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Sources of Stress (I)



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It is impossible to fight a shadow. Thus unless we remodel the abstract theories of stress into concrete equations of cause and effect, we cannot formulate effective strategies to counter it. The first step in this metamorphosis is identification of the possible sources of stress.

Part I shall focus on: 

Survival Stress

Internally Generated Stress


Stress due to Change

Where as part II will outline the remaining major sources of stress:



Environmental stresses

Chemical and nutritional stresses

Hormonal Factors

Work Stress


Survival Stress

Survival Stress may occur when our survival or physical integrity is threatened. Thus in a physically or emotionally threatening situation our body adapts to help it react more effectively to meet the threat. This is controlled mainly by the release of adrenaline, the 'fight or flight' hormone.  


You are a caveman out innocently picking berries when suddenly you come nose to nose with a saber-toothed tiger. While you were simply gathering, the tiger was actually hunting, and the sight of you makes his mouth water.

At the sight of the tiger, your hypothalamus (an area in the brain) sends a message to your adrenal glands and within seconds, you can run faster, hit harder, see better, hear more acutely, think faster, and jump higher than you could only seconds earlier.

Your suddenly supercharged body is designed to help level the odds between you and your attacker. Consequently, you narrowly escape death by leaping higher and running faster than you ever could before. 

Adrenaline causes a number of changes that help us to survive.

When countered by a threatening situation you may have experienced these changes as 'fear'. When the heart pumps at two to three times the normal speed, it sends nutrient rich blood to the major muscles in the arms and legs. The tiny blood vessels (called capillaries) under the surface of the skin close down (which consequently sends the blood pressure soaring) so that a surface wound does not make one bleed to death. Even the eyes dilate, so one can see better. Where speed and physical strength are important this adrenaline stress will be helpful and beneficial - fear can help us to survive or perform better.

Where calm thought or precise motor skills are important, it is best to control and, ideally, eliminate these adrenaline responses.

Adrenalin also shuts down all functions of the body not needed in an emergency. Digestion, sexual function, even the immune system is temporarily turned off. If necessary, excess waste is eliminated by vomiting, urination and diarrhoea.

Unfortunately for us this primitive adrenaline response is always running high to meet all the dead lines that we face today. This prolonged exposure can not only derange our body functioning and cause ill-health but also hamper the inner harmony which we need to survive and flourish as human beings.

Internally Generated Stress

This can come from anxious worrying about events beyond our control, from a tense, hurried approach to life, or from relationship problems caused by our own behaviour. It can also come from an 'addiction' to and enjoyment of stress.

Our personality can affect the way in which we experience stress. We may be familiar with the idea of 'type A' personalities who thrive on stress, and 'type B' personalities who are mellower and more relaxed in their approach.

Stress can cause the levels of a neurotransmitter called noradrenalin to rise. This can give a feeling of confidence and elation that type As like. They can therefore subconsciously defer work until the last minute to create a 'deadline high', or can create a stressful environment at work that feeds their enjoyment of a situation. The downside of this is that they may leave jobs so late that they fail when an unexpected crisis occurs. This may also cause unnecessary stress for other colleagues who are already under a high level of stress. 

Other aspects of personality can cause stress. Examples are:

  • perfectionism, where the perfectionist's extremely or impossibly high standards can cause stress  
  • how we think: stress increases as a function of how we think about events. Some folks tend to catastrophize events, making mountains out of molehills, or exaggerating the consequences. They tend to react to small things with larger than warranted feelings, exaggerating the event to match their feelings, rather than adjusting their feelings to the event. People with low stress reactions tend to make molehills out of mountains.
  • excessive self-effacement, where constant attention to the needs of others can lead to dissatisfaction when no-one looks after our needs, and
  • anxiety.


Anxiety occurs where we are concerned that circumstances are out of control. In some cases being anxious and worrying over a problem may generate a solution. Normally it will just result in negative thinking.

The five main unrealistic desires or beliefs that cause anxiety:  

Desires and Beliefs  Unrealistic Foundations
The desire always to have the love and admiration of all people important to us.  This is unrealistic because we have no control over other people's minds. They can have bad days, see things in odd ways, make mistakes or can be plain disagreeable and awkward.  
The desire to be thoroughly competent at all times.  This is unrealistic because we only achieve competence at a new level by making mistakes. Everybody has bad days and makes mistakes.  
The belief that external factors cause all misfortune.  Often negative events can be caused by our own negative attitudes. Similarly our own negative attitudes can cause us to view neutral events negatively. Someone else might find something positive in something we view as a problem.  
The desire that events should always turn out the way that we want them to, and that people should always do what we want.  Other people have their own agendas and do what they want to do.  
The belief that past bad experience will inevitably control what will happen in the future. We can very often improve or change things if we try hard enough or look at things in a different way. 


The only thing permanent in the universe is change.

It is important that we learn to welcome change - otherwise you will expose yourself to intense stress. You will be aware that we are currently in the middle of a huge information revolution. As this runs its course, its impact on ways of life and society will be at least as great as the Industrial Revolution.

As with the Industrial Revolution, people who resist change will be crushed by it. People who welcome change will be able to exploit the new niches opening up on a constant basis. Success depends on adaptation to, or anticipation of, change.


Next Up: Sources of Stress (Part II)