The most common causes of stress and how to minimise its effects

During what has been a challenging last 12 months many people have faced difficult situations which have led to them feeling stressed.

Stress has many causes, some are rooted in external facts, while others are psychological and based upon internal feelings. Although nobody enjoys being placed in stressful situations, some people manage stress better than most, because they have better stress management strategies.

causes of stressAs April is stress awareness month, Chris Farmer, leadership and management expert at Corporate Coach Group, explores the common causes of stress and the methods people can use to minimise its effects.

What is stress and how is it caused?

In order to fully understand the causes of stress, it is important to recognise what stress is. Stress is made of two parts: It is partly external, objective facts that act upon us, such as viruses, long hours, extreme temperatures, or loud noises. Stress is also our emotional responses to the facts, such as fear, anxiety, anger, and upset.

Everyday responsibilities like work and family issues and life events such as moving house, can trigger stress. But different people respond to the same stressors in different ways, primarily because of the different meanings people associate with the situations that face them. It is the combination of external environments and our emotional reactions to them, that determines our level of stress.

The impact of stress

As stress is a natural reaction to life experiences, our bodies respond to it by releasing hormones that increase our heart rate – readying the muscles to respond. If stress levels stay elevated for an extended period of time, it can have a detrimental impact on health. Chronic stress can therefore cause a variety of physical effects. Symptoms of stress can include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Poor digestion
  • Poor sleep
  • Muscle tension

While traditionally people have been encouraged to ‘power through’ difficult periods, if you are beginning to suffer from any of the symptoms associated with stress it is important you try to address these as soon as possible. To help those who may be struggling with stress-related illnesses, here are four great ways to alleviate the pressure you may currently be feeling.

1. Reduce your exposure to stressful situations

On any given day you should limit the number of times you expose yourself to stressful situations. Repeated exposure to the same stress has a cumulative effect over time. One cigarette does not kill anyone, but repeated exposures do. The same principle applies to many stressors. If you’re struggling with a particular person at work for example, then limit the amount of time you spend with them. Not only will this help to reduce your stress level, giving yourself this additional ‘breathing space’ will often allow you to regain your emotional balance.

2. Recognise the importance of taking a break

While working from home has advantages, it has led to a lot of people working longer hours which naturally makes them more likely to become stressed. Nobody can tolerate high-intensity stress for an extended period of time, so it is important to give yourself regular breaks. If you are working more hours, it is important to break that work into ‘sets’, of about 60-90 minutes, and then to take a break of between 15 and 20 minutes. Nobody can work continuously without getting tired, and that includes mental work. Schedule regular mental breaks in between bouts of concentrated effort and you will be amazed at your increased ability to remain productive all day.

3. Try to reframe the situation you find yourself in

Stress has a strong psychological element to it. The way we perceive situations and the meaning we associate with the facts has a profound impact on the way we feel. Often when we find ourselves in challenging situations, we lose perspective and begin imagining worst case scenarios and thus we feel more stressed than the plain facts would justify. Taking a step back from the situation and reassessing things logically often helps to take the pressure off what can seem like an insurmountable issue. If you would like some additional tips on reframing situations you can read our guide here.

4. Use positive self-talk

What we say to ourselves has a profound impact on how we feel. People feel more stressed whenever they tell themselves that they don’t have the strength to cope with the situation they face. In contrast, they feel less stressed whenever they tell themselves that they are stronger than the situation demands. What people say to themselves is one of the key deciding factors to how much stress they feel.

Those who thrive under pressure often view stressful situations as a challenge, or an opportunity to develop their skills, which instantly turns a negative scenario into a positive one.