What causes 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.
There might be one big thing causing you stress, but stress can also be caused by a build-up of small challenges.This might make it harder for you to identify what’s making you feel stressed, or to explain it to other people.
“Lots of things stress me at the moment, mainly worries about my memory, as I’m a pensioner with nothing to do all day. Trying to fill my day is hard as I have arthritis so can’t walk too far.”
Why do certain things make me feel stressed?
The amount of stress we feel in different situations can depend on:
- our perception of the situation – this might be connected to our past experiences, our self-esteem, and how our thought processes work (for example, if we tend to interpret things positively or negatively)
- how skilled we are at dealing with pressure (see p.10)
- our emotional resilience to stressful situations (see p.12).
We’re all different, so a situation that doesn’t bother you at all might cause someone else a lot of stress. For example, if you’re feeling confident or usually enjoy public speaking, you might find that giving a speech in front of a room of people feels comfortable and fun. But if you’re feeling low or usually prefer not to be the centre of attention, this situation might cause you to experience signs of stress.
“I get stressed when things get out of perspective – too much work, thinking too far ahead.”
What kind of situations can cause stress?
Some common life events which often cause a lot of stress are listed below.
- illness or injury
- pregnancy and becoming a parent
- long-term health problems
- organising a complicated event, like a family holiday
Friends and family
- getting married or civil partnered
- going through a break-up or getting divorced
- difficult relationships with parents, siblings, friends or children
- being a carer for a friend or relative who needs lots of support
Employment and study
- losing your job
- long-term unemployment
- exams and deadlines
- difficult issues at work
- starting a new job
- poor housing conditions
- moving house
- problems with neighbours
- worries about money or benefits
“My breakdown […] was due to having a stressful job as a project manager and dealing with a marriage break-up and subsequent divorce.”
Can happy events cause stress?
Some of the situations listed above are often thought of as happy events – for example, you might feel expected to be happy or excited about getting married or having a baby. But because they can bring big changes or make unusual demands on you, they can still be very stressful. This can be particularly difficult to deal with, because you might feel there’s additional pressure on you to be positive.
“I’ve never been more stressed in my life than the 6 months leading up to my wedding… everyone kept asking me if I was happy and expecting me to be excited all the time, but I just couldn’t feel it. I ended up getting really ill”