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Causes of Stress

"Situations, circumstances or any stimulus that is perceived to be a threat is


referred to as a stressor, or that which causes or promotes stress."
(Brian Luke Seaward)
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 doesnt take into
account the individuals 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, it s 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, theyve 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
persons perception of how stressful the event is, to be taken into account. We have included a copy
of Professor Coopers modified version in the course materials for you to view and use.

Cooper's Life Stress Inventory

Cooper's Life Stress Inventory

(© Professor C. Cooper, 1988)


Cooper's Life Stress Inventory can help measure life change and susceptibility to stress related
illness. Place an (X) in the 'Yes' column for each event which has taken place in the last two
years. Then circle a number on the scale which describes how upsetting the event was to you,
e.g. 10 for the death of a husband or wife.
Event Yes Scale
Bought house 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Sold house 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Moved house 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Major house renovation 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Separation from loved one 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
End of relationship 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Got engaged 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Got married 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Marital problem 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Awaiting divorce 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Divorce 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Child started school/nursery 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Increased care for elderly or ill person 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Problems with relatives 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Problems with friends/neighbours 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Pet-related problems 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Work-related problems 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Change in nature of work 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Threat of redundancy 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Changed job 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Made redundant 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Unemployed 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Retired 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Increased or new bank loan/mortgage 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Financial difficulty 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Insurance problem 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Legal problem 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Emotional or physical illness of close family or relative 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Serious illness of close family or relative requiring hospitalisation 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Surgical operation experienced by family member or relative 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Death of a spouse 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Death of family member or relative 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Death of a close friend 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Emotional or physical illness of yourself 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Serious illness requiring your own hospitalisation 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Surgical operation on yourself 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Pregnancy 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Birth of a baby 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Birth of a grandchild 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Family member left home 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Difficult relationship with children 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Difficult relationship with parents 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Score
Low stress High Stress
1 50 100
b) Daily Hassles
"Any idiot can face a crisis its this day-to-day living that wears you
out." (Anton Chekov)
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; its 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 · Bureaucracy · Excess noise
· Arguments · Waiting · Inconsiderate people
· Traffic jams · Loneliness · Difficult neighbours
· Time pressures · Queuing · Car breakdown
· Lack of sleep · Pollution · Meal Preparation
· Fear of Crime · Gossip · Job dissatisfaction
· Shopping · Relatives · Office Politics
· Problems with children
2. Internal Stressors
"Stress resides neither in the situation nor in the person; it depends on a
transaction between the two."
(Dr Richard Lazarus PhD)
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, ie there is an interaction between the stressor, our
view of the stressor and our perceived ability to cope with it. Its 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 · Low assertion · Perception
· Expectations · Low self esteem · Perfectionism
· Locus of control · People pleasing · Personality

Examples of Some Causes of Stress


Physical Stressors Work Stressors
· Sleep debt · Commuting
· Excess/to little exercise · Time pressures
· Poor diet · Job insecurity
· Drug misuse · Excess working hours
· Alcohol misuse · Workplace bullying
· Excess heat · Company takeovers
· Excess caffeine · Understaffing
· Chronic hyperventilation · Conflicts with colleagues
· Excess cold · Low pay
· Illness · Role ambiguity
· Smoking · Delegation problems
· Hypoglycaemia · Lack of work recognition
· Lack of relaxation · Poor support/supervision
· Surgery · Workaholic
· Chronic pain Family Stressors
Psychological Stressors · Caring for a chronically ill relative
· Excess anger · Partner with health problems
· Unrealistic beliefs · Partner with alcohol/drug problems
· Excess pessimism · Relationship difficulties
· Health worries · Arguments with children
· Unrealistic expectations · Bereavement
· Excessive worrying · Children leaving home
· Unhappy childhood Social Stressors
· Unemployment · Fear of crime
· Financial problems · Living in an urban area
· Perfectionism · Poverty
· Loneliness · Low social support
· Low self esteem · Bureaucracy/red tape
· Low levels of assertion · Rude, aggressive, unhelpful people
· People pleasing · Victim of crime
· Boredom · Problem neighbours
· Negative self talk · Racial harassment
· Personality
· Rigid thinking style
· Excessive self criticism
· Exams
· Giving talks/presentations
Environmental Stressors
· Pollution
· Excess noise
· Poor housing
· Damp conditions
· Traffic jams
Stress and Personality

