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Sources of Stress (II)



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Part I focused on: 
  • Survival Stress

  • Internally Generated Stress

  • Anxiety

  • Stress due to Change
Part II will outline the remaining major sources of stress:
  1. Family
  2. Relationships
  3. Environmental stresses
  4. Chemical and nutritional stresses
  5. Hormonal Factors
  6. Work Stress



Families are a complex network of interactions. Each family is a system and hence each interaction and each personality affects the entire system. If one person is ill in your family, it is clear how that illness disrupts the everyday flow of the system. Likewise, it affects the system when one member of the family is angry or depressed. An alcoholic in the family disrupts the system and often leads to the system trying to adapt to the family member. Sometimes that adaptation creates difficulties as well.

The family, like the human body, tries to compensate for an organ that is not functioning up to par. Our entire body may be thrown out of alignment by an injury to an arm or a leg, for example. Similarly, the family in an attempt to compensate for one of its members, may be thrown out of alignment and become dysfunctional. When this occurs it is time to seek professional help. Psychologists and family therapists can help the family focus on the communication styles that throw the family out of alignment.


A primary relationship is often stressful. Two people, each with different histories, different personalities, different needs, and different ways of doing things are trying to live under the same roof and get along with each other on a daily basis. That's a pretty tall order even under the best of circumstances.

One of the main difficulties that couples face revolves around expectations. Each person in the relationship brings expectations -- a set of explicit expectations, a set of implicit expectations, and a set of unrealistic expectations. These expectations, when in conflict with the other person's expectations, can create a great deal of conflict; and this conflict is stressful.

During the course of a relationship, each partner may go through a series of transitions, such as the death of a parent, the loss of a job, or physical illness. The couple may go through transitions, such as relocation, the birth of a child, or the change of a job. All of these changes have an impact on the relationship and produce stress.

Environmental stresses

Here our environment may be a source of unpleasant or distracting stimuli causing the stress. These can come from:

  • Crowding and invasion of personal space
  • Insufficient working and living space
  • Noise
  • Dirty or untidy conditions
  • Pollution
  • A badly organised or run down environment

Chemical and nutritional stresses

Here the food we eat may contribute to the stresses we experience. Examples of stressors we may not be aware of are:

  • Caffeine: this raises our levels of stress hormones, makes it more difficult to sleep, and can make us more irritable.
  • Bursts of sugar from sweets or chocolate: these can make us feel more energetic in the short term. However our body reacts to stabilise abnormally high sugar levels by releasing too much insulin. This causes a serious energy dip shortly after the sugar high.
  • Too much salt:This raises our blood pressure and puts our body under chemical stress.

As well as these specific sources of stress, we may experience stress if we eat an unbalanced or unhealthy diet. We may find that some dietary deficiency or excess causes discomfort and illness which generates stress. If we are obese, then this causes physical stress on our internal organs and emotional stress as our view of ourself declines.

While there is a lot of biased, dubious or incorrect dietary information around, we can normally rely on nutritional advice from our doctor or from our government's health department.  

Hormonal Factors


The vast hormonal changes of puberty are severe stressors. A person's body actually CHANGES shape, sexual organs begin to function, new hormones are released in large quantities. Puberty, as we all know, is very stressful.


Once a woman passes puberty, her body is designed to function best in the presence of female hormones. For women past puberty, a lack of female hormones is a major stress on the body. Once a month, just prior to menstruation, a woman's hormone levels drop sharply. In many women, the stress of sharply falling hormones is enough to create a temporary OVERSTRESS. This temporary OVERSTRESS is popularly known as Pre MenstrualSyndrome (PMS).


Following a pregnancy, hormone levels CHANGE dramatically. After a normal childbirth, or a miscarriage, some women may be thrown into OVERSTRESS by loss of the hormones of pregnancy.


There is another time in a woman's life when hormone levels decline. This is the menopause. The decline in hormones during menopause is slow and steady. Nevertheless, this menopausal decline causes enough stress on the body to produce OVERSTRESS in many women.

Work Stress

  • Do you have a difficult boss?
  • Are your talents under-used?
  • Are you constantly asked to put in overtime, particularly at the last minute?
  • Do you face role ambiguity, that is, you don't have a clear definition of what's expected of you?
  • Do you face conflicting demands? If you have one of your bosses, and many people do, sometimes to please one you have to displease the other.
  • Do you deal with excessive job requirements - tasks and assignments that clearly exceed your ability or training?
  • Do you lack job security?
  • Do you have an inflexible work environment? Do you have to be in by 9 O' clock on the button?
  • Is there a healthy career progression? Does hard work earn reward?
  • Do you have responsibility for the performance of others? Have you ever had to fire someone?

Answering the above questions will let you know how stressful your job is. Work is a significant source of stress for many people. Conflicts on the job, dissatisfaction with one's supervisor or with the job itself, insufficient financial compensation, job insecurity, fear of changing a job for greater advancement, feeling stifled in a quest for power, not feeling appreciated or acknowledged, all produce significant stress. The degree of stress will vary depending on the personality of the individual.

Thus a comprehensive list of the stresses we experience from our job may include the following:

  • too much or too little work
  • having to perform beyond our experience or perceived abilities
  • having to overcome unnecessary obstacles
  • time pressures and deadlines
  • keeping up with new developments
  • changes in procedures and policies
  • lack of relevant information, support and advice
  • lack of clear objectives
  • unclear expectations of our role from our boss or colleagues
  • responsibility for people, budgets or equipment
  • career development stress:
    • under-promotion, frustration and boredom with current role
    • over-promotion beyond abilities
    • lack of a clear plan for career development
    • lack of opportunity
    • lack of job security
  • Stress from our organization or our clients:
    • pressures from our boss or from above in our organization
    • interference in our work
    • demands from clients
    • disruptions to work plans
    • the telephone!

Fatigue and Overwork

A particularly unpleasant source of stress comes from what many authors call 'Hurry Sickness'.

Here we can get into a vicious circle of stress, which causes us to hurry jobs and do them badly. This under-performance causes feelings of frustration and failure, which causes more stress, which causes more hurry and less success, and so on. Stress-creating behavior can compound this, as can an inability to relax at home or on holiday. If we do not manage long term stress effectively, it can lead to long term fatigue, failure and one of the forms of physical or mental ill-health.

Very often we can eliminate this sort of overload by effective use of time management skills, particularly by learning how to prioritize effectively. We can neutralize the associated stress by effective use of stress management techniques.

The strategies that we should adopt to manage stress depends on the source of that stress. We will explain how to analyze this later. For the time being from this list of causes, you can shortlist those which you think are pertaining to you and organize them in there order of importance, so that we can deal with them one at a time in your own priority sequence.


Next up: Symptoms of Stress