16  Major causes of stress

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Excessive workloads

You know that feeling when you’ve got a million things on your plate and you’re trying to get them all done at once? Yeah, that’s stress. An excessive workload is often cited as a major cause of stress. Some people cope by cutting down their sleep or social time, but the effects of these behaviors can actually compound the problem.

The best way to manage an overloaded schedule is to work toward it gradually and prioritize sleep and self-care. Here are some tips:

  • To avoid being hit with a bunch of deadlines at once, try accepting new assignments in smaller increments.
  • If your boss wants you to take on something new, explain that you’ll be able to deliver better quality work if you have more time for it, and ask if there’s someone else available who could help out in the meantime.
  • Stay organized with a planner or calendar app so that nothing gets pushed off until tomorrow when it needs doing today!


Being exhausted is a common cause of stress, and not only because you may be less able to handle stress if you’re tired. Fatigue can also cause stress because it makes you irritable, impatient, and overly emotional.

The most common causes of fatigue are lack of sleep (not getting enough hours of sleep or waking up frequently throughout the night), poor nutrition (not eating enough calories, or eating foods that are difficult for your body to break down, such as processed foods), and being physically inactive (or not exercising vigorously enough to tire out your muscles).

Try to get at least seven hours of sleep each night. Some people need more than this but everyone needs at least seven hours. If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, there are several habits that can help: getting regular exercise during the day; reducing caffeine and alcohol intake; taking a hot bath before bed; creating a sleep ritual that is relaxing instead of stimulating.

Nutrition also affects energy levels so try to eat healthy whole foods like fruits and vegetables and whole grains rather than processed food when possible. Eating too many calories can cause weight gain which further contributes to fatigue, so try not to eat more than 50% more calories than it takes for your body size and activity level to maintain your current weight.

Exercising regularly will help reduce fatigue by releasing endorphins in the brain which relieve stress while improving overall health by boosting the immune system and strengthening bones and muscles. Try exercising at least 3-4 times per week for an hour each time doing activities such as running or walking outside or on a treadmill; working out with home gym equipment like weights or resistance bands; playing sports like tennis or basketball with friends or family members; doing yoga online via sites such as YouTube.

Unmanageable deadlines

If you are routinely taking on more tasks than you can handle and trying to complete them before their due dates, you won’t be able to prioritize them. You will end up feeling like you are always behind because, in fact, you probably are.

If a project is given to you that seems overwhelming or impossible to complete by the due date, don’t hesitate to ask for an extension. Think about how much time it will realistically take and ask for a reasonable extension that allows you to complete the work while leaving enough time for revisions and feedback from supervisors.

One of the main causes of stress is not being able to meet deadlines at all. If projects or tasks have already been assigned by a supervisor and they seem unrealistic, let your boss know upfront. Explain why they seem unrealistic and offer alternative dates instead of agreeing to meet impossible deadlines.

Too many meetings

The average office worker loses nearly seven hours each week in unproductive meetings, according to a survey by Doodle.

Not only are these meetings stressful because they take away time you could be using to complete projects, check things off your list, or take a quick lunch break—they also lead to stress because they come with extra work and preparation. You have to make sure you’re in the right place at the right time; plan any travel; and prepare for whatever the meeting is about, which could include anything from researching a topic to practicing your presentation skills.

Not only that, but if a meeting isn’t productive or well organized, it can feel like an even bigger waste of time and energy.

Employee reviews and evaluations

What’s a performance review and why does it cause so much stress?

Performance reviews are a yearly evaluation of an employee’s work performance. It’s the opportunity to receive feedback on your job performance, and to share your goals for the coming year with your boss.

The process is meant to help you grow professionally—but sometimes, it can have the opposite effect. Some employees feel judged, criticized, or compared unfavorably to others.

Here are some ways you can manage the stress:

  • Know what’s coming. You’ve probably heard about this in advance. If not, ask your manager or Human Resources representative about when and how evaluations will happen for you at work. Most companies have annual performance reviews, but that time period might vary from company to company.
  • Review all documentation on your own first. Your past review materials may give you an idea of what to expect in this upcoming one—such as any areas where previous reviews said you could improve. Have a thorough understanding of these materials before going into the meeting with your boss so that you’re as prepared as possible ahead of time (and less likely to be blindsided by any negative feedback).
  • Think through objections beforehand.”

Conflicts with colleagues and bosses

Resolving conflict

  • Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. Instead of saying, “You make me nervous,” try, “I am feeling nervous because I want to do a good job.” This takes the focus off the other person and puts it on you.
  • Let others know how their actions affect you. If your co-worker’s frequent tardiness is causing problems with your work schedule, let him or her know exactly how they are affecting you. Asking questions like, “How can I help?” is also a great way to start a conversation about this issue.
  • Be willing to compromise. You may have to give a little in order to gain something from the other person as well. For example, if your co-worker’s tardiness causes problems for both of you, talk about ways that each of you can help solve the problem (i.e., switching schedules so that one or both arrive at work earlier).

