Stress Causes & Risk Factors

By:    Published: February 2, 2012

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Causes

Each individual responds to stress indicators differently, psychologically and biologically. Below are some of the more common causes of stress.

Workplace/School

One of the biggest causes of stress for a lot of people is the workplace. Individuals who hold extremely demanding jobs around the clock are most prone to stress. In times of increased responsibility and pressure, such as layoffs, high turnover rates or the pressure to learn new technology, stress is bound to increase. Other factors, such as workplace harassment, unreasonably demanding bosses and co-workers, long hours or inter-office gossip can also elevate stress. The occasional performance appraisal can also be the cause of stress.

Similarly, for children and young adults, school can become a contributor to stress formation. Deadlines, projects and exams can become daunting for certain individuals, and for some children, the pressure to do well in school can be taxing. As teenagers reach puberty, other social issues, such as fitting in with peers, puberty, body image and social bullying can become further sources of stress.

Financial

Financial issues are another common cause of stress for many people, and tie indirectly with work-related stress. Individuals who are deep in financial debt or have multiple loans and payments tend to be more stressed. Worrying about paying bills, keeping a steady source of income and maintaining lifestyles financially can be common causes of stress.

Relationships

Relationship-oriented issues can also create stress, whether it's familial, romantic or social. Problems in marriage, family expectations and roles, raising children, chores and sibling rivalry can generate stress. Relationship problems, unplanned pregnancies, fear, expectations, embarrassment, needs and wants between people are also common sources of stress.

Risk Factors

During times of stress, the body produces "emergency" fight or flight hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. Primitively, these hormones help the body react appropriately to hostile environments that may otherwise threaten the well-being of the individual, thus placing him or her out of danger. Cortisol and adrenaline usually dilate the pupil, increase heart activity, raise blood pressure and prepare the body and mind to tackle whatever is coming its way. While this reaction is natural, and can be considered beneficial in small doses, changes in society have made it so that some individuals are constantly under chronic stress. It also means that the body is constantly producing these fight or flight hormones, which are primitive and intended only for life-threatening cases.

In the long run, the overproduction of cortisol and adrenaline can prove to be taxing on the body in a cognitive, behavioral, psychological and physiological manner, and can cause problems and issues in the long run.

For example, individuals exposed to chronic stress may also be at risk for many serious behavioral and psychological problems. Stress has been linked to cases of insomnia, mood swings and anxiety disorders. Stress can also decrease sex drive and dull the senses so that pleasure and the feeling of fulfillment are harder to obtain from everyday routine. Oftentimes, affected individuals would need to start relying on other substances, such as over-the-counter medication, alcohol, smoking or prescription drugs to help control these abnormalities. If the underlying cause of stress is not relieved, then it may put the individual at great risk for substance abuse and addiction.

Many people deal with stress through means of eating, also commonly referred to as "stress eating." Such eating habits tend to be detrimental to the health, for stress eating individuals tend to choose unhealthy food, thus placing them at risk for obesity. Obesity, in turn, can usually lead to further medical, social and psychological problems. For example, individuals who have radically gained weight may feel more self conscious and thus increased social isolation. Such withdrawal may lead to depression.

Also, studies have shown that cortisol and adrenaline are inflammatory hormones, which also lower the guard of the body's immune system and put individuals more at risk for pathological diseases, such as infections and the common cold. Internal body inflammation can also exacerbate allergies, such as asthma and skin rash, and abnormal bowel problems and diseases, such as Crohn's Disease. Individuals who are under constant stress are more likely to have hypertension due to elevated blood pressure. Hypertension, in turn, is often considered to be the predecessor of cardiovascular problems, as well as stroke, a life-threatening condition. Since stress is an endocrine response, overproduction of cortisol and adrenaline can also lead to hormonal imbalance and other problems.

While chronic stress is not a direct killer, it definitely places individuals at high risk for serious and potentially deadly conditions. Studies show that stress has been linked to cancer, suicide and depression. Therefore, it is very important to find ways to relieve stress, or at least to try to reduce exposure to chronic stress, so the risks for such future conditions can be avoided.

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