Life conditions and stress
The life conditions associated with a high probability of a serious
or long term stress state can be found in our education and work
situation, as well as in our private lives.
But it is not the external problems alone that determine whether
a person gets stressed. It is also very dependent on our reactions
to the stressor.
Under the category of education, stressors might include stressful
exams, poor finances, housing problems, boyfriend/girlfriend problems,
Under the category of working life, potential stressors include
conflicts with colleagues or superiors, busyness and overstrain,
oppressive and difficult working conditions, and career setbacks
In family life, stressors might be conflicts with spouse, children
or parents-in-law, problems with division of chores at home, finance
and housing problems, and personal illness or the illness of a
First of all, we think about the external stressor(s), and these
thoughts determine whether we go on to manifest a stress reaction
or not. Californian stress researcher, Richard S. Lazarus, talks
about people dividing external events into three categories by
the way we think about them:
Depending on the way we think about it, the same
external event – e.g.
being asked to make a speech – can give rise to a threat
experience (“I won’t be able to do it”), a positive
experience (“It’ll be fun”) or a neutral experience
(“I’ll just say the usual”) in three different
- Events that we see as potential threats to
our mental or physical wellbeing, and which can therefore trigger
a stress state.
- Events that we see as positive and
potential sources of happiness.
- Events that we see as neutral,
i.e. that we do not expect will have any impact
on our own wellbeing.
According to Lazarus, events that are considered to be harmful
or stressful can be divided into:
- Events which represent future dangers
or threats to our mental or physical wellbeing. Such experiences
usually give rise to anxiety,
as we nervously speculate about how we are going to manage
the future threat.
- Damage that has already taken place,
e.g. being notified of the death of a loved one or a big
financial loss. Such events often
trigger a depressive reaction with a passive form of stress,
where we grieve or brood over what has happened.
- The threats which, although seen as possibly harmful, are also
seen as something we can handle,
and which therefore give rise to the experience of a challenge
Lazarus also divides our thoughts about threats into two
Primary consideration – thoughts about the exact nature of
the situation one is in, its significance, and when the specific
danger might take place.
Secondary consideration – thoughts about options for managing
the threat. We seek to gain control of the situation and we normally
have opportunities for various coping strategies.