We all have certain features to our personality that make us unique as people; however there are
many aspects of our personality that are similar to other people. These similar personality factors
are called Personality Traits. Research has indicated that certain personality traits can make us
more vulnerable to stress. People with such traits are known as Type A personalities. Type A's tend
to be more competitive, more impatient, have time urgency when compared to the more relaxed and
laid back Type B personalities. It's important to realise that we are all a mixture of type A and B
personality traits but if we are excessively type A this can make us more vulnerable to stress. We
have included a Stress and Personality Self Test at the end of session one in the course materials for
you to fill in. We can reduce our Type A personality traits through the techniques taught on this
course. Here are some Type A and some Type B Personality Traits:

Type A Personality Traits Type B Personality Traits

· Must get things finished · Do not mind leaving things unfinished


for a while
· Never late for appointments · Calm and unhurried about
appointments
· Excessively competitive · Not excessively competitive

· Can't listen to conversations, · Can listen and let the other person
interrupt, finish others sentences finish speaking

· Always in a hurry · Never in a hurry even when busy

· Do not like to wait · Can wait calmly

· Very busy at full speed · Easy going

· Trying to do more than one thing at a · Can take one thing at a time
time

· Want everything to be perfect · Do not mind things not quite perfect

· Pressurised speech · Slow and deliberate speech

· Do everything fast · Do things slowly

· Hold feelings in · Can express feelings


· Not satisfied with work/life · Quite satisfied with work/life
· Few social activities/interests · Many social activities/interests
· If in employment, will often take · If in employment, will limit working to
work home work hours
Why it's Important to Reduce Stress

"Stress is people's natural reaction to excessive pressure it isn't a disease, but


if stress is excessive and goes on for some time, it can lead to mental and
physical ill health (eg depression . . . heart disease." (Health and Safety
Executive)
The role of stress in illness is a complex one. Research has indicated that chronic, unmanagedstress
can be one factor in the development and/or exacerbation of a wide range of physical and
psychological health problems. Disease, however is rarely ever caused by one single factor alone,
but is brought about by a matrix of interacting factors such as genetic predisposition, lack of
exercise, unmanaged stress, etc., add to this our negative coping strategies, such as smoking, excess
alcohol, a junk food diet, high in fat, refined sugars, salt, low in fibre, fruits and vegetables, its a
combination that increases our disease risk.
Stress is not like a physical disease agent, for example a flu virus. If you exposed 100 people to a
flu virus those that develop flu would have very similar symptom patterns, however if you subject
100 people to chronic unmanaged stress they may not all develop the same stress related
disease. One person may develop migraines in response to stress because that is their biological
and genetic pre-disposition, another person exposed to the same chronic, unmanaged stress may
develop back pain. Stress seems to have an effect on the individuals genetically related disease
vulnerability.
Some Conditions Linked to Unmanaged Stress
· Acne -Headaches --Smoking
-Ulcerative Colitis -Migraine -Eczema
-Stomach Ulcers -Epilepsy · Slow Wound Healing
-Back Pain -ADHD · Psoriasis
-Arthritis · Pain · Bipolar Depression
-Infertility -Stroke · Insomnia
· PMS -Heart Disease · Anxiety
-Asthma · High Blood Pressure · Depression
-Diabetes -Angina Pectoris · Alcohol Addiction
-Drug Addiction -Increased Colds/Flu · Fibromyalgia
-Herpes -Gambling

That's the bad news. But the good news is, research studies have shown that learning Stress
Management techniques can lower our stress levels and reduce our susceptibility to developing a
wide range of physiological and psychological stress related health problems.
When it's More Than Stress

Stress itself is not a disease however chronic levels of stress can be a factor in triggering clinical
anxiety and depression. It's important to be able to differentiate between stress, anxiety and
depression. Look at the symptoms of anxiety and depression below and if you think these
symptoms could apply to you then see your doctor.

Anxiety Symptoms Depression Symptoms

-I often feel shaky or tremble · More often than not, I am depressed for
most of the day

· I experience muscular tension or · I have lost my enthusiasm for most


aches activities

· I feel edgy and keyed up · I am having problems sleeping -


insomnia or hypersomnia

· I am easily tired · I feel tired or fatigued most of the time

· I feel restless most of the time · I have a low opinion of myself. I usually
feel worthless or guilty

· I am startled easily · I am unable to concentrate. I am


indecisive

· I feel irritable · I feel either edgy or slowed down

· I have problems falling or staying · I have suicidal thoughts. I don't want to


asleep be here anymore

· I have difficulty concentrating, I · I have had significant weight gain or loss


keep forgetting things not due to dieting

-I keep worrying all the time. I dwell on


problems