"Situations, circumstances or any stimulus that is perceived to be a threat is referred to as a stressor, or
that which causes or promotes stress."
The causes of stress are known as stressors and there
are literally hundreds of different types of stressors. Any event in life that
a person finds threatening, difficult to cope with or causes excess pressure can be a potential cause of stress. It is important to bear in mind that stress is an individualistic, subjective experience and therefore
what one person finds stressful another may not. Stressors can be broken down
roughly into either external or internal (or a mixture of both.)
1. External Stressors
a) Major Life Events
Research by Psychiatrists Drs Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe revealed a list
of common causes of stress that most people would find stressful. They called
this scale the Holmes and Rahe Social Readjustment Scale. The
scale is a list of 45 stressors each given a number of points, with the most stressful at the top of the list (death of a
spouse) and the least stressful at the bottom of the scale (a minor violation of the law).
The research indicates that if your total score is more than 150 points the chances are that it could have an impact
on your health. A score of over three hundred points in one year indicates that
you have a high risk of developing a stress related health problem.
One of the weaknesses of the Holmes and Rahe Social Readjustment scale is
that it doesnt take into account the individuals personality, their perception of how difficult the stressor is, nor does
it take into account how long the stressor continues for; the scale just gives a single number for each stressor. However, it s known that the longer a stressor continues, then the more likely it is to cause stress and
that the individuals perception of an event is the key to whether they will find a situation stressful or not.
For example, if a person is happy living in their house, theyve lived there
for a number of years, have developed close friends in the area and do not want to move but are forced to move because their
home is being repossessed, then they are going to find the event of moving infinitely far more stressful than a person who
has lived in their home for a short time, next to a very noisy, difficult neighbour and who wants to move to get away from
To help overcome some of the drawbacks of the Holmes and Rahe Social Readjustment
scale Professor Cary Cooper, of The University Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST), has upgraded it by
allocating a scale of 1 - 10 points for each event, so allowing a persons perception of how stressful the event is, to
be taken into account. We have included a copy of Professor Coopers modified
version in the course materials for you to view and use.
Click here for
Cooper's Life Stress Inventory
b) Daily Hassles
idiot can face a crisis its this day-to-day living that wears you out." (Anton Chekov)
The majority of causes of stress that we face on a day-to-day basis are not as extreme as life
events. The day-to-day causes of stress are called daily hassles;
they are those daily, minor irritations such as misplacing our car keys, traffic jams, minor arguments with family/colleagues,
etc. Research by Lazarus and Folkman (1984), at the University of California,
indicated that it was the daily hassles rather than the major life events that affected us the most. Life events do not occur every day, but daily hassles do; its the constant, daily frustration caused by
these hassles that cause us the most stress, because they occur so regularly and therefore can undermine our health.
Some Examples of Daily Hassles
2. Internal Stressors
resides neither in the situation nor in the person; it depends on a transaction between the two."
We tend to think that stress is solely caused by external events, situations
and people, yet this is not strictly correct. Research has found that the Transactional
Model of Stress is more accurate. This model says that stress is caused by a
transaction, ie there is an interaction between the stressor, our view of the stressor and our perceived ability to cope with
it. Its our own internal beliefs, attitudes, interpretations, perceptions and
other factors, in combination with the external events that tend to create stress.
Internal factors which influence how we perceive stress include our:
Examples of Some Causes of Stress
levels of assertion
of work recognition
for a chronically ill relative
with health problems
with alcohol/drug problems
in an urban area
aggressive, unhelpful people