Stress, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder. What may be incredibly stressful for you may be a minor irritation for someone else, and perhaps not stressful at all to a third person.
It is largely your perception and interpretation of a situation or event that make that event or situation stressful. However, certain events tend to be viewed as highly stressful by most people, most of the time.
What follows is a list of ten events, experiences, and circumstances that people feel are the most stressful. You may be surprised to see events that you normally think of as positive — getting married, having a child — listed as stress-producers. But they are. Major life changes, even good changes, are usually stressful.
Losing a loved one
Surely nothing can be more devastating than the death of someone you very much care about. The loss of your spouse, your child, a close relative, or a very good friend can result in an overwhelming amount of stress. And this stress can last for a very long time. This tragedy comes at the top of just about everyone’s list.
Experiencing a major illness or injury
No surprise here, either. The kinds of illnesses and injuries that trigger high levels of stress are the ones that are painful, debilitating, and long-lasting. Life-threatening illnesses and injuries are certainly among the most stressful. Chronic diseases and conditions often lead to chronic stress.
The stress may come from physical pain or from the psychological distress of worrying about the course of the illness or injury — and grieving the loss of what once was, as well as the loss of future hopes and dreams. At times, the stress may come from the more mundane — the difficulties of simply trying to get through the day.
Divorcing or separating
That relationships can and do end is hardly news. Divorce and separation are commonplace. Everyone knows someone who has been affected in some way by a failed relationship. The prevalence of marital break-ups (more than 50 percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce) may make you think, “No big deal. It happens all the time.”
Unless, of course, yours is the relationship that’s ending. Then you realize just how stressful this experience can be. Should there be children in the relationship, the distress is far greater.
Studies show that people who suffer through a divorce report far more stress-related signs and symptoms than do those who stay married. It can take a very long time to regain your emotional equilibrium, and for your stress level to return to something resembling normal.
Having serious financial difficulties
Money may or may not be the root of all evil; lack of money, however, is almost always the root of much stress. Your particular financial woes may stem from a salary far too low to meet your needs, a once two-income family becoming a one-income family, or a job change or layoff that results in less money coming in.
Or, the stress may be triggered by your expenses. A bigger-than-expected mortgage, that wrap-around sound system, unexpected medical bills, or your kid’s college tuition may leave you wondering and worrying about how you’re going to pay for all of this. And if you think you can’t, you’re under stress.
Losing a job
Losing your job often results in the expected stress of not having enough income to maintain your lifestyle. But the stress can be more complicated. Many people tend to tie up their egos with what they do for a living.
Being out of work can seem like a failure, which can leave you feeling less worthwhile as a person. Thrown into the package may be the additional anxiety of whether you can find a comparable job that pays enough and quickly enough to meet your financial obligations. Put all of this together and you have a recipe for stress.
Saying “I do” doesn’t seem to be such a distressing process. Yet making that important decision and backing it up with a serious commitment can trigger a great deal of upset and anxiety. It’s probably the most important decision you will make in your lifetime.
Then, you have to make so many plans. The details can be overwhelming: deciding when to have the wedding, choosing where to have it, finding a caterer and florist, hiring the band, booking a limo . . . the list seems endless.
And then you have the family interactions with not only your own delightful relatives, but also this new set of virtual unknowns. Congratulations!
Moving to a new place
This winner is deceptive. You may think of moving as a relatively low-level stress, worthy of 35th place on this list. Yet moving can be incredibly stressful. First, you have the practical considerations: looking for a new place, hiring movers, finding the time and energy to pack up everything, only to turn around and unpack it all at the other end.
Then there are the psychological questions: Will I like the new house or apartment? What about my old friends? Will I make new friends? If you have children, you often have the added stress of getting them comfortable with a new school and new friends. Oh, and what about the mortgage?
Fighting with a close friend
A fight or serious disagreement with a good friend that ends the relationship can be highly stressful. The process of fighting or arguing is painful enough in itself, but the residual feelings of anger, upset, and loss can be terribly distressing. You have a void in your life — someone who was a companion, confidant, and sounding board is no longer there. All of this can be very painful.
Having a child
This, you would think, is a blessing, not a stress. And it is a joyful, happy time in your life. But this blessing does not come without other concerns. The birth process itself can be painful. The health of the mother and the new baby can be worrisome.
With a new child come added financial responsibilities, and, sometimes, the birth means one less paycheck. You have concerns about how to parent — will you be able to take care of this brand new person when you get him or her home? And if the new arrival has siblings, you may have concerns about their reactions to their new brother or sister. Not to mention the sleep thing. Sleep? What’s that?
Retirement is probably the most deceptive source of stress. You think of retirement as a time of prolonged rest and relaxation — a chance to do all those things you’ve wanted to but couldn’t. Stress? Where would the stress come from?
Well, going from a rather involved, well-defined lifestyle to one of endless options can be stressful. You may find that after a honeymoon period, you begin to get a wee bit bored. You may miss friends and coworkers. You may realize that spending so much time with your spouse is a little harder than you imagined.
Away from your job title, and the accepted definition of your duties and responsibilities, you may feel less sure of yourself and have some identity issues.