Causes of Stress

Traditionally, stress was seen to be a result of external insults beyond one’s control. Richard Rahe and others established the view that stress is caused by distinct, measurable life stressors, ranked by the median degree of stress they produce (leading to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale)

Top Ten Stressful Life Events
(Source: Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory)

  1. Spouse’s death
  2. Divorce
  3. Marriage separation
  4. Jail term
  5. Death of a close relative
  6. Injury or illness
  7. Marriage
  8. Fired from job
  9. Marriage reconciliation
  10. Retirement

The situations and pressures that cause stress are known as stressors. We usually think of stressors as being negative, such as an exhausting work schedule or a rocky relationship. However, anything that puts high demands on us or forces us to adjust can be stressfulEven positive events such as getting married, buying a house, or receiving a promotion can be stressful.

Stress can be acute or chronic:

  • Acute stress, also known as the fight-or-flight response, is our body’s immediate reaction to a threat or a challenge. The acute stress response is immediate, intense, and in certain circumstances, it can be thrilling. Examples of stressors that may cause an acute stress response are a job interview, a fender bender or an exhilarating ski run
  • Chronic stress results from long-term exposure to acute stress. The chronic stress response is much more subtle than the acute stress response, but the effects may be longer lasting and more problematic. The stressors which may lead to chronic stress are the nagging, day-to-day life situations that often seem unrelenting. Think relationship problems, work difficulties and financial woes.

Common external causes of stress

  • Major life changes
  • Work place
  • Relationship Difficulties
  • Financial problems
  • Being too busy
  • Children and family

Common internal causes of stress

Not all stress is caused by external factors. Stress can also be self-generated:

  • Inability to accept uncertainty
  • Pessimism
  • Negavtive self-talk
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Perfectionism
  • Lack of assertiveness
  • Fears

What causes stress depends, at least in part, on your perception of it. Something that’s stressful to you may not faze someone else; they may even enjoy it.

For example, your morning commute may make you anxious and tense because you worry that traffic will make you late. Others, however, may find the trip relaxing because it allows them more than enough time and enjoy listening to music while they drive.

The current view is that external circumstances do not have any intrinsic capacity to produce stress, but their effect is mediated by the individual’s perceptions, capacities and understanding.

Stress is here to stay

Face it, not a day in your life will go by without encountering a situation or event that may trigger stress. Understanding the sources of your stress is the first step in learning to manage it.

So what stresses you out?

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