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What are the most common stress causes?

Learn how to manage the most common stress causes in today's busy lifestyles.

A big event, like a wedding, can be a major cause of stress in people. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
A big event, like a wedding, can be a major cause of stress in people.

Stress is a natural and often useful part of life. However, the symptoms of stress can affect a person’s body, mind and behavior, and severe stress can lead to serious conditions such as high blood pressure, drug and alcohol abuse and depression. Understanding the most common stress causes can help anticipate and deal with stress more productively. 

The American Psychological Association’s Web page devoted to stress outlines the many varieties of stress and offers ideas and strategies for dealing with stress.

What is Stress?

Stress is individual. What causes stress in one person may relax another. For instance, traveling might be fun and exciting to some, while others might feel stress from being in unfamiliar situations.

Many people who feel stress experiences the “fight-or-flight” reaction. During this reaction, an area of a person’s brain called the hypothalamus sets off a response that eventually causes the release of hormones, mostly adrenaline and cortisol, which give people the energy, speed and focus needed to handle stressful situations. The release of these hormones over a long period of time in reaction to the psychological threats of our modern world can be unhealthy. Experiencing long-term stress can cause headaches, exhaustion, difficulty concentrating, and feelings of anger, loneliness and depression.

Causes of Stress

Some common causes of long-term stress include both “positive” and “negative” changes. Marriage and starting a family can trigger a fight-or-flight response just as easily as a divorce or the death of a relative. The sights and sounds of the world around us can be stressors, as can surprises -- good or bad. From difficulties with a co-worker to a teething baby, work and family also cause stress, not to mention the social stress of a first date or planning a party.

Change, surprise, work and family are all examples of external stressors. To a certain extent, we have very little control over the external stressors in our lives. However, we also experience more individual stress fueled by internal stressors, which include fear (of spiders or thunderstorms, for instance), uncertainty about the future, pessimism (such as a negative view of our own abilities), and self-expectations that may be too high or demanding.

Dealing with Stress

The good news is that while we don’t have much power over the external stressors in life, we can sometimes face our internal stressors head-on. Try planning ahead and setting realistic goals to help ease the stress caused by internal dilemmas. MayoClinic, a not-for-profit medical practice that provides services and education to the public, offers tips for how to cope with both internal and external stress, read Coping with Stress for more information.

Stress in Children

Children also experience stress, and although the causes of childhood stress might seem minor to adults, they can have a big effect on a child’s health and psyche. External pressures to do well in school and to fit in socially are common stress causes for children. Kids can also be affected by the stressors in their parents’ lives – they do not always have the tools to effectively weigh and evaluate adult discussions, so be conscious of what information they can overhear. To help a child cope with stress, make sure that they sleep and eat well, and make time in your own day to talk with them about their problems, fears and concerns.

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