Inquiry question: What is stress?
The first round of research: What causes us stress?
Feelings of stress are normally triggered by things happening in your life which involve: being under lots of pressure, facing big changes, worrying about something, not having much or any control over the outcome of a situation, having responsibilities that you’re finding overwhelming, not having enough work, activities or change in your life, and times of uncertainty.
There might be one big thing causing you stress, but stress can also be caused by a build-up of small pressures. This might make it harder for you to identify what’s making you feel stressed, or to explain it to other people. (1)
Stress can be a positive thing – helping an individual to grow, develop, be stimulated, and take action. However, if stress exceeds a person’s ability to cope it can impact their mental and physical health in a range of ways.
In the days of the caveman, stress often came in the form of physical threats that required individuals to react quickly and decisively. The body helped out by releasing a surge of ‘stress’ hormones (notably adrenaline and cortisol) to accelerate the heart rate, raise blood pressure, increase blood glucose (sugar) levels, and enhance the brain’s use of glucose. This stress response meant that the caveman was instantly ready to respond to danger.
Modern-day stressors are more likely to be psychological in origin and prolonged in nature (eg: work-related stress, financial worries, interpersonal relationships, chronic illnesses). But they can still set off your body’s stress response and, over time, can have a range of negative impacts on the body’s systems – brain, cardiovascular, immune, digestive, musculoskeletal, and so on.
People deal with stress in different ways and the ability to deal with stress changes throughout life. Those who have developed effective strategies to deal with day-to-day stressors are less likely to develop physical and psychological symptoms. (2)
Stress is normal and, to some extent, a necessary part of life. Despite it being something everyone experiences, what causes stress can differ from person to person.
For instance, one person may become angry and overwhelmed by a serious traffic jam, while another might turn up their music and consider it a mild inconvenience. A fight with a friend might follow one person around for the rest of the day, while another might easily shrug it off.
What’s causing you stress may already be something you’re abundantly aware of. But given the importance of keeping stress in check when it comes to mitigating the effects it can have on your physical and mental health, it’s worth opening yourself up to the possibility that other factors may be at play, too. Craft your stress-reduction plan with all of them in mind. (3)
Common external causes of stress include:
- Major life changes
- Work or school
- Relationship difficulties
- Financial problems
- Being too busy
- Children and family
Common internal causes of stress include:
- Inability to accept uncertainty
- Rigid thinking, lack of flexibility
- Negative self-talk
- Unrealistic expectations / perfectionism
- All-or-nothing attitude (4)
I hope this gave a clear understanding of how we get stressed. Thank you for reading.