Welcome to Day 2 of our free stress management course – The Causes of Stress.
If you missed Day 1, or want to find out more about this free 6-day course, then take a look at the course content and introduction.
In the 4 modules after this one, we shall look at:
- The symptoms and effects of stress.
- Stress relieving tips (Quick fixes to bring down levels of stress… FAST).
- Stress coping strategies (longer term life-style solutions).
- Advanced stress management strategies.
However, before we can even think about dealing with stress, we need to understand what actually causes stress.
The change of human life
Human life has changed dramatically over the past 50 years. This has led to a massive increase in stress, and stress related illnesses. In fact, stress is widely known as the ‘modern disease’.
More and more people are living fast-paced lives, in crowded cities, compared with many years ago – when most people lived a largely slower-paced, rural, life-style.
Many jobs today are highly pressurized, with demanding employers. Our jobs are also becoming less secure than in years gone by.
There is also an increasing reliance for all members of the family to work. This is necessary to ensure that sufficient income is produced to pay for today’s ever-increasing expenses.
We also know that family lives are different today than (say) 50 years ago. There are more family break-ups, which result in more pressure on the individuals concerned (even if the break-ups are done amicably).
What exactly is stress?
The word ‘stress’ is typically used in the world of engineering, where it is used to describe when a certain structure or material is subjected to pressure or ‘stresses’. That structure or material can only take so much ‘stress’ before it reaches a breaking point. Once past that breaking point it then collapses.
Exactly the same description can be used with humans. We can cope with pressure build-up (or stress) up to a certain point, but then we’ll eventually ‘break’. This can happen physically (by over exercising) or, mentally. However, it’s our evaluation of situations which determine whether or not we are under threat. If we are, then a stress response occurs.
So should we try to eliminate stress completely then?
No. Controlled stress is actually a good thing. It can keep us stimulated and motivated to get things done. It can also keep us interested and alert for potential problems and dangers.
If we had no stress in our lives, we would get bored quite easily. Many people don’t appreciate that boredom is actually a stressor in itself.
So what’s the issue?
What is becoming a major problem is that stress and stress-related illness can happen gradually over a long period of time. Even more concerning is the fact that people are not conscious of that build-up of stress. This can lead to a number of serious health issues, unless the stress is managed.
Causes of Stress
In the following video, Dr. Don Elligan describes some causes of stress in everyday psychology.
As mentioned previously, we can be subjected to stress over a long period of time and seemingly be in control of it. However, this gradual build-up can also be a hidden danger and eventually cause a breaking point. This can happen at work, or at home.
Stress Management at Work
When we start work, we are frequently given simple tasks to do. However, the longer we are with a company, or the higher up the corporate ladder we go, more challenging work is given to us. This often takes us out of our ‘comfort zone’ – leading to stress.
This ‘career progression’ might also result in us:
- Working longer hours.
- Expected to be on-call 24 hours a day.
- Have more responsibilities (more responsible work, or personnel working under us).
- Involve us taking bigger risks.
Whatever the case may be, we are ‘seemingly’ able to cope because this can be a gradual build-up over 20 or 30 years.
However, eventually we could start making mistakes at work, or have a build-up of ‘hidden illnesses’ – which could result in us having to take time off work through illnesses, or even having a break-down. An increasing number of people today are absent from work due to stress-related illnesses.
The good news is that there is an increasing awareness by large corporations of the need to protect their workforce from stress-related illness. However, just ‘being aware’ isn’t enough.
Good employers should have effective ‘stress management at work’ programs – incorporating stress management activities such as ergonomic exercises. These help alleviate the stress caused by doing repetitive tasks – such as sitting at a computer and typing all day.
In extreme cases, some employers encourage their staff to attend anger management courses.
How does your employer help you deal with work related stress?
Home Life Stress
Unfortunately, this type of stress is less publicized and not widely accepted as being ‘real’.
60 years ago, it was typical for the male of the family to go to work. Meanwhile the female stayed at home, looking after the house, and raising the children.
Today, it is typical for both parents to be working full-time, in order for life-styles to be maintained. As a result, there is added pressure on both parents to be available as much as possible to look after the children.
Again, this stress can be hidden, or coped with, and might not be a problem when there is just one child. However, if a second or third is born then the pressures are obviously multiplied.
This can result in both parents leading lives rushing from their workplace to the schools. Then rushing the children to ‘after school’ activities. In some cases, the parents are not always able to be the ‘taxi service’. This can lead to a build-up of guilt – which leads to further stress.
This stress can eventually manifest itself in them becoming impatient and even ‘snapping’ at the children for the least little thing.
The children then start to grow up in a stressful environment where they see their parents always rushing about. The children might also start to feel neglected, as they do not understand the reason for the parents not being around.
Of course, there are more relationship break-ups today than there has ever been. And relationship break-ups today can be particularly messy and expensive affairs. This, when added to the above stresses, can lead to major stress-related problems.
Modern Gadgets Cause Stress
Technology has moved on greatly in the last 100 years. Every time something new was invented it was designed to make our lives easier.
