The first key to coping with stress is becoming aware of your stressors, Elizabeth Scott writes in her book
“8 Keys to Stress Management.
A stressor is “a situation that causes us to need to act and that can trigger our body’s stress response,” Scott writes. While it may seem easy at times to tell when something is causing your stress, there are often situations that go under the radar.
Identifying them individually is crucial, because as stress levels rise, it becomes increasingly difficult to determine the root causes.
Here are six of the most common stressors, according to Scott.
Work is perhaps the single largest stressor, Scott writes. “Given that most of us spend a large proportion of our time at work, jobs are often closely tied to our personal identities, our finances, and our lifestyles as a whole,” she writes.
Here are some of the main reasons work may be such a big stressor:
• Unclear requirements
• Unattainable demands
• Low recognition
• High penalties for mistakes
• Lack of challenge
“Relationships can bring us the best of times and the worst of times,” Scott writes. “While often beneficial to our health and happiness, our relationships can also present obstacles that are frequently cited as main stressors in people’s lives.”
It’s not just personal relationships that can bring stress. Toxic relationships, whether with friends or coworkers, are especially dangerous. These are relationships that consist of patterns like frequent criticism, gossip, unrealistic demands, contempt, and mocking.
3. Hectic schedules
The demands of schedules today seems to be constantly increasing. “Overwhelmed seems to be the new normal for many people,” Scott writes.
The average workweek is 47 hours, and workers don’t use a combined $52.4 billion in vacation time every year. With growing workloads, we tend to fill our free time with more responsibilities, she writes.
Stress and health work off of each other, Scott writes. While stress affects our health, health issues can bring significant levels of stress, too. It can be something as simple as exercising daily to reduce stress, but that isn’t always the answer.
“The stress of living with chronic conditions and serious health threats can touch not only those who experience the stress but also their friends and family,” Scott writes.
5. Life adjustments
Any change — for better or worse — that requires a response from us can trigger stress. This includes obvious stressors like divorce or the loss of a loved one, or a mid-level stressor like a job change, Scott writes. It can even be “relatively benign events like change in eating habits and vacation,” she writes.
6. Attitudes and perspectives
Attitude is everything. Even if something bad happens, how you respond can determine your true level of stress. “When we dwell on negative events in our lives, we exacerbate the stress we are feeling,” Scott writes.
She lists three main thinking patterns to watch out for:
• Rumination: “This involves dwelling on the negative, particularly when there is nothing you can do about it.”
• Negative thinking: “Focusing on the negative in a situation, expecting things to go wrong, explaining away the positive things that happen in life.”
• Cognitive distortions: “These are specific ways in which people tend to distort what they see around them; these are our brain’s way of protecting our ego, but they can cause stress.”
If you’re feeling stressed out, identifying why is only the beginning. Follow the full 8-step process of stress management to learn how to alleviate your stress levels.
A previous version of this post was published by Steven Benna.