Other personality conflicts

  • Other personality conflicts can be a source of stress as well. For example, some people are more detail-oriented whereas others like to maintain an overall picture and let the details fall into place. This can cause tension if one spouse is constantly correcting the other’s grammar or wants to schedule every minute of their vacation, for example.
  • Additionally, some people are more prone to wanting their own way about things and are less flexible than others. This can lead to arguments in which one person refuses to compromise on a disagreement. For instance, when you and your partner disagree on what restaurant to go to for date night or what show you should watch on Netflix, try dividing the options in half and each taking turns making decisions so that neither of you feels like they never get what they want.

Poor management

Poor management is a common contributor to workplace stress. A lack of respect and concern for employees can lead to a stressful work environment. This might include:

  • Constant criticism or negative feedback
  • A lack of appreciation and recognition for your efforts
  • Being blamed for things that aren’t your fault
  • Unclear job expectations, such as not knowing what you’re expected to do or how well you’re expected to do it (or even if you’re doing it correctly)

Uncertainty about the future

The uncertainty about the future is a key cause of stress. This uncertainty can be about our job, relationship, finances, or anything which has an impact on our life. We become stressed because we want to know the outcome in advance and find comfort in it.

But even though there is uncertainty in the future, it is important to accept what you cannot control and focus on what you can control.

Financial stress

Sometimes, even people who are very careful with money can find themselves in debt—especially in cases like medical bills or home repairs. This type of stress usually shows up when you realize that you won’t be able to pay off your debts for months or years to come.

If you spend more than you planned and don’t have as much money as you need, it can start to feel like the problem will never end—and that can get stressful. You may worry about how you’ll pay next month’s bills and whether someone from a collection agency will call.

Economic Stress

As the name implies, economic stress is generated by economic factors. Some of these include:

  • Rising unemployment
  • Rising personal debt
  • Rising national debt
  • The rising cost of living
  • The rising cost of education
  • The rising cost of healthcare
  • The rising cost of housing and land values (this can also be a good thing)

Environmental stress

  • Noise
  • Pollution
  • Extreme temperatures
  • Crowding
  • Light
  • Weather
  • Unsafe neighborhoods
  • Poor indoor air quality
  • Homelessness

Social stress

What’s social stress? This form of stress is your body’s response to pressure from your friends or family. Doctors call this “interpersonal” pressure.

What are some examples of social stress? Here are a few:

Peer pressure. Your friend wants you to do something you’re uncomfortable with, like sneak out of the house after bedtime, or ditch class with them.

Bullying. Your brother makes fun of you for being bad at basketball, or your sister tries to embarrass you in front of her friends.

Rejection by others. You want to join a club at school but don’t get invited because no one likes you, even though they won’t tell you that directly.

A relationship breakup or divorce stress

The end of a relationship is one of life’s most stressful events. A breakup or divorce can be extremely stressful, even more so if you did not make the decision to end the relationship. If a serious relationship ends, it is normal to feel sad and scared about what your future holds.

Even people who were not very happy in their romantic relationships can miss their former partners after a breakup and feel anxious about moving forward on their own.

In some ways, breaking up with someone may be harder than losing a job or dealing with other stressors because we are often strongly emotionally invested in our relationships and we have a personal history with our partner that we do not have with other common sources of stress.

In fact, the death of a loved one is the only life event that consistently rates as being more stressful than marriage breakups.

Stress from natural disasters

It’s important to remember that not all stress is the same. When a natural disaster comes your way, it can be difficult to prepare or prevent. You may feel guilty for being in the situation, as though it were your fault, but natural disasters are inherently uncontrollable and unpredictable. Thus, a hurricane is the cause of stress, but it is not itself a stressor.

Stressors are our own thoughts about these events that make them stressful; an innocent bystander watching a tornado will not experience the same level of stress as someone who has just lost their home.

Natural disasters are unavoidable, but there are many other situations we can control—for example, preparing for an exam or meeting by studying ahead of time and getting enough sleep will reduce anxiety on test day.

Life stage stress

Stress can come from many different life stages, including:

  • Starting college
  • Moving to a new home or city
  • Serious illness or injury
  • A relationship breakup or divorce
  • Retirement

Stress can also come from major life events, such as:

  • A relationship with a partner, roommate, family member, or friend is strained and you are having difficulty communicating your feelings.
  • You have lost your job.

There are many different kinds of stressful life events and circumstances.

Any kind of event or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or nervous can be considered a stressor. If a negative situation doesn’t have the potential to get better, it may be easier for your body to adjust and cope with it.

But if there’s an opportunity for things to improve—even if that opportunity is small—stress can serve as a motivator and help you find solutions to problems.

While some stress is unavoidable, you do have control over how much stress gets into your life. There are many different techniques and practices you can use to minimize your exposure to stressful situations at work or at home.

By John Gurung

A former software developer who is now a blogging enthusiast. A true digital nomad.

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