What causes stress?

The phone is ringing off the hook. Your inbox is overflowing. You’re 45 minutes late for a deadline and your boss is knocking on your door, asking how your latest project is going. You’re stressed, to say the least.

These are all examples of acute stress. They’re short term, they won’t last longer than your workday, and they may actually benefit your health in some ways. However, if your life feels like this 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 don’t work to overcome it or cope with its effects.

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 and rushed mornings, can also add up over time. Learning how to recognize sources of stress in your life is the first step in managing them.


Aging, diagnosis of a new disease, and symptoms or complications from a current illness can increase your stress. Even if you don’t have health problems yourself, someone close to you may be coping with an illness or condition. That can increase your stress levels too. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), more than half of caregivers report feeling overwhelmed by the amount of care their family members need.


Arguments with your spouse, parent, or child can increase your stress levels. When you live together, it can be even more stressful. Problems between other members of your family or household can also cause you stress, even when you’re not directly involved.

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.

Emotional problems

When you feel unable to relate to someone, or you need to express your emotions but can’t, it can weigh you down with additional stress. Mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety, only add to the emotional strain. Positive outlets for emotional release and treatment for mental health disorders are important parts of effective stress management.

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, such as retirement or getting married, can cause a significant amount of stress.


Financial trouble is a common source of stress. Credit card debt, rent, or the inability to provide for your family or yourself can put a serious amount of stress on you. In this society, where so much emphasis is put on what you have and what you can afford, financial stress is something that nearly everyone can relate to. According to the APA, nearly three-quarters of Americans say that finances are a source of stress in their life.


Research has shown that pressure and conflict from a job can be a major source of stress. According to the APA, an estimated 60 percent of Americans experience stress related to their work.


Feeling discriminated against can cause long-term stress. For example, you may experience discrimination on the basis of your race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. Some people face discrimination and the stress it causes nearly every day.


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

People who’ve experienced a traumatic event or life-threatening situation often live with long-term stress. For example, you may experience long-term stress after surviving a robbery, rape, natural disaster, or war. In many cases, you may actually have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is a chronic anxiety disorder brought on by a traumatic event or series of traumatic events. According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD, the estimated lifetime prevalence of PTSD among Americans is about 7 percent. The disorder is more common among women, as well as veterans and survivors of abuse.

Everyone experiences stress from time to time. In the short term, acute stress can give you the motivation you need to power through a tough situation or meet a pressing deadline. Over time, however, long-term (chronic) stress can negatively affect your health. If you feel run down, overwhelmed, or worried on a regular basis, you may have chronic stress.

Identifying the causes of stress in your life is the first step in effective stress management. After you’ve figured out what your stressors are, you can take steps to reduce or avoid them. You can also adopt healthy lifestyle habits and strategies to manage the effects of stress. For example, eating a well-balanced diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep may help you feel more calm, focused, and energized. Practicing relaxation techniques, such as rhythmic breathing, meditation, or yoga, may also help relieve stress and anxiety. To learn more stress management strategies, speak to your doctor or a mental health professional.