Causes of Stress

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on October 27, 2010
Medically Reviewed by Andrea Baird, MD

Causes of Stress

The phone is ringing off the hook. You’re 45 minutes late for a deadline, and your boss is knocking on your door asking to see how your latest project is going. To say the least, you’re stressed. But fortunately for you, these are all examples of acute stress. They are short term, won’t last longer than your work day, and may actually benefit your health.

However, if your life feels like that every day of the week, you may be experiencing long-term or chronic stress. This type of stress can be dangerous to your health if you do not work to overcome it or figure out healthier ways to cope with its effects on you.

Big stressors include money troubles, job issues, relationship conflicts, and major life changes such as the loss of a loved one. Smaller stressors such as long daily commutes, rushed mornings, and conflicts with colleagues can add up and become just as bad for your health as chronic stress.

Personal Problems


Aging, diagnosis of a new disease, complications from a current illness, and negative symptoms can increase stress. Even when someone close to you has health problems, it can increase your stress levels. The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that the same percentage (55 percent) of people report that their own health is causing them stress as those who report a family member’s health problems are causing them stress.


Arguments with a spouse, parent, or child can increase stress. When you live together, the stress can feel compounded. Problems among other members of the family, even if you’re not directly involved, can cause additional stress.

Emotional Problems

Feeling unable to relate to someone or needing to express emotions but not being able to can weigh you down with additional stress. Positive outlets for emotional release are important in general stress management. Mental health disorders including depression and anxiety can only add to this emotional stress.

Life Changes

The death of a loved one, changing jobs, moving houses, and sending a child off to college are examples of big life changes that can be stressful. Even positive changes like retirement and getting married can cause a significant amount of stress.


Financial trouble is a common source of stress. Credit card debt, rent, the inability to provide for a family, or not being able to make ends meet can put a serious amount of stress on a person. In this society, where so much emphasis is on what you have and what you can afford, financial stress is something that nearly everyone can relate to. According to the APA, 75 percent of Americans say that finances are a significant source of stress in their life.

Social Issues

Personal Beliefs

Arguments about personal, religious, or political beliefs can challenge you, especially in situations where you can’t remove yourself from the conflict. Major life events that cause you to question your own beliefs can also cause stress. This is especially true if your beliefs are different from those of the people closest to you.


Research has shown that pressure and conflict from a job can be a major source of stress for many people. According to the APA, as of 2011, it is estimated that 70 percent of Americans  experience significant stress related to their work.


Feeling discriminated against—because of your race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, for example—can cause long-term stress. For some, this stress is a constant thing, present nearly every day.


Unsafe neighborhoods, crime-ridden cities, and safety concerns may lead to chronic stress.

Traumatic Events

People who have suffered a traumatic event or life-threatening situation often live with long-term stress. This may result from a robbery, rape, natural disaster, or war. In many cases, they are actually suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is a chronic anxiety disorder brought on by a traumatic event or series of traumatic events. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD estimates the lifetime prevalence of PTSD among Americans is about 6.8 percent.

The disorder is more common among women and also among veterans and abuse survivors. Identifying the causes of stress in your life is the first step in effective stress management. Then, you can begin to reduce their presence or cope with their effects.

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