7 Common Causes of Stress

Stress - we deal with it on a regular basis and hear about it all the time. It’s in the news. We read about it in magazines and see it talked about online. Your doctor may even have talked with you about controlling your stress levels. But, is it really such a big deal?

So what is stress anyway? The Miriam Webster dictionary defines stress as “a physical, chemical or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation.”

I was actually pleasantly surprised to find that this definition included the less obvious result of stress, which can, in fact, be disease. Not that I’m happy about stress causing disease, but I think most people don’t realize the huge impact it can have on our health. The definition went on to show examples of using the word ‘stress’ in a sentence, which was also appropriate for this session. “Hormones are released into the body in response to emotional stress."

So, as you probably guessed, the answer to the question “Is stress a big deal?” is “Yes” - IF you care about your health.

Stress may be caused by external or internal events or actions. Listed below are the 7 most common causes of stress. 

7 Common Causes of Stress

  1. Relationships - Divorce, frequent disagreements and/or a new marriage 
  2. Career - Changing jobs, working too much, or general work-related stress
  3. Finances - Credit card debt, loss of job, or disagreements on how money is spent
  4. Your health or a family member's health - Caring for others, illness and even death
  5. Home Environment - Family issues, hectic schedules, moving, birth of a new child
  6. Diet - Binge eating, eating all the time, continuous dieting with no results
  7. Lifestyle - Over training (exercising too much), over scheduling, traffic or other special situations

Here’s What Happens in Your Body…

“When you encounter a perceived threat - a large dog barks at you during your morning walk, for instance - your hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of your brain, sets off an alarm system in your body. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts your adrenal glands, located atop your kidneys, to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.

Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain's use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.

Cortisol also curbs functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of your brain that control mood, motivation and fear.

The long-term activation of the stress-response system - and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones - can disrupt almost all your body's processes”

The Risks…

The long-term activation of the stress-response system - and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones - can disrupt almost all your body's processes.

This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including:

Anxiety

Depression

Digestive problems

Heart disease

Sleep problems

Weight gain

Memory and concentration impairment

Source: Mayo Clinic

Other Negative Effects of Chronic Stress

  • nutrient deficiencies as a result of decreased nutrient absorbtion
  • reduced gut flora (the 'good' bacteria)
  • increased levels of cortisol (which can inhibit weight loss)
  • lowering metabolism and increasing fat storage
  • increased oxidative stress (which causes premature aging)
  • The resulting hormonal imbalances (involving cortisol and insulin, in particular) and chronic low-grade inflammation can set the stage for the development of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some forms of cancer, and other chronic diseases. Chronic stress can also make you more susceptible to colds, flus and other infections. And physical stress disrupts physiological homeostasis in a number of ways (including the hormonal and inflammatory pathways) that may affect your energy level in an adverse way.

    The effects of stress can also effect your state of mind, impairing your working memory and your ability to control your impulses. It also increases the risk of anxiety and depression. In addition, unbridled stress can sap your energy and undermine your motivation and resolve to make or stick with healthy lifestyle changes.

    In fact, research from the University of California, San Francisco, found that people who reported higher levels of stress had a greater drive to eat, including disinhibited eating, binge eating, hunger, more ineffective attempts to control their eating, all of which can promote weight gain.

    Source: Dr. David Katz, Author, Disease-Proof

Stress – How Is It Affecting YOU?

Did you realize that stress could wreak so much havoc? Pretty incredible!

Now that we know it can negatively affect many bodily processes including digestion, nutrient absorption, hormones, blood pressure, appetite control, aging and memory, we can put it towards the top of our list of things to address.

It’s not realistic to eliminate all stress from our lives, of course, but there are plenty of things we can do to minimize it. The first step is deciding that it’s important enough to do. Children learn from our example and I think the hectic pace we live in is setting them up for duplicating this pattern (and thinking it’s perfectly normal and okay).

The Causes Are Endless

I think oftentimes we minimize the amount of stress we’re under because we aren’t even fully conscious of it. I’ve been guilty of this myself. It’s easy sometimes to take to on too much. When we do, we often end up with a schedule that is way too busy, find ourselves running in circles and feel like we’re not getting much accomplished – and, this stresses us out even more! We ultimately pay the price with relationship issues, poor diet, health and time management issues … or worse!

We’re going to cover some ideas to help reduce stress but the first thing I’d like to address is probably the most important thing you can do starting today. It’s simple, you already do it every day – but once you do more of it and do it consistently, you’re likely to notice a huge difference in how you feel. So what the solution? Get more sleep!

How is getting enough sleep going to help with stress?

You may be surprised.

You’ve Heard People Say That Sleep Is Overrated ….or Is It?

Inadequate slumber over extended periods of time may interfere with immune function, including production of white blood cells and hormonal regulation, which is why sufficient sleep is linked with chronically elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

This also leads to impaired immunity and elevated levels of hormones such as insulin, increasing the risk of gaining body fat (most often in the midsection) and of developing systemic inflammation and type 2 diabetes. It also leads to changes in the hormone leptin and ghrelin, which regulate hunger and satiety.” - Dr. David Katz, Disease-Proof

Included in this session are suggestions on how to improve your sleep, but the first one is making it a big enough priority and scheduling 7-9 hours to make sure it happens. This means planning ahead. If you need 8 hours of sleep and you have to be up by 6:00 a.m. you need to be ready for sleep by 10:00 pm. Some people do great on 7 hours and some need 8 or 9, so figure out what makes you feel the most rested.

“But, I Have So Much To Do!”

If you’re saying “But I can’t, I have way too much to do!” you should know that insufficient sleep decreases productivity, so by getting enough sleep, you can actually get more done in less time AND feel better while you’re doing it.

