Stress. It’s something we all encounter. But have you noticed how some people seem to take it in stride? Heck, a few of them even turn their stress into motivation! What is their secret? How can they keep calm in the face of chaos? And what causes stress in the first place?
Today I’m here to talk about just that. We’ll look at the five leading causes of stress in our lives, as well as the best strategies for how to handle them.
So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, on edge, or generally “stressed out,” then read on. This post is just for you.
The 5 Leading Causes of Stress and How to Handle Them
Arguments with a partner, child, sibling, parent, or close friend can have a serious impact on our stress levels. It goes without saying that these individuals often play an important role in our lives. And because of this, the feelings of frustration, sadness, anger, and tension that accompany these disagreements stick with us far past the actual encounter.
What’s more, this type of stress is contagious. Have you ever “felt” the tension in a room when you’re not even involved in the fight? You’re not alone. In fact, a study from the Max Planck Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences found that “even being around a stressed person, be it a loved one or a stranger, has the power to make a someone stressed in a physically quantifiable way.” Crazy huh?
So what can we do?
First, think about what is causing stress in your relationship. Because here’s the truth. What you’re thinking about is what’s causing the problem. So once you can identify those thoughts, you can start moving forward.
As you consider the situation, it’s often helpful to distinguish the relationship from the problem. Your partner/brother/daughter is not causing you stress. It is your thoughts about their behavior that’s the challenge. So try to keep the person and the challenge clearly separate.
Next, try to see the circumstance from their perspective. Show them respect by acknowledging their feelings, and then open up communication to talk rationally about the problem. (If you’re looking for some strategies to increase your communication skills, this post has several suggestions.)
Are you still feeling stuck? Be sure to set up a session with me here to talk through difficult situations and how to shift your perspective and improve those relationships.
Financial concern is another common cause of stress for the average adult. A few months ago, CareerBuilder released a report noting up to 78% of American workers with full times jobs live paycheck to paycheck. And while the age-old saying “money can’t buy happiness” still rings true, the American Psychological Association (APA) cites financial stress as the top cause of stress for Americans today. So whether you’re scrimping to save for an important purchase, or you’re struggling to get out of debt, finances can create significant anxiety in our lives.
How can we handle this stress?
First of all, make yourself sit down and create a budget. Note both your incoming and outgoing expenses, and carefully scrutinize the latter. Where can you cut back? Can you drop your Netflix account and just use Amazon Prime? Could you start making your coffee at home rather than running to Starbucks each morning? Can you start prepping weekly meals rather than ordering takeout a few nights a week? All of these little steps add up to significant savings over time.
Once you have a clear understanding of your incoming and outgoing expenses, and you’ve identified ways to cut back. Then start automating your savings. Even if it’s $20 per paycheck, have your bank automatically transfer that money into some type of savings account. This has been one of the most successful strategies for me; if I don’t have the money in my account, I can’t spend it! And my stress levels reduce because I know I’m doing what I can to save.
Worrying about our health – and the health of our loved ones – is another stressor at the top of the list. And oftentimes one of the biggest stressors in this regard is the “unknown.” Lack of certainty breeds stress, and this is especially true when the situation is out of our control. What’s more, with a cruel twist of fate, stress causes negative health effects as well, impacting us even further. It’s a double-edged sword.
How can we manage our health-related stress?
First of all, find support. Whether you meet with a group of people experiencing a similar situation, or you reach out to close friends or family members, it’s important to feel a connection and know that you’re supported.
You might also try journaling to help you process your feelings; often times we are so overwhelmed when health stress hits, that we can’t even name our emotions. It’s incredibly important to understand how we’re feeling, however, because it makes it easier to process those feelings. So spend some time to reflect.
Finally, try some of the general stress relievers that I mention below. Because health concerns can create ongoing stress, having common strategies to reduce that stress when it inevitably comes up is incredibly helpful.
Major Life Changes
I find this category particularly interesting because these major life changes can be both negative or positive. Whether you’ve lost a loved one, been fired, were recently married, or just had a baby, these significant alterations in your regular routine can cause considerable stress in your daily life.
Just think about moving. Claudia Hammond’s piece at bbc.com discusses the many stressors involved in this major life decision. Your search for the “perfect” location, deal with simultaneously buying and selling your home, work through mountains of paperwork and loan approvals, and finally pack up your life in boxes.
And while moving into a new property reduces that level of anxiety a bit compared to buying a “fixer-upper,” you’re still making one of the biggest purchases of your life (which pulls in the financial stressor as well!)
So how can you calm the stress from a major life change?
My best piece of advice to handling change (expected or otherwise) is to create a plan. If you spend your time preparing for the change or creating strategies on how to handle new circumstances, you’re not spending time needlessly worrying. What’s more, when you have a plan, you’ll feel more in control. And without question, the feeling of control is a major stress minimizer.
People often feel stress due to their thoughts about work…well there’s an understatement of the century. About 65% of Americans named work as their top source of stress, and over a third of them report that this stress is chronic. The APA notes that common sources of work-related stress include:
- Low salaries.
- Excessive workloads.
- Few opportunities for growth or advancement.
- Work that isn’t engaging or challenging.
- Lack of social support.
- Not having enough control over job-related decisions.
- Conflicting demands or unclear performance expectations.
Can you relate to any of these causes? Yeah, I think many of us can.
So what can we do about work-related stress?
Track Your Stress:
I found the strategy of tracking on the APA website, and I think it’s a great approach to better understand both the specific cause of your stress as well as your gut reactions to it.
Keep notes in a habit tracker, bullet journal, or notebook for a few weeks, and record your different stress levels. By tracking your emotions as well as your natural responses, you will start finding patterns of what sets you off, what actions help you release that stress, and what behaviors only elevate it further.
If you’re like me, work-life balance (or lack of balance) can cause consistent anxiety in your life.
If you can clearly separate your “work” life from “home” life, however, and leave work at the office, you’ll have a much easier time keeping stress at bay. Remember, your home should be your “respite from work” or your “relaxation zone.” So resist the urge to quickly answer an email, grade some papers, or balance a few spreadsheets. You’ll be back at the office in less than 24 hours; in almost every circumstance, those tasks can wait.
Focus on Time Management:
Often times stress stems from being overwhelmed. We feel like we don’t have enough time, which leads to tension and anxiety. By working on time management skills, however, and blocking your time wisely, you can calm that growing tension quickly.
(If this sounds like something from which you could benefit, check out my tips on time blocking here!)
Stop Stress in its Tracks:
There are plenty of general strategies for us to use when stress levels soar, and I’m listing my 10 favorites below.
- Count to 10 before you say something you might regret.
- Take a brisk walk outside.
- Plan to show up 10 minutes early – always. It reduces that need to rush-rush-rush.
- Call a friend.
- Make a to-do list.
- Write in a journal.
- Plan ahead.
- Work with a coach.
So next time you feel your pulse race and your anxiety rise, take a moment to pause. Reflect on the situation, identify the cause of your stress, and then put these strategies to work.
How do you deal with stress? What causes you the most anxiety in your life? What strategies for stress management do you find the most useful? Let me know below!