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Causes Of Stress


October 04, 2013

Stress
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Causes Of Stress
Causes Of Stress
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Here are some individual and broad factors that play a role in the way we experience stress.
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2013-07-14

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Causes Of Stress

Work, money and family are among the most common sources of stress. It may be tempting to say life would be better without stress, but the things that cause stress are often the things most important to us.

Certain dramatic situations — the death of a spouse, mate or close family member; a major injury or illness to yourself or a close family member; or a divorce — cause high levels of stress. However, daily chronic hassles also are significant sources of stress.

Common stressors include:

  • Work
  • Parenting
  • Pregnancy
  • Personal Growth, Development and Change
  • Being a Caregiver
  • Retirement
  • Social Isolation

Work
Being underemployed — employed at a level beneath your skills and talents — can cause stress. Being more successful than your colleagues can cause stress. And in between these highs and lows, ordinary working experiences can, and do, cause stress. This is especially true in jobs that make tough demands on employees but allow them little control over how they carry out their responsibilities.

Other common factors that cause work-related stress include:

  • Deadlines that are extremely difficult to meet
  • Nonstop telephone calls
  • Conflicts with coworkers
  • Computer problems
  • Job insecurity

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Parenting
Parenting, especially of a young child, is inherently stressful, as you have the responsibility of caring for the health and safety of your child. And, perhaps not surprisingly, the more serious and extraordinary the challenges you must deal with as a parent, the more stress you are likely to feel. Mothers of very low-weight babies have been shown to have higher levels of stress than mothers of average-weight babies, and mothers of very low-weight babies with medical conditions have still higher levels of stress, even several years after the birth.

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Pregnancy
When a woman becomes pregnant, uncomfortable effects such as such as fatigue, nausea and backache are likely to follow. These effects, in themselves, cause stress by making life a little more difficult. Fatigue can make it more difficult to get work done, nausea may make you worry about getting to the office without becoming ill in the car, and backache may keep you from being able to lift your children when needed, which may cause them to cry more and make everyone in the family more stressed.

Meanwhile, hormone-related mood swings may decrease your ability to cope and in turn increase emotional responses.

Even more dramatically, there is the onslaught of worries that being a prospective parent presents — about the pain of labor, the health of the baby, and the overall responsibility of caring for a baby's physical, financial, emotional and other needs.

Although increased stress seems an inevitable part of pregnancy, high levels of stress can present medical risks to the baby, potentially increasing the risk of a miscarriage or of a premature or low-weight baby.

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Personal Growth, Development And Change
As a newborn becomes a child and faces the challenge of learning to walk and talk and eat by himself and, later, of going to school with other children and learning how to count and write the alphabet, each new challenge presents a potentially stressful situation — until he learns that he (or someone else) has the resources to handle it.

The same is true for adults. Each new stage of life — getting a job, getting married, having a baby, seeing children leave for college, watching parents enter old age, deciding to retire — is a significant change that can cause us to feel stress until we develop the resources to cope with it.

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Caregiving
If you care for an elderly or ill parent, spouse or other loved one, you know a special kind of stress. The responsibility of caring for others, especially those who are severely limited in their abilities, can present a host of nonstop physical demands. It can also cause a great deal of emotional stress and complex feelings, especially if these demands come on top of other professional, family and personal responsibilities.

If the person you care for has a particularly challenging condition, you might also experience the stress of extreme unpredictability. A loved one with Alzheimer’s disease may be quiet and gentle one day and uncooperative and aggressive the next. This fluctuation adds to the stress of being a caregiver.

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Retirement
Although work is one of the most common sources of stress, retirement, paradoxically, also can be a significant stressor. Long work hours and a demanding “to do” list can be draining, but work also gives us several important things, including a structure to the day, a sense of purpose and, if we’re lucky, a sense of satisfaction.

When we stop working, these benefits stop, leaving us without that familiar sense of structure and purpose. In other words, retirement can make days and weeks seem empty or meaningless.

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Social Isolation
Having friends' support in times of trouble appears to help many people. Lack of caring friends and family — if not a cause of stress in itself — makes stressful times even worse. People without friends and family, one stress expert writes, "may feel that they have nowhere to turn in the face of adversity because they have worked hard at removing the types of support systems that are helpful in times of stress."

For more information about the ranking or severity of stressors, see The Stress Scale.

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