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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.
Under the category of education, stressors might include stressful exams, poor finances, housing problems, boyfriend/girlfriend problems, and loneliness.
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 or dismissals.
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 loved one.

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.
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:
  • 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.
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 people.
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 instead.

Lazarus also divides our thoughts about threats into two main categories:
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.