What Our Response To Surprises Reveals About Stress

“Surprise Me!” The Surprising Ways Our Attitudes Shape Our Experiences

How do you respond to the unexpected? Would you like to more easily accept life's little surprises?. Sydney Roberts/ Getty Images

Early in my college career, I worked as a barista to make ends meet. I used to love creating different drinks, and never minded it when people had special requests. Now that I'm on the other side of the espresso bar, I still like my drinks to be a little unique, to the point that, when asked whether or not I want whipped cream, I may respond with a request for baristas to "surprise me!" (I case you're curious, they tend to give me whipped cream roughly 4 out of 5 times, which I love, and when I don't get it, it makes the whipped cream "surprises" all the more sweet.)

I recently told a group of friends about this occasional practice, and they had responses that surprised me, but make complete sense. One friend laughed and said, "Ooh, that's dangerous! If they didn't give me whipped cream, I would wonder if they thought I needed to hold off on the calories!" Another friend said, "If they did give me the whipped cream, I would wonder if maybe I looked like I needed a pick-me-up." It occurred to me that I may wonder if the decision to give whipped cream would mean that they thought I looked like a "fun-loving" person, or if they didn't give it, it was because they were trying to help me with my health and fitness goals. Then, as a former barista, I remember how much fun it was to put a swirl of cream on the top of a drink, and realized that it could be a reflection of how much the barista wanted to have fun with my drink, or save time by omitting an extra step.

The reason I bring this up is not to make you thirsty for espresso drinks, but to point out that there are many, many different ways to interpret the events that happen in one's life, or the motivations that drive the behaviors of others. And these differences can affect how stressed we feel in our lives.

Much of our stressful experiences come down to our attitudes and our perceptions, as these attitudes and perceptions literally lead to different interpretations of events, different actions we may take in response to these interpretations, and experiences of the world. For example, if 20 people asked to be "surprised" on the whipped cream decision, we may have some people walking away feeling lucky, some feeling insulted, some feeling affirmed, some feeling self-conscious, and some merely feeling pleasantly surprised.

How many times do you think you may be interpreting something more negatively than you may necessarily need to interpret it? How many areas of your life may be less stressful with a change of attitude?

It turns out that the way we react to life's surprises can be telling about how we react to stress.  Things like a surprise in a coffee order (whether requested or not) can reveal quite a bit about how we think about other surprises. Perhaps the best person to analyze your responses is you: as you go through your day, see how you react to the little things.  Do you think you have a positive attitude, and are you open to possibilities?  Do you think you're more negative than you'd like to be?

 Becoming aware of these little things can be the beginning of a new awareness, new goals, and a changed perspective.

Examine Your Attitude

The following resources can help you to examine your own attitudes and ways of seeing the world, and make a shift if you choose.  Remember, small changes lead to new habits, which forge larger, more lasting changes.  Any efforts you begin now can change your life down the road.  The following resources can help you to examine your attitudes and perceptions, assess how they may be affecting your stress levels, and see what you can do to change these things.  Let's see where these first steps can take you!

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