The car was invented and was supposed to make getting from one place to another a lot easier. However, 100 years later, we are sitting in traffic jams in our major towns and cities, becoming stressed that we have not been able to get to our destination as quick as we’d expected.
Kitchen appliances such as washing machines, and microwave ovens, plus other household gadgets, such as vacuum cleaners, were designed to speed up our lives. Of course they’ve all achieved this.
However, we’re taking less exercise because the washing machine does all the work for us and the vacuum cleaner is a lot easier to use than beating a carpet.
Meanwhile, we are eating less healthily because we are consuming microwave meals which are lacking in nutrition. This reduced level of exercise, coupled with a poor diet, are major contributors to stress related illnesses.
The Telephone and e-mail
The telephones, and more recently e-mail, were designed to make communications a lot quicker and easier. In reality, we have ended up producing tools that constantly interrupt and distract us from our main tasks.
This results in us not being focused and, in turn, means that we do not achieve our goals. The non-accomplishment of goals is another major cause of stress.
Television was invented to entertain and educate us, whilst also providing a medium for us to sit back and relax. Unfortunately, people are tending to watch ‘trash television’ which isn’t actually educating them at all (but that’s for another article).
Today, there is actually too much TV choice, with hundreds of cable television programs. This overwhelm of choice can be a hidden stress in itself.
A family arguing over the choice of a television program is not engaging in quality time. People are also spending less time talking about their thoughts and feelings and instead immersing themselves in what they are led to believe is ‘relaxation time’.
Basically, we are exercising less and speaking to each other less due to television. Both can add to stress.
21st Century Gadgets
In the past 30 years, there has been a massive increase in the ownership of computers and computer-like games. Then, 25 years ago the Internet was invented. More recently, mobile phones have been developed.
Whilst all of these have undoubtedly improved our lives, they are all making humans more insular and less likely to communicate with others on a face-to-face level.
Many people are constantly ‘on edge’ waiting for ‘that’ phone call, or a text message, or trying to get to the ‘next level’ of a computer game.
That all equals stress!!!
Whilst technology has undoubtedly improved our lives, in many ways, it has also resulted in higher individual expectations and, with the most recent technology, we are being distracted from what’s important in our lives.
Types of Stressors
The next video looks at categories of stressors:
- Significant life changes.
- Daily hassles.
- Ambient stressors.
Common Causes of Stress
Let’s break these down a bit more. Stress can be caused by:
- A lack of something material (e.g. money, car house).
- A lack of something emotional (e.g. love, motivation, confidence).
- Arguments / not getting you own way.
- Being unorganized.
- Fear of the future.
- Illness / health issues.
- Missed deadlines at work (or at home).
- Not being able to say “no”.
- Not getting enough sleep.
- Overworked / Overwhelm.
- Scared to take action.
Stress Caused by Life Events
Above we have looked at the stressed caused by everyday life. There are of course life events which are very often the catalyst for major causes of stress.
It is worth knowing what can trigger stress for yourself – and also to look out for the health of friends and relatives if you know that they are experiencing any of these events themselves:
- A change in your partner’s work (i.e. starts a new job or leaves an old one).
- A close friend dies.
- A major illness or injury (to you, or close family member).
- A son or daughter leaves home.
- Being made redundant or losing a job.
- Birth of a new baby.
- College exams.
- Commencement of a new job.
- Death of a partner.
- Elderly relatives moving into your home.
- Getting back with a partner (reconciling).
- Getting married.
- Major changes at your workplace.
- Moving house.
- Retiring from a job.
- Separation of another family member.
- The announcement of a pregnancy (for yourself or your partner).
- The commencement of a mortgage.
- Waiting for the results of medical tests.
As you can see from above, not all stress related life events are negative. Some of them can, and should, be happy times. But they are still stressful.
One of the events which isn’t mentioned above, which can be very stressful, is going on vacation. In theory, it’s supposed to be a happy and relaxing time. However, having the finances for it, preparing for it, and ensuring that you meet the travel commitments (i.e. getting on a flight), can all be very stressful.
The size of change can equal the size of stress
What is important to appreciate is that it is actually the ‘magnitude of change’ in your life which is likely to cause stress, rather than if it is just a happy or unhappy event.
Now that you know the potential circumstances which can cause stress, your next step is to see if you are actually showing any signs of stress. This will come in Day 3. Here we will look at the symptoms and effects of stress. We will also pay attention to the health problems and diseases caused by stress.
If you are in any doubt about your levels of stress or your ability to cope with it, then you should refer to your medical practitioner for help and guidance as we are not in a position to offer medical advice for individual cases.
We hope that you found “Day 2 – The Causes of Stress” helpful. Please share any of your stressful experiences in the comments boxes below and feel free share the contents of this article by using the social media links.
IMAGE CREDITS: Young Irritated Executive(imagerymajestic)/Business Woman Headache, Businessman On Phone, Man & women in red(David Castillo Dominici) – all at freedigitalphotos.net