How Stress Works

How to Identify Stress Triggers

Flying could be an enormous stressor for one individual and actually be a pleasurable experience for the next.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

We all experience stress for different reasons. And a situation that makes one person want to run for the hills may be a minor inconvenience or even an invigorating challenge to another. The first step in conquering your personal stressors, or stress inducers, is to identify them.

Stressors usually fall into the following categories:


  • Emotional stressors, which can also be thought of as internal stressors, include fears and anxieties (such as worries about whether you'll be fired or whether you'll make a good impression on a blind date) as well as certain personality traits (such as perfectionism, pessimism, suspiciousness, or a sense of helplessness or lack of control over one's life) that can distort your thinking or your perceptions of others. These stressors are very individual.
  • Family stressors can include changes in your relationship with your significant other, financial problems, coping with an unruly adolescent, or experiencing empty-nest syndrome. 
  • Social stressors arise in our interactions within our personal community. They can include dating,  parties, and public speaking. As with emotional stressors, social stressors are very individualized (you may love speaking in public, while your colleague shakes in his boots at the mere suggestion).
  • Change stressors are feelings of stress related to any important changes in our lives. This may include moving, getting a new job, moving in with a significant other, or having a baby.
  • Chemical stressors are any drugs a person abuses, such as alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, or tranquilizers.
  • Work stressors are caused by the pressures of performing in the workplace (or in the home, if that is where you work). They may include tight deadlines, an unpredictable boss, or endless family demands.
  • Decision stressors involve the stress caused by having to make important decisions, such as the choice of a career or a mate.
  • Phobic stressors are those caused by situations you are extremely afraid of, such as flying in airplanes or being in tight spaces.
  • Physical stressors are situations that overtax your body, such as working long hours without sleep, depriving yourself of healthy food, or standing on your feet all day. They may also include pregnancy, premenstrual syndrome, or too much exercise.
  • Disease stressors are the products of long- or short-term health problems. These may cause stress (say, by preventing you from being able to leave your bed), be triggered by stress (such as herpes flare-ups), or be aggravated by stress (such as migraine headaches).
  • Pain stressors can include acute pain or chronic pain. Like disease stressors, pain stressors can cause stress or be aggravated by stress.
  • Environmental stressors include noise, pollution, a lack of space, too much heat, or too much cold.

Using the above list as a reference, write down and note which category the main stressors in your life fall into. You may even find that some of your stressors fall into more than one of these categories.

There are probably items on your list of stressors you can let go of, however. If having to clean the entire house on your day off every week is preventing you from having any leisure time, perhaps you can fit a cleaning service into your budget. If ironing shirts is keeping you up late at night, send them to the cleaners instead. If these seem like luxuries you can't afford, try to reorganize your budget a bit. Remember, your time is valuable, too.

Reducing the strength of your stressors is usually a more viable option than eliminating them entirely. For example, if you are having trouble concentrating on your work because of loud noise in the office, consider buying a pair of earplugs. If your morning trip to work forces you to drive two hours in heavy traffic every day, try another option such as mass transit or carpooling and bring along the morning paper, a good book, or a CD player or IPOD loaded with favorite music.

Coping is no doubt your only option for the majority of the items on your list of stressors. However, this doesn't have to be as hopeless as it sounds. There are several techniques for learning to stay calm and clearheaded under pressure. As you master them, even your biggest stressors will pose less and less of a threat.

Go back through your list of stressors and mark an E for each item you can eliminate, an R for each stressor you can reduce the strength of, and a C for each item you can learn to cope with. For the items marked with an E or an R, jot down any ideas you have on how to accomplish these goals (for example, sending shirts to the cleaners or buying earplugs).

Now that you've identified and organized your stressors, it's time to start learning how to deal with them. We will show you how to reduce the stress in your life in the next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider. ­