What Causes Stress?

We may think of stressful events as unpleasant ones, such as losing a job or having difficulties at home or at school. But changes for the better can also cause stress, like a new baby, a wedding, and a new house.

In an ideal world, maybe we could get away from stressful situations, or change them. Too often we can’t do that – but we can learn to control our response to those situations. And we can develop techniques that will reduce the effects of stress on our mental and physical health.

Here are some different life events that are identified as stressful. They are rated on the “Holmes-Raye” scale, which scores them according to the stress they cause (the higher the number, the greater the stress).

  • Death of a spouse – 100 points
  • Divorce – 73 points
  • Marriage – 50 points
  • Pregnancy – 40 points
  • Buying a house – 31 points
  • Christmas – 12 points

Nice To Know:

Job-related stress is extremely common. According to the Jobs Rated Almanac, the five most stressful jobs are:

  1. President of the United States
  2. Firefighter
  3. Senior corporate executive
  4. Race car driver
  5. Taxi driver

The five least stressful jobs, according to the Jobs Rated Almanac, are:

  1. Medical records technician
  2. Janitor
  3. Forklift operator
  4. Musical instrument repairer
  5. Florist

What’s Stressful For You?

What’s stressful for you may be quite different from what’s stressful to your best friend, your spouse, or the person next door. For example:

  • Some people enjoy speaking in public; others are terrified.
  • Some people are more productive under deadline pressure; others are miserably tense.
  • Some people are eager to help family and friends through difficult times; others find it very stressful.
  • Some people feel comfortable complaining about bad service in a restaurant; others find it so difficult to complain that they prefer to suffer in silence.
  • Some people may feel that changes at work represent a welcome opportunity; others worry about whether they’ll be able to cope.

Nice To Know:

Q: Are some people more vulnerable to stress than others?

A: Yes. Personality type plays a role in reaction to stress. For example, people who drive themselves hard and are impatient (sometimes called Type A personalities) may be more at risk for stress-related physical problems. Certain occupations, such as law enforcement or air traffic control, are clearly more stressful than others. In addition, people with a personal or family history of mental illness may be affected more by stress.

What Are Your Personal Signs Of Stress?

People react to stress in different ways. Once you identify your own signs of stress, they can serve as your personal early warning system.

Think of yourself as a car that’s equipped with lights and gauges to warn you if any problems are developing. If you keep an eye on the gauges and catch the trouble early, the problem may be easy to fix. If you ignore the warning signs, you may be in for a major repair job.

You should assess yourself for four types of stress signs:

  • Changes in body functions and physical health
  • Changes in emotions and feelings
  • Changes in behavior
  • Changes in thoughts

Use these checklists to identify your own signs of stress. There is space on the checklists for a second opinion, because people close to us may notice changes that we are not aware of.

Changes in body functions and physical health

Do you get more:

Are you having this sign of stress?

Has some one else noticed you have this sign?



Muscle tension


Nervous stomach


Breathing problems


Frequent urination






Changes in emotions and feelings

Do you feel more:

Are you having this sign of stress?

Has some one else noticed you have this sign?











Changes in behavior

Are there changes in how much you:

Are you having this sign of stress?

Has some one else noticed you have this sign?



Eat (too much or too little)


Want sex (less or more than before)


Drink alcohol


Use drugs


Changes in how you think

Are you finding it harder to:

Are you having this sign of stress?

Has some one else noticed you have this sign?

Remember things




Look on the bright side


Do you find yourself feeling:





Now go over the lists, and pick out the signs of stress that you consider the most important – the ones that are really interfering with the way you function and enjoy life. Then mark on the next chart whether they are related to your body, your feelings, your behavior, or your thoughts.

Your main signs of stress:


















What you’ve recorded on these charts are your personal early warning signs of stress. When they occur, it’s a sign that you should practice relaxation techniques to help keep stress from overwhelming you physically and emotionally.

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