Identifying the causes of stress

Is stress affecting you?

The aim of this article is to illustrate just how many causes of stress there are and to show you that many of them may be affecting you without you even realising it. For example, you may think that the only stress you really consider relevant in your life is pressure at work or perhaps the aggravation of having to pick up your children every day at a time when you would rather be relaxing.

But there is usually more to it than that and any bad experiences you may be feeling as a result of stress will probably be for a mixture of reasons. Read through this section and take part in the tests and questionnaires. This will help you to isolate and identify the roots of the stresses and strains you feel. Armed with his self-knowledge, you will be in a better position to tackle any problems you may have.

Definition of stress

Unfortunately, there is no simple definition of stress. When we talk about stress, we could be talking about a combination of the circumstances or conditions – the ‘stressors’ – that cause it, or we could be talking a bout the effects of the stressors.

Stressors come in any number of forms but they are usually life events or situations that spin out of your control. Getting stuck in a traffic jam on the way to a job interview is an example of a stressor; collecting a parking ticket because you were in too much of a hurry to read the restrictions is another.

Stress is what you feel in response to stressors. You may feel a sense of panic as you sit helplessly behind the wheel as you inch your way towards your interview appointment, or you may feel angry and frustrated that you are obliged to pay a large parking fine.

There is another way of putting it; stress can be thought of as the perception that events or circumstances have challenged or exceeded your ability to cope. It is important to point out at this stage, however, that there are two common misconceptions about stress. One is that it is an external factor – something that happens to you, like blaming your boss for problems at work. The other is that stress is always a bad thing.

In the first case, quite the reverse is true, Stress is something that you create inside yourself – it is how you react to what is going on around you. And, in the second case, you may not want to believe it but some stress is actually healthy and good for you. So let us take a look at good and bad stress.

Challenge or threat?

Positive, beneficial stress is what you feel after a day of gardening, a long day’s shopping, or a busy week at work. All these are stimulating and rewarding. After a hot bath and a restful evening you feel recovered and happy with what you have achieved. If you view each task you do as a challenge then you will tend to generate stimulating stress, the kind of stress that spurs you on to achieve goals and get a job done.

Regard the same tasks as a threat and you will trigger negative stress. Anger, frustration, anxiety and self-doubt are all example of the emotions you feel when you experience negative stress. You may begin to think you cannot do a job, or that it is too much for you. If you experience negative stress for too long, it becomes something that leaves you feeling helpless and out of control. For better or worse, when we refer to stress in every day conversation, we nearly always are actually referring to negative stress.

Have you ever wondered why some people deal with stress better than others? Why it is that a colleague who is under the same pressure as you comes into work positively glowing, while you feel like a limp rag?

It is invariably because your perception of an event, and your inability to cope with it, creates a negative stress response in you, whereas the same event triggers a positive response in your colleague. What you see as a problem is now viewed in the same way by your friend. In other words, it is not the event that determines whether or not you feel good or bad stress, it is how you respond to it.

Here is an example of how two people might respond differently to the same stressor.

Pat relishes a challenge and wants to organize a surprise silver wedding anniversary party for his parents. His sister, Julie, on the other hand, hates the idea and just thinking about it makes her hands go clammy.

Arranging the party is something Pat would choose to do whereas Julie would only do it if she was forced into it. This element of choice is another key factor in whether or not a task becomes negatively stressful.

How much control you think you have over an event or situation and the question of choice play the most crucial roles in determining your response to a stressor.

If deadlines at work mean you have to work late when you would rather be out living it up with friends, or if you feel obliged to take your mother to the airport, then you will respond and feel very differently than if you chose to work late so that you could take a long weekend, or if you offered to take your mother to the airport in order to catch up with family news.

So what causes stress? In the next section we’ll explore the causes of stress – lifestyle, mind, body and work.

Causes of stress >>

Text Copyright © Alix Needham
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