Here’s an all-too-common scenario:

You get to bed too late and when it’s time to wake up, your alarm goes off and you’re still tired and hit the snooze button one too many times. Now you’re running late. There’s no time for a decent breakfast, much less, time for packing a healthy lunch to take with you. You leave the house hungry and tired and arrive at work. The only ‘food’ available is whizzing through a drive through, something in a vending machine, the donuts someone else brought into the office or worse, you just have time to grab some coffee.

Now, you’re dragging all day with low energy because this is not the first night this week you haven’t had enough sleep. Somewhere between 2:00 and 3:00 you’re ready to crash, so you grab the closest thing you can find with sugar to keep you going a while longer. And, you may grab another cup of coffee. You leave work way too tired to stop at the gym to exercise or have the incentive to go for a walk when you get home. You grab a quick, highly processed snack to get you through until dinner.

If this pattern is repeated often enough over the course of weeks or months, you can imagine where this will lead you. Many of us are operating this way on a regular basis. It’s stressful and it’s wreaking havoc on us in every possible way. It may have started as a result of a particular event or short-term project, but then became a habit. However, the more we become aware of the things we do that have us on the road to depleting our health, the easier it is to make a change.

Scenario #2 – Imagine this!

You get 7-9 hours of sleep and sleep straight through. You wake up rested, refreshed and ready to take on the day. You hop out of bed, drink your water, have a healthy breakfast, arrive at work on time relaxed and feeling productive. You have a balanced, healthy lunch that gives you sustained energy for the rest of the afternoon. No mid-afternoon crash. No snacks or coffee are needed nor craved. You’ve either worked out before you got to work or you have energy to work out after. You go home and are happy to make a balanced, healthy dinner and enjoy time with your family. You still feel good. You get to bed by 10:00 or at the latest 11:00 p.m. so you get in your amount of needed sleep. Now, THAT’S a great day!

Do you see how the way you wake up each morning affects your entire day? It all starts with how rested you are when you wake up and that depends on the amount and quality of sleep you get. When we are fully rested, it also allows us to handle stress better. Adequate sleep helps us recover from stress too. When we’re asleep, our bodies have a chance to rest, repair, detox and recover.

Even though sleep may seem to be a passive and dormant state, there is much activity going on in the brain during different sleep cycles that affect different needs of the body and the mind. Without sufficient time for these things, we run into problems and our health and emotional state can suffer.

Steps to reduce stress

Analyze 

Look at the areas of your life that are causing you stress.

For example: Look at your calendar and see what you have going on each day in the coming month. If you (and your spouse and/or kids) are completely overbooked, is there a solution? Maybe this means taking a step down from certain obligations or activities. Perhaps working out a car pool would be helpful for some things.

Don’t let your schedule run YOU – decide how YOU can run your schedule. It may mean making some changes or adjustments, and possibly eliminating some commitments. You may even need to ask for help! In the long run, freeing up your schedule to decrease stress is worth it. You can have a family meeting to figure out solutions that may work for everyone. It doesn’t have to be all up to you to decide. It’s okay to delegate.

What do you really want for your life? Is your schedule a reflection of that?

If not, are there changes you can make?

Are you running your schedule or is your schedule running you?

Learn How To Just Say No!

TIP: Learn how to not say ‘yes’ right away. And, know that it’s okay to say no.

People can have a hard time saying ‘no’ when they’re asked to help with something. Yes, it is important for everyone to have a way to contribute, but it becomes a problem when you’re over extended. Especially when you end up dreading your commitment, find yourself run ragged or don’t have enough time for your family – or worse yet yourself!

A great idea is to reply with something like, “Thanks for asking. Let me check my schedule and get back to you.” This way, you don’t have to say ‘no’ and you’ll have time to see if this fits into your schedule or not. Stay firm. Evaluate your time, your commitments and your highest values. If you have the time and you want to do it, then great. If not, you can let the person know that as much as you’d like to help, right now you’re not able to.

Figuring it out

We’ve looked at common causes of stress and the number one way to help deal with it, which is getting enough sleep. This is also a good time to go back and look at your priorities and goals worksheet. Many times, stress is caused when our priorities are not aligned with how we’re spending our time.

I’ve included a Life Balance worksheet with this session so you can look at the ways you are currently spending your time and how that lines up with your life priorities. When we become clearer on our priorities, decisions are a bit easier to make.

Where do you do your best thinking or get your best ideas? It’s usually when things are quiet and you’re alone. Find some quiet time to figure out the best way to reduce some of the stress in your life and understand that it’s really important to your health.

Self-Care - What Is It Exactly?

Self-care is about taking good care of yourself and treating yourself as kindly as you treat others.

So why do so many of us put ourselves at the bottom of the list of priorities?

Taking care of ourselves should be at the top of the list since this allows us to be able to care for others better. It’s not selfish to want to feel amazing. When we’re at our best, we can give our best and we have more to give. Something as simple as taking a class or enjoying a little quiet time a few times a week may be all you need.

Find what you enjoy doing and what recharges you. How can you fit this into your schedule? Maybe for now it can only be 30 minutes twice a week, but that’s a start.

Do you need some ideas? Download this quick guide providing you with 22 Ways to Take Care of Yourself NOW

Take Action

  • List all your commitments and responsibilities. Figure out your biggest causes of stress and look at ways you can reduce it. Just start with one thing for now if needed.
  • Evaluate your schedule and see where changes can be made to make things less hectic.
  • Make sleep a priority and be sure to get the amount you need as often as you can. Notice how you feel when you’re more rested.
  • Look at the list of 22 ideas for self-care so you can reduce stress and take care of you. What 3-5 things will you start with?

Do you have strategies in place for managing stress? Help others and share in the comments below.

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