What Causes Stress


The causes of stress are known as stressors and there are literally hundreds of different types of stressors. Any event in life that a person finds threatening, difficult to cope with or causes excess pressure can be a potential cause of stress. It is important to bear in mind that stress is an individualistic, subjective experience and therefore what one person finds stressful another may not.  Stressors can be broken down roughly into either external or internal (or a mixture of both.)

1. External Stressors

a) Major Life Events

Research by Psychiatrists Drs Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe revealed a list of common causes of stress that most people would find stressful. They called this scale the Holmes and Rahe Social Readjustment Scale. The scale is a list of 45 stressors each given a number of points, with the most stressful at the top of the list (death of a spouse) and the least stressful at the bottom of the scale (a minor violation of the law). The research indicates that if your total score is more than 150 points the chances are that it could have an impact on your health. A score of over three hundred points in one year indicates that you have a high risk of developing a stress related health problem.

One of the weaknesses of the Holmes and Rahe Social Readjustment scale is that it doesn’t take into account the individual’s personality, their perception of how difficult the stressor is, nor does it take into account how long the stressor continues for; the scale just gives a single number for each stressor. However, its known that the longer a stressor continues, then the more likely it is to cause stress and that the individuals perception of an event is the key to whether they will find a situation stressful or not. 

For example, if a person is happy living in their house, they’ve lived there for a number of years, have developed close friends in the area and do not want to move but are forced to move because their home is being repossessed, then they are going to find the event of moving infinitely far more stressful than a person who has lived in their home for a short time, next to a very noisy, difficult neighbour and who wants to move to get away from the noise. 

To help overcome some of the drawbacks of the Holmes and Rahe Social Readjustment scale Professor Cary Cooper, of The University Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST), has upgraded it by allocating a scale of 1 - 10 points for each event, so allowing a person’s perception of how stressful the event is, to be taken into account. 

Cooper's Life Stress Inventory


b) Daily Hassles

The majority of causes of stress that we face on a day-to-day basis are not as extreme as life events.  The day-to-day causes of stress are called daily hassles; they are those daily, minor irritations such as misplacing our car keys, traffic jams, minor arguments with family/colleagues, etc. Research by Lazarus and Folkman (1984), at the University of California, indicated that it was the daily hassles rather than the major life events that affected us the most.

Life events do not occur every day, but daily hassles do; it’s the constant, daily frustration caused by these hassles that cause us the most stress, because they occur so regularly and therefore can undermine our health.

Some Examples of Daily Hassles


·       Misplacing keys

·       Arguments

·       Traffic jams

·       Time pressures

·       Lack of sleep

·       Fear of Crime

·       Shopping

·       Bureaucracy

·       Waiting

·       Loneliness

·       Queuing

·       Pollution

·       Gossip

·       Relatives

 ·       Excess noise

·       Inconsiderate people

·       Difficult neighbours

·       Car breakdown

·       Meal Preparation

·       Job dissatisfaction

·       Office Politics

·       Problems with children


 2.  Internal Stressors

We tend to think that stress is solely caused by external events, situations and people, yet this is not strictly correct. Research has found that the Transactional Model of Stress is more accurate. This model says that stress is caused by a transaction, i.e. there is an interaction between the stressor, our view of the stressor and our perceived ability to cope with it. It’s our own internal beliefs, attitudes, interpretations, perceptions and other factors, in combination with the external events that tend to create stress.   Internal factors which influence how we perceive stress include our:


·       Beliefs

·       Expectations

·       Locus of control

·       Low assertion

·       Low self esteem

·       People pleasing

·       Perception

·       Perfectionism

·       Personality


Examples of Some Causes of Stress


Physical Stressors

·       Sleep debt

·       Excess/too little exercise

·       Poor diet

·       Drug misuse

·       Alcohol misuse

·       Excess heat

·       Excess caffeine

·       Chronic hyperventilation

·       Excess cold

·       Illness

·       Smoking

·       Hypoglycaemia

·       Lack of relaxation

·       Surgery

·       Chronic pain

Psychological Stressors

·       Excess anger

·       Unrealistic beliefs

·       Excess pessimism

·       Health worries

·       Unrealistic expectations

·       Excessive worrying

·       Unhappy childhood

·       Unemployment

·       Financial problems

·       Perfectionism

·       Loneliness

·       Low self esteem

·       Low levels of assertion

·       People pleasing

·       Boredom

·       Negative self-talk

·       Personality

·       Rigid thinking style

·       Excessive self-criticism

·       Exams

·       Giving talks/presentations

Environmental Stressors

·       Pollution

·       Excess noise

·       Poor housing

·       Damp conditions

·       Traffic jams

 Work Stressors

·       Commuting

·       Time pressures

·       Job insecurity

·       Excess working hours

·       Workplace bullying

·       Company takeovers

·       Understaffing

·       Conflicts with colleagues

·       Low pay

·       Role ambiguity

·       Delegation problems

·       Lack of work recognition

·       Poor support/supervision

·       Workaholic

Family Stressors

·       Caring for a chronically ill relative

·       Partner with health problems

·       Partner with alcohol/drug problems

·       Relationship difficulties

·       Arguments with children

·       Bereavement

·       Children leaving home

Social Stressors

·       Fear of  crime

·       Living in an urban area

·       Poverty

·       Low social support

·       Bureaucracy/red tape

·       Rude, aggressive, unhelpful people

·       Victim of crime

·       Problem neighbours

·       Racial harassment


For more information visit:  Stress Management for Health Course

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The Have I Got A Problem website is a free online resource to help people better understand any issues or concerns they may have about mental health or addiction. The website includes resources specifically focused to; general Mental Health, Depression, Stress, Anxiety, Insecurities, Self-harm Schizophrenia, Bipolar, Anger Management, Eating Disorders, Coping, general Addiction, Alcohol, Smoking, Gambling, Drugs, Cocaine, Heroin, Marijuana (Cannabis) Ecstasy, PCP, Mephedrone, Ketamine & Crystal Meth.

The site was created to give the public information to help them understand mental health and addiction issues and to assist people in making better informed decisions about their life and personal choices.

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