By Dr. Peter Kalellis

Daily Life Stressors
Being up on time
Many things to do
Family tension
Paying bills
Traffic jams
Major Life Stressors
A place to live
Death of a loved one
Prolonged illness
Unhappiness at work

What causes stress? The potential causes of stress are numberless. Anything that might deprive us of peace and joy and eventually compromise our health might be considered a cause of stress. Daily life stressors and major life stressors include the following:

One major stressor that most of us experience, consciously or unconsciously, is the knowledge of death. We repress the fear of death because it drives us to feel pressed for time. The word deadline certainly carries the message. We have many deadlines, those imposed by work and other people, and those imposed on ourselves. We rush here and there, doing this and that, trying to get it all done “in time.” Often we are so stressed by the squeeze of time that we take action just to finish what we are doing, to be able to say to ourselves, “At least that is out of the way.” Then it is on to the next thing that needs doing as we press through our days.

In his book Stress Less, Dr. Don Colbert places stress into four general categories: physical stress, emotional and mental stress, chemical stress, and thermal stress. Let’s take a brief look at each one.

Physical stress often arises from a lack of sleep, overworking, physical injury or trauma such as a car accident, surgery, infection, and chronic pain. The more severe the infection, the more stress the body experiences. Major diseases and conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, and asthma generally stimulate a chronic stress response in the body. Certain physiological changes can add to a person’s stress burden—for example, hormonal imbalance, inadequate nutrition, insomnia, menopause, and various factors associated with aging. Not all conditions or environments produce physical stress to the same degree in each person. For example, excessive exercise may not produce physical stress for one person, yet produces significant stress for another.

This area of stress is also known as psychological stress. Various emotions, such as anxiety, boredom, conflict, emptiness, depression, anger, hostility, guilt, worry, and fear, can create chronic emotional stress. Many people living in difficult personal relationships, dealing with family issues, raising troubled children, struggling with financial problems, or feeling overwhelmed or trapped with no way out experience chronic stress. Perfectionists who continually strive to do more and more, feeling no real satisfaction for whatever they accomplish, are especially prone to mental stress.

At times, two people may view the same situation and come up with very different conclusions based upon their perceptions. One person’s stress may be another person’s pleasure. Family fights, pressing deadlines, too many commitments, and a too busy lifestyle can all result in mental and emotional stress.


Chemical stress is a result of excessive use of various substances such as sugar, caffeine, stimulants, alcohol, nicotine, and food additives. Chemical stress is also related to substances to which a person may be exposed in the environment: mold, dust, allergens, and toxic chemicals such as diesel exhaust, secondhand cigarette smoke, and pesticides. Marijuana is a major chemical stressor to the adrenal glands. People who smoke marijuana just one time a week for several months are much more prone to signs of significant adrenal fatigue.

The final category of stress is related to being exposed to extreme temperatures, either hot or cold, for prolonged periods of time. Individuals who suffer from heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and hypothermia experience severe thermal stress. Thermal stress is actually rare in our culture today, since the vast majority of people have heating and air-conditioning systems in their homes and cars, but occasionally an athlete suffers from thermal stress by exercising too much in extreme heat. Hikers, mountain climbers, or boaters may also suffer from hypothermia after getting lost and having inadequate shelter or clothing in extremely cold conditions.

In view of all the ramifications of stress, we can understand that not all stress is bad. In fact, the right degree of stress helps to spice up a person’s life. Life would be boring without a little stress. Some events in life are a mixed bag—a little stressful, but fulfilling and exciting as well. A wedding, buying a new home and moving into it, looking to buy a new car, starting a new job—any new beginning in anything can be stressful—but it can also be personally rewarding or beneficial to a person’s life. Other events, such as having to face a son’s or a daughter’s involvement with the wrong crowd, are just sheer stress. The secret of finding the right degree of stress is similar to tuning the strings of a violin—too tight and the strings snap; too loose and the sound is terrible.

We are all aware that a stress-free life is impossible, that the very process of being alive means that there will be wear and tear associated with the need to adapt to a changing outer and inner environment. The question that concerns most of us is, how much wear and tear does there have to be? We may find it comforting to know that our bodies have very robust and resilient built-in mechanisms for maintaining stability and vitality in the face of constant stress. The biological resilience and stability are major allies when it comes to facing stress and possible change in our lives. It helps us to remember that we have every reason to trust our bodies and to work in harmony with them and not against them.

• The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide the problems that you are facing are your own. You don’t have to blame them on your mother or father or God or the president of your country. You must realize that you are in charge of your destiny. You are the ultimate authority of your life. God is the absolute authority. Being in charge of significant portions of your life is often the first step to reducing your stress.

• You can transform your thoughts by changing the way you think. You can redirect the thought process in your own mind and adopt new thought patterns. You can alter your perceptions and reactions so that you are able to move forward with any stressful situation.

• Most people can choose where and how they will live—the schedules they will keep, the projects they will undertake, the commitments they will make, the housing and neighborhoods in which they will live, and the people with whom they will associate. You have a choice to do the same. You can choose how you will respond to what others around you say or do.

• If you sense persistent stress, try to reexamine your perceptions—what you perceive, interpret, or believe to be an extremely stressful situation becomes one. Another person may not consider the same situation to be an extremely stressful situation before it becomes one.

Dr. Peter M. Kalellis is a psychotherapist, marriage and family therapist, lecturer, and writer. He has a doctorate in clinical psychology and is the author of many books. He maintains his practice in Westfield, New Jersey.