From a low-paying job to a pandemic, stressors are everywhere. It’s how we deal with them that matters.
In just the last few years, we’ve experienced a global pandemic, increasing violence and war, polarizing politics, and an unstable economy – not to mention all the various personal problems we encounter.
But whatever the source, stress takes its toll. Stress may have some lying awake at night, fatigued, and jittery.
But with healthy coping skills, you can develop greater resilience to the big and little stressors in your lives before they overwhelm you.
Stress can be caused by external factors, such as financial or relationship problems. Or internal factors, such as feelings of failure or uncertainty about the future.
According to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) 2021 Stress in America Survey., 74% of Americans reported various stress-related conditions within the last month.
About 34% reported headaches, 34% were overwhelmed, 32% were fatigued, and 32% experienced changes in sleeping habitats.
But what were the main stressors?
Sometimes the biggest source of stress occurs with those we love the most. Family issues are a major source of stress for many people.
In the same 2021 Stress in America survey, 75% of Americans said that family responsibilities are a significant source of stress.
Family stress can stem from aging parents, an overbooked schedule, health problems, or children having trouble in school— to name a few.
A 2020 study found that children’s stress, in particular, affects parents more than vice versa. It’s like the old saying, “A parent is only as happy as their unhappiest child.”
Since the pandemic started in 2020, family issues have become even more stressful for many people. Many parents have had to juggle work and homeschooling during strict lockdowns.
While healthy relationships can significantly enhance your life, they can also cause high levels of stress when things go wrong. About 68% of Americans say that relationships are a significant source of stress.
Relationship stress can arise from numerous things: poor communication, mistrust, lack of effort, or the poor health of a partner. And when a relationship ends, it can lead to poor mental health.
A Danish 2020 study found that recently divorced adults’ physical and mental health were significantly worse than those who hadn’t been recently divorced. Poor mental health was related to how much conflict occurred in the divorce.
Trying to make ends meet can be a big challenge for many people.
Whether it’s a low-paying job, debt, lack of savings, high bills, inflation, or an unexpected major expense, financial struggles are cited as a source of stress for about 64% of Americans.
Whether you’re in the service industry, a corporate environment, or contract work, we spend a lot of time working. Most of us have had at least a few bad experiences in the workplace. These experiences can cause high levels of stress, especially if they’re ongoing.
Some of the most common sources of stress in the workplace include:
- poor working conditions
- ineffective managers
- job instability
- low pay
- slacking or mean coworkers
- rude clients or customers
- too many hours
- unreasonable expectations
Health is at the baseline of all we do. It’s difficult to go to work, be a parent or reach your goals when your mental or physical health is poor.
Various health stressors include the following:
- Chronic illness. This may include conditions such as autoimmune disease, diabetes, heart disease, or chronic fatigue syndrome.
- Addiction. These may include substance, alcohol, pornography, or food addictions.
- Mental health disorders. Conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), phobias, or bipolar disorder can cause extreme levels of stress.
- Acute illness. These may include illnesses such as COVID-19, pneumonia, or a broken bone.
Internal stressors are those that come from within.
They may include the following:
- feelings of failure
- feeling unworthy
- feeling hopeless
- feeling overwhelmed
- feeling unlovable
Internal stressors can sometimes start when you respond poorly to an external event. For instance, you might get a bad grade in a class and take that to mean you’re a total failure.
Internal stress can also stem from not knowing what’s going to happen next. For instance, the recent outbreak of COVID might have made you feel deeply uncertain about the future. In fact, more than 3 in 5 adults report that uncertainty about the near future causes them stress.
National and world problems can cause high levels of personal stress, especially to those who are most vulnerable.
These include the following:
- poor economy
- climate change
- polarizing politics
Stress can affect us emotionally, mentally, and physically.
Emotional and psychological symptoms of stress may include the following:
- anxiety or nervousness
- racing thoughts
- inability to relax or enjoy yourself
- loss of your sense of humor
- feelings of overwhelm
- loss of interest in life or activities
- existing mental health conditions get worse
Physical symptoms of stress may include the following:
- dizziness or fainting
- sudden weight changes
- muscle aches
- nausea, diarrhea, stomach ache
- rashes or itchy skin
- fast breathing or feeling like it’s hard to breathe
- existing physical disorders get worse
There are several things you can do to cope with stress.
- Stay connected with loved ones. Human connection can have a profound impact on your mental health.
- Give yourself plenty of time to finish important tasks. Try not to wait until the last minute.
- Reframe the problem. If you lose your job, it doesn’t mean you’re a “failure.” Think of it as an opportunity to find a job you love that’s a better match.
- Exercise. Exercising is a great way to release extra stress.
- Get organized. Make a list or use an app that can help you stay on track and keep you from getting overwhelmed.
- Eat a healthy diet. A 2021 study found that participants who ate a diet rich in fruits and vegetables had lower stress levels than those who didn’t.
- Take a break from the news or social media. Social media can worsen mental health so it can be beneficial to take a break every once in a while.
- Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness examples can include yoga, meditation, and journaling.
- Get out in nature. This can be as simple as sitting on a park bench watching the birds.
These tips can help you develop resilience. In psychology, “resilience” refers to the process of adapting well in the face of adversity. Resilience can be a buffer between highly stressful events and the development of anxiety and depression.
If your stress is turning into a more serious mental health condition, such as depression, consider reaching out to a mental health professional. A therapist can help walk you through your situation and come up with healthy coping skills.
Therapies that work for stress include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of short-term therapy that helps you identify and get rid of negative and unhealthy thought patterns
- Psychodynamic therapy is a long-term therapy that also helps you identify negative thought patterns but is geared toward chronic or complex stress.
- Behavioral therapy focuses on changing unhealthy behavioral responses to stress.
- Group therapy can be particularly helpful if you’re dealing with a community stressor, such as a natural disaster. Talking with others facing the same stressors can be very comforting.
Stress is a natural part of every human’s life. But if we don’t have good coping skills, stress can become chronic.
Be sure to take good care of yourself when you’re feeling stressed: Take a walk in nature, call a friend, or create a list to keep you on track.
If your stress has become chronic or is causing health problems, consider reaching out to a mental health professional to get started on your healing journey.