Causes of stress Prime Causes

A stress-free existence is, perhaps, a mirage. Hans Selye aptly commented: "Complete freedom from stress is death!" The pressures of modern living ensure that stress is always lurking in the background. It is generally assumed that adverse life events or challenges called stressors cause stress. If this stress becomes very intense or chronic, it leads to stress-related diseases.

However, this phenomenon is not as simplistic as it sounds. Different individuals subjected to the same stressful event may react differently, with responses ranging from extreme to mild to absent.

Although the causes of stress are myriad, we could loosely categorize these into common and uncommon stressors. Common stressors comprise disease, academic stress (heightened during examinations), marital discord, separation or divorce, career stress, bereavement and unemployment.

The uncommon ones include overcrowding, commuting, sleep deprivation, shifts (home, school, career), malnutrition, drug abuse, phobias, excessive exercise, noise pollution, et al.

It isn't just adults who fall prey to stress. Modern lifestyles are exacting a toll on impressionable kids and unsuspecting teenagers too. In the words of Dr Chugh: "A fairly large number of children have stress problems related to studies and unrealistic parental expectations. And there are huge numbers of stressed teenagers. These are cases related to academics, relationships, parental expectations, drug and alcohol abuse and even sexual experimentation that backfires. Examination stress is phenomenally high, especially during board exams."

Frustration through sexual deprivation, social or peer pressure to conform and the struggle for professional advancement all cause stress. It was Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) who pointed out that if psychic energy is unable to meet its original objective, it fixes upon an alternative. This impulse leads to sublimation. It can also lead to stress. While the individual adapts to the situation, if pressures become unbearable or persistent, he may enter a state of chronic stress.

Most of these stressors can ultimately impair immune functions.

There may be numerous conditions in which people may feel stress. Conditions that tend to cause stress are called stressors. Although even a single stressor may cause major stress like death of near one, usually stressors combine to press an individual in a variety of ways until stress develops. The various stressors can be grouped into four categories: individual, group, organizational and extra-organizational. Within each category, there may be several stressors. Though, stressors have classified into these categories, all eventually get down to the individual level and put stress on individuals. Various stressors have been presented in Fig. 8.4.

Factors causing stress.

Fig. 8.4: Factors causing stress.

Both positive and negative events in one's life can be stressful. However, major life changes are the greatest contributors of stress for most people.

1. If people have to travel a lot and have to move from place to place, it can cause stress.

2. Individuals can also be under stress if they are about to enter some new environment. They may be going to a new colony. To a new college or they may be joining a new organization.

3. Some events, which are generally once in a lifetime can also cause stress. The social institutions of marriage or divorce can cause stress. Pregnancy can also generate Stress.

4. Some of the untoward incidents like critical illness or death of a relative can also cause stress in individuals.

These are some of the major events in the life of the individual that cause stress. It is also supplemented by the environmental factors that act as catalyst cause increment in stress. They are:

• Time pressure

• Competition

• Financial problems

• Noise

• Disappointments

At the optimum level of stress (eustress), the performance is maximum. It is lower in the case of very low-level stress and still lower in very high-level stress. Though optimum level of stress may be different for different individuals, each individual can determine how much stress is functional for him to operate in a productive manner. High level of stress (distress) causes physical, psychological and behavioural problems.

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