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 are 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 is 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 is connected to our past experiences, our self-esteem, and how our thought processes work, such as if we tend to interpret things positively or negatively
  • How skilled we are at dealing with pressure
  • Our emotional resilience to stressful situations

We are all different, so a situation that does not bother you at all might cause someone else a lot of stress. For example, if you are 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. However, if you are feeling low or usually prefer not to be the centre of attention, this situation might cause you to become stressed.

“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.

Personal issues

  • Illness or injury
  • Pregnancy and becoming a parent
  • Bereavement
  • Long-term health problems
  • Organising a complicated event, like a family holiday

Friends and family

  • Getting married or entering a civil partnership
  • Going through a break-up or getting divorced
  • Difficult relationships with parents, siblings, friends, or children
  • Being a carer for a friend or family member who needs lots of support

Employment and study

  • Losing your job
  • Long-term unemployment
  • Retiring
  • Exams
  • Deadlines
  • Problems with work
  • Starting a new job


  • Poor housing conditions
  • Relocating or moving houses
  • Problems with neighbours


  • Money worries
  • Poverty
  • Debt

“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 are generally expected to feel happy or excited about getting married, or having a baby. However, because such events can bring big changes to your life or impose unusual demands on you, they can be very stressful. This can be particularly difficult to deal with, because you might feel that there is 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.”




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