15 Surprising Stressors
Stress is important: In extreme situations, it triggers our fight-or-flight response. It’s a natural human reaction that releases all the right hormones at the right moment in order to do what we have to do to survive.
Stress only becomes problematic when it becomes chronic—an issue we are faced with in today’s typical work environment. Our bodies are not built to cope with chronic stress because they can’t identify between major physical threats and emotional issues. Chronic stress results in headaches, tension, an upset stomach, change in appetite, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, irritability, and premature aging.
Try avoiding or working on the following 15 surprisingly common stressors.
Daily & Home Life Stress Triggers
Identify and work on these stress triggers you encounter in your daily life.
Living with someone is not always easy, no matter how in love and happy you are. Relationships take work and there are always things you’re both bound to do that will tick each other off. Don’t let these issues stack up! Ken Yeager, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, recommends:
- Finding a balance of time spent together.
- Compromising when necessary.
- Communicating openly and honestly.
- Acknowledge your love and appreciation for each other daily.
Other People’s Stress
A 2014 German study found that stress is contagious. This phenomenon is known as empathic stress, and occurs when one experiences an increase in cortisol (stress hormone) levels simply by observing others completing a stressful task.
You might experience empathic stress when someone you know is affected by a traumatic event, like a serious accident or chronic illness.
In our shareable world, we are inundated with updates from friends and loved ones. Social media is a great way to stay in touch—but can also cause stress, according to a 2015 study from the Pew Research Center. That empathic stress kicks in when we become aware of stressful situations in our friends’ lives.
Other studies have suggested that while social media users don’t have higher levels of stress overall, frequent social media use can be associated with negative body image and prolonged breakup pain.
There is something to be said for living in the moment. Sure, some distractions can be helpful when they take your mind off of a stressful situation or difficult decision. Others, however, keep you so busy thinking about something else that you can’t enjoy what’s going on around you.
Richard Lenox, director of the Texas Tech University Student Counseling Center and licensed psychologist, recommends practicing mindfulness by taking breaks to focus on your breathing and paying full attention to your surroundings while walking or driving.
“Stress and anxiety tend to melt away when our mind is focused in the present,” Lenox says.
It’s not easy to be let down when you’ve set expectations, but it’s better for your mental health to roll with the punches. Try not to get upset or defensive every time things do not go your way. Reacting negatively every time something doesn’t go according to plan can contribute to a mentality of pessimism and victimization, which will eventually wear you down.
Basically, set goals for yourself and don’t settle, but stay realistic and open about possible outcomes.
Yeager says using technology, like your computer, tablet, or smartphone, too close to bedtime could induce sleep problems. He also notes that spending too much time virtually socializing can make real-life interactions even more intimidating.
Then, there are those who are chained to their work emails off-hours. Even when you set a certain amount of time to check emails for an hour, you welcome an influx of new responsibilities, tasks, and dilemmas that are hard to put aside afterward.
Workplace Stress Triggers
Increase productivity and happiness at the office by avoiding these work-related stressors.
While the idea of multitasking seems great, chances are that doing so is only decreasing your productivity and increasing your stress. A 2012 study actually found that those who responded to emails all day experienced more heart-rate variability (a sign of mental stress) than those who waited to respond to all emails at once.
Instead, focus on one task at a time to ensure you give it 100%. If you give each individual task your full attention, you won’t have to worry about it later or go back and fix it. NOT multitasking will actually save you time in the end.
David Ballard, Ph.D., psychologist and executive director for organizational excellence at the American Psychological Organization, says, “People experience stress at work when there’s a mismatch between demands and resources to deal with demands.” Many think they’re not equipped to handle the job and do it well, leading to a fear of not meeting expectations and being called out for it, Ballard continues.
Don’t be your own worst enemy. Remind yourself that it was YOU and YOUR skill set that got you hired. Assume you’re doing good work, even if you’re not receiving regular praise.
Micromanagers can really damage your self-confidence and attitude at work by keeping you on high-alert all the time. You constantly worry about being criticized or reprimanded. Negate some of the pressure on yourself by taking the lead on communication with your manager. Update him or her regularly on the status of your projects. By taking more control of your environment and situation, you may even notice an increase in your own productivity!
Do you believe in your work? Is it evident how your daily tasks contribute to your company’s overall goal? If you can’t see meaning in your job, it certainly won’t bring you joy. Amit Sood, M.D., professor and stress expert at Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program in Rochester, Minnesota, explains that your brain’s reward center counters its stress center. This means if you’re not getting any joy from your work, you are more susceptible to stress. A lack of motivation will lead to a quicker burnout.
Fix this by figuring out who benefits directly from your work, and take pride in helping that person. If you try that but still don’t see the good in your work, it may be time for a new gig.
Lack of Sleep
Chronic fatigue at work exacerbates any issues you may have going on because tiredness and stress feed into each other, according to Dr. Sood. A tired brain makes errors and becomes less efficient. Add to that an intimidating boss, and you can see how insufficient sleep leaves you particularly vulnerable to more symptoms of stress.
Not Enough Breaks
Two hours is about as long as your brain can work at full function (possibly more if you’re extremely motivated), according to Dr. Sood. After two hours of work, your brain becomes sleepy which, again, leads to more stress.
No Green in Your Space
Dr. Sood explains that signs of life, like plants, pets, and open spaces, tell your brain there are no predators around you and you can relax. “We evolved in nature, and it makes us feel safe so we can let our guards down,” he says. A plant or two can go a long way, especially if your office space lacks natural light.
Many organizations run on competition, which breeds loneliness, which breeds stress . . . see where we’re going with this?
Evolutionary science suggests that loners are always on high alert because they’re more susceptible to predators with no one to watch their backs. Dr. Sood says that simply feeling lonely can bring on symptoms of stress (e.g.: adrenaline surge, high blood pressure, and sweating).
Do you always feel pressed for time because you get in late or manage your time poorly? Chances are this makes you feel like you have to speed up to compensate, even if you’re not physically able to do so. Dr. Sood explains that lacking resources and time is a major cause of stress.
Working While Hungry
Working through hunger never turns out well. When you’re hungry, your brain doesn’t get enough glucose to think and process information. You then develop fatigue, headache, and stress, Dr. Sood says. Hunger depletes the willpower necessary for us to get work done.
Beating Chronic Stress
Identify which of these may be the biggest stress triggers for you, and work on fixing them or avoiding them. Chronic stress is likely bringing you down and sucking the joy out of everyday life, but it doesn’t have to! Use it in your favor and take control of situations.
There may not be an exact fix for every trigger, so try relaxation techniques like exercise, meditation, yoga, and massage to reduce chronic stress. Any of these can be done in the comfort of your own home, even massage! Simply find yourself a high-quality massage chair or the perfect yoga or exercise routine to do in your living room. These types of activities can help keep you in the moment and put stressors in perspective, restoring your happiness and a positive attitude.