Looking at what causes stress can be vital in helping us to understand how to manage and handle all of the different types of stress in our lives.
Biologically, stress is a natural and healthy response to a difficult situation. Faced with some kind of pressure or threat, the body heightens its stress resistance by releasing extra adrenaline, cortisol and related hormones that prepare us for physical exertion: the 'fight or flight' response.
These hormones give us an energy boost but they also have other effects that may not be so positive. For example, they shut down our digestion so that all energy can be directed to the muscles. They also cause muscle tension, a rise in blood pressure and reduced sensitivity to pain.
All of these things are very useful if we are about to be attacked by a man-eating tiger, or even a mugger. The problem is that the body does not know what type of pressure or threat it is facing, and the physical response is not appropriate to most kinds of modern day stressors. What causes stress today is often not a physical problem at all. When faced with a situation such as an important test in college or a serious financial problem at home, the 'fight or flight' response is not useful. There is nobody to fight, and running away will not achieve our long term goals.
So the body does not get to use the hormones it has prepared to energize us in either of these situations. If what causes stress in our lives is not a physically dangerous situation, these hormones may never get to be released in action. They build up in our systems while the stressful situation continues, causing damage in the long term if we do not take steps to manage and release them.
Now let's look at what causes stress in most people's lives today.
1. Stressful Events
Stressful events are things that happen from time to time in most everybody's lives. They are well known contributors to what causes stress. They include events like:
- the death of a spouse or child
- serious illness of self, spouse or child
- moving home
- pregnancy and childbirth
- physically dangerous situations like a fire, an accident, being attacked by somebody.
Stressful events are probably the clearest example of stress in our lives, but they are not the only things that can cause a physical stress response.
2. Long Term Stressors
Long term stressors are the issues that never seem to go away. They can hang over our lives for many years, causing us stress just about permanently. These things can include:
- having suffered abuse as a child
- financial problems
- problems in relationships
- pressure at work.
Most of these situations cannot be avoided unless we live on a trust fund as a complete recluse. Even then, there would inevitably be some health issues in a person's life, and in fact, having no close relationships is also a cause of stress. Stressful situations are natural and in fact, we would not want to avoid some of them. The important thing to remember when considering what causes stress is that it is a physical response – it is not our fault, nor is it a mental illness.