According to the American Institute of Stress, there’s probably a lot stressing you out right now. Everything from high gas prices to political uncertainty contributes to what the American Psychological Association (APA) is calling a mental health crisis.
Negative stress can dramatically impact your health and well-being. But not all stress is bad, so you have to leverage the good and root out what’s working against you.
This can be hard to do. When you have a task list as long as your arm, it’s difficult to pinpoint what’s impacting your stress levels.
Stress can affect every area of your life — at work, at home, and everywhere in between. And understanding your stress triggers is the key to overcoming them.
See if you can relate to these examples of stressors. Some of them are good, and some of them bad. But, once you know what stress looks like, you can make a life change for the better.
Stressors are life events that cause your nervous system to release stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine (or adrenaline) throughout your body. These hormones constrict your blood vessels, increase your heart rate, and raise your blood sugar. They give you a boost of energy to respond to a potentially dangerous situation.
This jolt of energy is colloquially called a “fight or flight” response. At some point in human history, stress hormones were necessary to avoid harm from predators. It allowed people to run away from a threat or pumped them up to fight.
These days, your brain has a hard time distinguishing between different types of stressors. That is, you can’t always tell whether a threat is abstract or actually life-threatening.
That’s why, even though it won’t kill you, a performance review at work can be as intimidating as a fistfight.
Some stress is good for you
Contrary to popular belief, not all causes of stress are bad. Good stress is a thing, and it’s actually vital for a healthy life. Here’s the difference between both.
What is “good” stress?
Good stress, also known as “eustress,” leverages your stress response to help you perform at your best. It temporarily pumps your body with low doses of stress hormones — just enough to increase your energy and focus. Then, it disappears when you no longer need it.
Eustress only occurs when your stress isn’t overwhelming. You have to be confident in your ability to overcome the challenge. Otherwise, you won’t be able to stretch your skills and rise to the task.
What is negative stress?
Negative stress, or distress, is when stress harms your mental and physical health.
Chronic stress feeds you low doses of cortisol and adrenaline over an extended period. If untreated, it can cause mental exhaustion, a lowered immune system, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and burnout.
Acute stress can also cause health problems. This occurs when you experience a rapid release of stress hormones in a short period of time — usually in response to traumatic events.
The symptoms of acute stress are often temporary, subsiding between a few hours and a few days. But in some cases, overly stressful events can cause acute stress disorder.
Don’t know what kind of stress you have? Try asking BetterUp. Our professional coaches can help you identify what’s putting you on edge. With our help, you can root out the negativity in your life.
10 examples of stressors and how to manage them
Here are some examples of stressors, broken down by category. With mindfulness and effort, you can manage many of these situations.
Acute stressors examples
These stressful events can have lingering harmful effects, so it’s important to check in with yourself after such an experience. Here are some examples:
- The threat of death or serious injury
If you experienced a major car accident, a natural disaster, or some other threat to your life, you might still have flashbacks of the incident. This reintroduces stress in your everyday life, even if the incident is long over.
How to manage: You might naturally calm down after a couple of days. But if you don’t, reach out to a mental health professional. They can use tactics like talk therapy or exposure therapy to help you overcome traumatic memories.
- The sudden death of a family member or loved one
Grief rarely happens in a straight line. It has many winding stages, each of which can affect your life. You might get snappy with your colleagues at work or cry suddenly at dinner with friends.
How to manage: Grief is often resolved with time. You’ll have good days and bad ones, so don’t be afraid to have a cry (or multiple) when you need it. You can also write a letter to your lost loved one to say goodbye or simply keep a journal of your thoughts. The act of writing can help you process your feelings.
Chronic stressors examples
Whether it’s workplace stress or a chronic illness, you might feel a constant sense of pressure without any stress relief. This is called chronic stress. Here are some examples of this phenomenon and how you can overcome them:
You might have too many deadlines or have been assigned work beyond your skill level. This kind of work stress can be overwhelming. If you constantly feel like you’re failing, it can be a major blow to your confidence and motivation. And no amount of time management can meet unrealistic expectations.
How to manage: If you trust your boss, talk to them about your workload. Otherwise, seek out a better work-life balance elsewhere. Reach out to people from other organizations and ask about their work culture. Eventually, this kind of networking could lead to a healthier job.
- High-pressure work environment
Some workplaces have severe consequences for underperformance, from threatening your job security to flat-out mental abuse. Over time, this can lead to chronic work anxiety.
How to manage: Short-term, you can use coping strategies and stress management techniques like mindful breathing in your daily life. But it’s worth looking for a healthier work environment. Many jobs exist that aren’t so hostile. We recommend finding them.
- Living paycheck to paycheck
Barely making ends meet is stressful. Debt, bills, and unplanned expenses take a toll on your financial wellness and mental health.
How to manage: There might not be an easy way out, but working toward a higher salary is possible. Build your emergency fund in case of surprise expenses. And try to develop skills valuable to employers. It’s also helpful to improve your negotiation abilities to get what you’re worth.
Emotional stressors examples
Emotional stress refers to feelings that impact your well-being over time. Worry, fear, anger, sadness, and other negative emotions can interfere with your ability to do other things. Here are some life stressors that might cause these feelings:
- Relationship troubles
You might be going through a rough patch or a bad breakup. Stress in your romantic life can overflow into other areas, including your work.
How to manage: Be kind to yourself and take time for self-care. Sometimes work can act as a healthy distraction from your troubles. While overworking isn’t advisable, a little extra effort can help keep painful emotions temporarily at bay.
- Lack of social support
It’s normal to feel stressed if you’re taking everything on yourself. Loneliness and social isolation can take a toll on your mental health, making it challenging to thrive in other areas.
How to manage: If you haven’t talked to your loved ones in a while, reach out with a simple phone call. Just 10 minutes of chatting could be enough to help you feel rejuvenated. Alternatively, try building a new social circle. Making new friends can put you on a path toward love and support.
Positive stressors examples
It’s important to remember that not all stress is bad. Some can improve your performance and well-being through eustress. As a result, you don’t necessarily have to “deal with them.” It’s better to actively seek them out.
Here are some examples:
- Giving an important presentation
Public speaking is stressful but in a good way. This kind of stress encourages you to prepare, practice, and perform to give a good presentation.
- Starting your own business
Risk is an essential part of entrepreneurship. This can lead to eustress, which will energize you to work hard toward achieving your business goals.
- Going on a first date
You might be nervous at first. But once you sit down with a potential partner, eustress kicks in to (hopefully) help you make a good impression.
The importance of changing your perspective
Stressful situations can feel suffocating. But it’s important to remember you’re not helpless. No matter the source of stress, there’s always a way to make choices — even if it’s not immediately apparent.
You may need a shift in perspective.
That’s not to say it will be easy. As you saw with the above stressor examples, managing stress typically requires emotional labor, discipline, and resilience. You might have to confront uncomfortable truths or work harder than ever before to combat the effects of stress.
But you can do it. We have faith in you, and you should have faith, too.