What is stress and what causes it?

What is stress and what causes it?

We feel stress when we are worried about something – a test, an interview, a game, a date – all sorts of things.  Stress is actually a normal reaction that, in small doses, can help you perform better, motivate you and focus your attention. However, when stress becomes constant and overwhelming, then it can have a negative impact on your mind and your body.

Stress is the result of our self feeling threatened in some way. Since we have many aspects of our self and many things can feel threatening, stress can be all around us. So let’s break it down so we can break down stress altogether.

How do the different parts of your self feel stress? Below are some examples.

Your cognitive (thinking) self: You have a history test tomorrow and you haven’t studied. You fear you are going to fail. You feel cognitively stressed.

Your emotional self: Your dog died. You miss him already and feel your life will be empty without him. You are emotionally stressed.

Your social self: You are not invited to a party to which everyone else is invited. You feel really unpopular and wonder if anyone likes you. You are socially stressed.

Your physical self: You stayed up really late talking to a friend, ran 4 miles the next day, forgot to eat and now your body is screaming at you – completely feeling the physical stress.

Your moral self:  Your friend asks you to write his history paper for him for $30. You could really use the money to buy new cleats for soccer. Cheating goes against your morals, so you feel stressed thinking about what to do – your feet have been killing you.


The event alone is NOT what causes the stress.

This is a common misunderstanding about stress.

Your thoughts about these events and then your reaction (based on your thoughts) to these events are what cause stress, NOT the event itself.

This is really important to understand. Using the exact same examples from above, let’s look at how different thoughts will change the amount of stress you may feel. For example,

–       You may not care about your history test, or you may feel like you already know everything even though you haven’t studied. Or, you haven’t studied and you know you will not do well, so you let it go because at this point a good night’s sleep is your best medicine. Result with that new mindset? No stress that you haven’t studied.

–       Your dog had an amazing life and had been really ill for a long time and it was painful to keep watching him suffer. Result with that new mindset? More relief, less stress at his death.

–       Even though you weren’t invited to the party you thought: I don’t like hanging out with that crowd anyway, and feel no stress.

–       Your body feels stressed from the abuse you gave it, but you meditate, eat well and remind yourself to turn off your phone by 9 pm tonight. Your body is still stressed, but less so now that you have a plan to help it recover.

–       You think to yourself: I don’t have to compromise my morals to make money. I can find another way to make it. You feel good about keeping to your moral code. You don’t feel stressed that you broke it.

Do you see that your thoughts about the event is what causes the stress rather than the event itself? Yes, some things tend to be more stressful than others (like the death of a dog or a moral dilemma) but you can decrease the impact of that stress by how you think about and respond to the situation.

Again: You can decrease the impact of that stress by how you think about and respond to the situation.

For example, what feels stressful to you may not feel stressful to your friend. Stress is personal because it is based upon YOUR thoughts and reactions. It is based on lots of things about who you are – your self!

Please read the next post that illustrates the stress response – do you react or respond to stress? Find out next…

Post Question:

What stresses you out?

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  • WLKHS1204
    Posted at 14:06h, 15 October Reply

    If I have multiple tests and quizzes on the same day I will get sressed out. I would get stressed out because there is a lot of information to know for each assessment or because I didn’t study enough for each test.

  • WLKHS1205
    Posted at 14:04h, 15 October Reply

    What stresses me out is school. I never have time to myself because of homework, going to practice and other things I have to do at home. Also friends and relationships stress me out. Sometimes you fight with your friends and it stresses me out.

  • WLKHS2210
    Posted at 01:37h, 12 March Reply

    What stresses me out is when I have to manage a lot of things at once and I don’t have a lot of time to do them all.