The human stress response helps us survive life-threatening experiences by either running to safety or staying to fight off a threat. The most common stressors in modern life, however, occur everyday and aren’t usually life-threatening.

External Causes of Stress

Events and situations in your life that make you feel stressed are called external stressors. Some of the most common external stressors include:

  • Employment: Heavy workloads, demanding supervisors and job insecurity often contribute to stress.
  • Environment: Environmental stimuli such as loud noises, unpleasant odors or improper lighting can be stressful. Sounds, such as a barking dog or a neighbor’s stereo may cause stress if you are trying to sleep, work or study.
  • Family: No matter how much you love your relatives, family arguments, competition, jealousy or tensions can cause stress.
  • Major life changes: Change often causes stress, whether it is positive, such as a new baby or home, or negative, such as the death of a loved one or a divorce.
  • Social situations: A blind date or a strained conversation with a loved one may bring on stress.
  • Unpredictable events: Surprises, such as unexpected overnight guests, discovering ants in your kitchen cabinet or cost of living increases, create stress.

Internal Sources of Stress

Sometimes we create stress from within ourselves. These stressful thoughts or feelings are called internal stressors. Here are some common causes of internal stress:

  • Beliefs: Deep-set beliefs either about the world (such as the belief that things are going to turn out badly) or about yourself (such as the belief that you won’t be able to achieve your goals) can create stress.
  • Fears: Being afraid can stimulate the stress response. Common fears that cause stress include the fear of flying, the fear of heights and the fear of public speaking.
  • Uncertainty: Not knowing how events will occur, or whether your situation is secure can be very stressful.

The Holmes and Rahe Scale of Stress

After surveying 5,000 people in 1967, psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe created a scale of the most common stressful life events. All the events on this scale involve change, whether positive or negative. Holmes and Rahe found that the higher a person’s stress score, the more likely she was to get sick. According to the Holmes-Rahe scale, here are the top 10 most stressful life events, from most to least stressful:

  • Death of a spouse
  • Divorce
  • Marital separation
  • Time spent in jail
  • Death of a close family member
  • Injury or illness
  • Marriage
  • Getting fired from your job
  • Reconciling your marriage
  • Retirement.


Mayo Clinic. (2010). Know your stressors. Retrieved August 14, 2010, from

Mind Tools. (2010). The Holmes and Rahe stress scale – Understanding the impact of long-term stress. Retrieved August 14, 2010, from

 Posted on : June 12, 2014