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Stressors

In a recent survey done by the Gallup Organization, 40% of the people polled reported feeling stress frequently in daily life, and only 4% said that they never experienced stress. This section will discuss what these things that cause stress, otherwise known as stressors, are.

There are far too many things that can cause stress to list them all here, and even if they could be listed, there would be no way to just simply state which exact events or situations cause stress, because everybody will react differently. Something that causes a lot of stress for one person may not affect another person at all. It is possible, however, to describe common stressors. They can be divided into three main categories: daily events, major life changes, and self imposed stressors.

Daily events

Stress can affect us 24 hours a day. It doesn't matter what the circumstances are, and it is impossible to escape stress even while we sleep, because of nightmares, noise, temperature changes and bad sleeping positions. There are even things that can cause the body to show physical stress symptoms without any conscious realization of a stressful situation. Some of these "hidden" stressors include airport and traffic noise, relationships and interactions with other people, inadequate lighting, and uncomfortable weather conditions.

Any challenging or unpleasant event can cause stress, such as giving a presentation or speech. Simply being given a new assignment or task will have the same effect, as it promises a challenging event to come.

There is a lot of stress associated with school, jobs and the workplace. To find out more about stress and the workplace, click here.

Many people find themselves over work ed and extremely tired most of the time. Overworking occurs when an individual tries to do too much in too little time, and can happen on a daily basis. It can accumulate over a long period of time, decreasing efficiency in all aspects of life.

Families are very complex and are a large source of day to day stress. Arguments, any large decisions that need to be made (e.g. moving, taking out a loan), changes in the family situation (e.g. divorce, death, new baby), or even the people in the family themselves can cause stress.

The actual environment that an individual spends most of their time in can be a source of stress. For example, a run-down home on a busy street will invariable produce more stress than a well maintained one in a quiet residential area.

In addition, there are the daily stressors that only pop up from time to time, and are not always the same. These can include these include losing your keys, finding that there is a leak in the roof, forgetting your homework, and a traffic jam.

Major life changes

Major life changes are a large source of stress in people's lives, but that does not mean that they are most important or cause more stress than the daily stressors. Although it is true that finding that racoons live in your garage will be less stressful than, say, getting a divorce, it is possible that many daily stressors in sequence can be just as stressful as a major change. Major changes and daily stressors can also be related in the sense that a major change can cause an incease in daily stressors. For example, being fired from a job can result in tension at the home.

Any life change, whether large or small, can be stressful. Most of the items in the Social Readjustment Rating Scale have to do with change. (To go back to see these items, click here). Since most of the research for finding which items belonged on the Scale involved interviewing people, it can be concluded that major life changes are the most obvious stressors in life. This is most likely because the changes cause a lot of stress in a small amount of time. In contrast, daily stressors and self-imposed stress are small doses of stress that accumulate over time.

Self imposed stress

Believe it or not, you can be causing yourself stress. The other two categories involved external factors which caused stress, but in this section, stressors that are internally generated will be discussed. There are two different types of self-imposed stress: thoughts and actions.

Thoughts

Thoughts that can generate stress are usually negative thoughts concerning externally generated stress. It is very easy to brood over stressful problems or events and convince yourself that they are actually much worse than they really are. As well, all negative emotions can add to stress. These emotions include anger, guilt and fear, and can result in escalating stress symptoms and lower self esteem, both of which make you feel more stressed than before. Stressful habits can also greatly increase stress, because they result in either poor time management or the inability to prioritize in order to get everything done, to a reasonable degree of quality. Some examples of such habits include procrastination, laziness and perfectionism. These habits, especially laziness, are probably more prevalent now than ever before, because we now have all sorts of new technology to make life easier. Due to this, many people have lost some of their work ethic, making life not easier, but harder and more stressful than it need be.

Actions

Actions that can cause stress are ones that, ironically, are the very ones that are usually done to combat and cope with stress. In fact, however, they do the exact opposite, cause more stress, and thus can be considered stressors. Even worse, in the long run, these "quick fixes" for stress can turn out to be serious addictions.

Caffeine
"Caffeine is like drinking nervousness in small doses." Caffeine is a naturally found stimulant, and is in a lot of widely used products, including coffee, tea, cocoa, soda and chocolate. It creates a type of "lift", or an artificial boost of energy. It causes stress because it leads to a reaction much like the fight/flight one, and stress symptoms appear to become worse, but it is not possible to tell if they come from the stress or the caffeine. The danger of caffeine is that it is possible to become addicted to it, and need to consume large amounts just to make it through the day.

Sugar
Sugar produces a quick boost of energy (the expression "sugarhigh" is a well known one). It is found in most foods in one form or another, and is completely harmless in small doses. After the sugar high, however, comes the sugar low. This is because, when large amounts of sugar are consumed, the pancreas has to work much harder to allow the sugar to be absorbed by the liver. To do this, it gives off insulin. The more sudden the appearance of sugar, the more likely it is that the pancreas will release too much insulin. When this happens, you get cranky and tired, the result of the sugar low.

Sugar and Caffeine
Sugar mixed with caffeine is an unwise combination, because it will cause confusion. The high from the sugar plus the high from the caffeine will be extreme, and since the sugar low will come before the effects of caffeine are gone, the body will be getting mixed signals. This can be a problem, since most caffeinated foods also have large amounts of sugar in them as well.

Cigarettes
The numerous chemicals in cigarettes are stimulants. They raise pulse and blood pressure, and your hormones react the same way that they do during fight/flight. They cause stress by raising the stress symptoms and are also addictive, so the costs associated with keeping this addiction are high and can become stressful as the body becomes more and more addicted. Trying to stop smoking is stressful as well.

Drugs and Alcohol
These give an escape from stress, a chance to get away from it all for a little while, but they are also extremely damaging to the body as a whole. They are both addictive, and like cigarettes, they can get expensive, and it can get to the point where you can do nothing else without first getting more of the drugs or alcohol. This is stressful.

Conclusions

In a nutshell, one could say that, to some degree, all stress is caused by some type of change. This change does not have to be a major one, but rather anything that happens that is different from normal. But what is normal? Normal is not realistically ever going to occur, because here it means the perfect world in which everybody is at their optimum stress level all the time. A change, which could be something as minor as drinking a cup of coffee, or as major as being fired, will push you off your optimum stress point and cause you to become stressed. If you become adapted to the change then you will be able to reach your optimum stress point and the change can no longer be considered a stressor.

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