work 8 hours at home as well as 3 hours in supporting children with their school work, plus keep the house clean and children amused? Even though there aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all, many try by sacrificing sleep or self-care or downtime. The result is elevated, continual stress, which as explained in previously blogs is detrimental to our health and well-being.

All this has also been complicated by changing messages and the many uncertainties associated with the pandemic, balancing competing needs of safety, economics and relationships.

What’s been your “must-do” list during this pandemic? Is it working from home? Keeping you and your family safe if you are an essential worker? Educating or entertaining the children? Exercising at home? Limiting going out shopping? Keeping in touch with loved ones you aren’t allowed to see? Managing the budget and expenditures? The list can be endless. If you did the time analysis in Stress blog 4 on Work/Life Balance, how realistic is it to fit all (or any) of this into an already filled schedule? What are you likely to sacrifice to do this?

Regretfully, if you don’t manage expectations you become more and more stressed. Some people give up sleep and rush about. Ultimately, they feel inadequate and maybe even a little resentful. and certainly exhausted. Others go to bed and don’t get up, but say lots of unkind things about themselves and their failures. Regarding expectations, you are your own worst enemy. The stress of unrealistic expectations depletes us and creates distance, not the closeness we crave.

Perfectionism is an unrealistic standard that can never be met which creates stress and anxiety. You expect too much and always fall short. Other’s expectations also create stress when you are afraid of making mistakes and being criticized so you shut down before even beginning. On the outside it may look like you are lazy or coasting, while inside you may feel inadequate and afraid. This is another example of expectations set too high that creates stress and may lead to hopelessness and depression.

If you don’t listen to what you need or set limits on your own and other people’s unrealistic expectations, then you are setting yourself up for more stress. One major contributor to stress is being on autopilot in responding to expectations. How often do you stop to ask yourself these 3 key questions?

What do I really want? What can I really do? and Who can really help?

When you ask yourself these three questions, notice where you protest, “but I have to, or I should…” When it’s impossible to do it all, something has to give. This creates a dilemma because many things are important. See my blogs on dilemmas for more information on how to resolve them.

Please leave comments to let me know what you think!

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