Most folks feel stressed out at some point, but you may have questions like: What causes people the most stress? How can you avoid stress? How can you help someone who’s stressed?
Stress is your body’s natural response to anything that challenges you, whether a small frustration or a major disaster. While it can feel like stress is never a good thing, it does serve a purpose.
Stress activates your body’s fight, flight, or freeze response, which has helped generations of ancestors survive. While most people aren’t getting chased by tigers anymore, it can still have positive benefits today — like motivating you, improving performance, or increasing your level of excitement.
But a lot of lingering stress can negatively affect your mental and physical well-being. So knowing more about stress and managing it can be pivotal in self-care.
What causes the most stress?
Everyone experiences stress differently. What aggravates you may not make your neighbor blink an eye. So while you’re the only one who can say what causes you the most angst, data has shown that certain things consistently stress many people out.
According to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America 2021 report, U.S. adults are most stressed out about:
How can I avoid or reduce stress in my life?
No one can avoid stress 100% — and you probably wouldn’t want to anyway. Stress can be healthy when it isn’t long lasting.
But it’s important for your well-being to know how to manage and reduce stress (and its negative consequences) when it comes up or is sticking around too long.
Consider some of these options to manage your stress:
- take breaks
- exercise (your body is ready to run anyway, right?)
- meditate or practice breathing techniques
- plan some “me” time
- vent if it helps you
- improve your sleep
- try complementary medicine practices like acupuncture, acupressure, or biofeedback
- listen to soothing music
- express yourself with art
- use aromatherapy (aka essential oils)
- set boundaries when needed
- try foods, teas, or supplements that may help with stress
When you’re amidst a stressful moment, the first thing you may want to try is to pause, take a breath, and check in with yourself. How are you feeling? What can you do right now to cope?
If you want to prepare for stress — not to prevent it but to cope better when it happens — you may want to ask yourself these questions and use the answers when stress comes up:
- Who can I turn to for support? Who should I avoid?
- What do I need to feel good or calm down?
- What can I deprioritize to make my load a little more manageable?
- How can I productively express myself?
- What grounds me in the present moment?
What influences stress?
Many factors can influence you to feel stressed or cause stress that’s harder to manage, such as:
- big life changes (especially with work, relationships, and moving)
- feeling under a lot of pressure
- feeling out of control or overwhelmed
- being in an uncomfortable situation
- having several minor stressors occur all at once
- feeling less supported or low on resources
- feeling distressed from world events and threats
Why am I always stressed?
With worldwide uncertainty, worries about money and the economy, and a neverending supply of things to doomscroll, you’re probably feeling overwhelmed.
Right now, it might feel like there’s never a moment when you’re not stressed about something. You’re not alone in this. According to an international Gallup survey, 4 in 10 adults feel stressed out a lot.
At least 41% of U.S. adults report that they have more stress now compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are many things to feel stressed about (see causes and influences above). If you’re always feeling stressed, know that there are many things you can do.
What are the physical effects of stress?
Many people think of stress as a “mental” thing, but it can affect you physically, too.
Depending on how long the stress lasts, the physical effects of stress may include:
- body tension or pain
- increased heart rate
- headaches or migraine attacks
- acne or other skin problems
- breathing difficulties, especially for people with conditions like asthma or chronic bronchitis
- high blood pressure
- stomachaches, bloating, nausea, or changes in bowel movements
- changes to blood sugar, especially for people living with diabetes
- fertility issues
Lots of stress over a long time can also contribute to developing or worsening mental health conditions, which come with their own physical symptoms.
Can you be stressed without feeling stressed?
If your body never gets to turn off its stress response, stress might start feeling different for you — which means you might not feel like you’re stressed. At least not in the same way.
We often think of stress symptoms involving activation: fighting or running. But stress that sticks around can start to exhaust your body and lead to:
- tension pain
- an inability to focus
- a lower sex drive
If you have other health conditions, your symptoms of these conditions may worsen. So you may not “feel” stressed because you’re too distracted with managing your other symptoms.
Some people even develop a fawn response to stress. Like the fright response, the fawn response confronts the stressor — but with appeasement instead. Think: Giving in to demands to end a siege of pressure.
Am I feeling stress or anxiety?
Stress and anxiety are both natural, and most folks experience them. It can sometimes be hard to tell the difference — but there is some overlap.
Both stress and anxiety can lead you to:
- feel tense
- have headaches, stomachaches, or body pain
- lose sleep
Typically, stress and anxiety are divided up by the cause, the duration, and the impacts they have. According to the
|generally due to an external cause||generally due to an internal cause|
|often goes away once the stressor is over||can linger and interfere with your daily life|
|can have good effects (increased productivity) or bad ones (affecting your sleep)||sometimes is present even when there’s no immediate threat or stressor|
What can I do for someone who’s experiencing a lot of stress?
One of the most important things you can do for anyone under stress is actively listen. Just talking about stressful things can relieve angst from the mind and tension from the body.
So consider holding onto any advice until they ask for it and listen. You can also tell your person that you’re there to help them if they need extra support right now.
If they’re having trouble talking about their stress or stressors, you could try asking them some of these questions:
- Has anything been frustrating you lately?
- Have you been under a lot of stress lately?
- What does stress feel like to you? (Physically and emotionally)
- Is your home life, work life, or relationship currently stressing you out?
On the flip side, you may want to follow it up by asking them when they last felt most relaxed so they can focus on something positive after discussing their stressors.
Do you still have other questions about stress? Psych Central has answered more questions in-depth, including:
Stress is a part of being human (however bothersome it may be!). A little stress can even be a good thing, but a lot of stress or stress that persists can start to interfere with your overall well-being.
By understanding what’s causing your stress and learning coping strategies that work for you, you can get to the other side of stressful moments. You may want to talk with a therapist if you need more support.
If you’re interested in learning how stressed you are, you can take Psych Central’s quiz.