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What Causes Stress

By Tricia Andor, Licensed Professional Counselor

The interesting thing about stress is that good things – events a person values and is even looking forward to – can be sources of stress. Celebrating the holidays, job responsibilities, planning a wedding, getting married, having a baby, buying a house, and even planning a vacation can all potentially become stressors.

Indeed, some inherently unpleasant experiences can also be causes for stress – relational conflict, financial struggles, death of a spouse or close friend, job burnout, job insecurity, divorce, test anxiety, failing a class, and loneliness.

There’s a certain amount of variance in the topic of stress. Where one person experiences giving a presentation as stressful, another experiences giving the same presentation in the same setting as exciting. One person’s dream of skydiving is another’s nightmare. One person’s eagerness to work with the new supervisor at work is another person’s angst.

Despite the variation in what individuals experience as stressful, some situations are especially likely to produce stress that can even compromise the immune system. These situations are:

  1. Work related problems – unemployment, underemployment, and chronically stressful work environment.
  2. Noise – Living next to an airport, subway, or construction site.
  3. Bereavement and loss – the death of a spouse, child, family member or other kinds of loss – physical, relational, occupational, social.
  4. Poverty, powerlessness, and low status – people living in poverty are less likely to have health care, more likely to live in areas with higher crime rates and discrimination, run-down housing, and fewer community resources. Jobs in which the workers have no control (powerlessness) over working conditions are particularly stressful.

Thus, the same situation can produce different amounts of stress for individuals (from no stress to a high amount of stress), and there are some situations that even correlate with people experiencing higher rates of stress-related illnesses.

The up side to stress is that how a person thinks about their situation can actually modulate how much stress they experience, if any… Another topic for another time.