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What Are Stress Triggers & How Do You Identify Them?

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While you’re in the middle of making dinner, the phone rings, there’s a knock on the door, your kids start arguing and screaming your name, and the pot of sauce you’re cooking starts boiling over. Everything and everyone needs your attention, and you are stressed out to the max.

These are examples of acute stress, which doesn’t last long, and can actually be beneficial to your health. But, if your stress levels are at a high on a daily basis, you could be experiencing chronic stress, a form of long-term stress that can be dangerous to your overall health and well-being.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, stress is what happens when you are overloaded with demands that require you to react or make a change. These demands can be caused by a variety of factors, including money, personal relationships, work, school, or any other situation that you perceive to be challenging. These challenges cause your body to react physically, mentally and emotionally.

Stress is a part of everyday life. It’s actually essential to your survival. That’s because it stimulates the “fight-of-flight” response, which tells you how and when to react to danger.

However, if this response is triggered often or too easily, it can wreck havoc on your mental and physical health. Instead of being beneficial, it can become dangerous. That’s why it’s important to understand your stress triggers and be able to identify them before they wreak havoc.

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Side Effects of Stress

According to The American Institute of Stress, the effects of stress can cause a number of physical and emotional conditions, such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Increased susceptibility to infections and illnesses
  • Gastrointestinal conditions
  • Neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease

What Triggers Stress?

Anything that triggers this reaction is referred to as a stressor or stress trigger. Examples of stress triggers include being confronted with aggressive behavior, hearing a loud, sudden noise, seeing a car speeding toward you, or being faced with a change in your life (even if that change is positive, such as a promotion, buying a house or going out on a date.)

The more stress triggers you’re confronted with, the more stressed out you become.

There are a variety of environmental triggers that can activate the “fight-or-flight” response. Here are some of the most common stress triggers:

1. Financial Problems

According to a recent survey from the American Psychological Association, money is the leading cause of stress among Americans. Additionally, this survey found that financial stress can have a significant impact on a person’s health and well-being.

top stress triggers

Of the 3,068 adults who were surveyed in 2014, the study revealed that 72% felt stressed about finances at some point during the month of August (when the survey was conducted), and 22% reported that they experienced extreme financial stress. Those who said that money was a very large source of stress were younger adults and parents.

2. Work Demands

Work is the second leading stress trigger among Americans. A study conducted by the Harvard Gazette found that approximately 44% of adults said that their work was affecting their overall health and well-being, and that the leading problem was stress.

A job can be demanding during normal working hours, but it used to be that some of that stress subsided at the end of the work day. However, thanks to technology, work-related stress seems to never end. It seems that there is very little, if any, separation between work and leisure time. Workers are always “on-call”, even if their specific job doesn’t require them to be. How often do you receive an email, a text or a phone call from your boss while you’re away from work?

3. Personal Relationships

Relationships are another major cause of stress. Major issues in a relationship can certainly cause stress; however, it seems that trivial things, such as folding the laundry, washing the dishes, cleaning up the bathroom and taking the dog for a walk, cause the greatest amount of stress in a relationship.

Why? Because one person starts to feel resentful or taken for granted, and thus loses trust in the other person.

4. Caregiving

It’s hard enough for a person to tend to all of the day-to-day things that they need to tend to for themselves. Throw taking care of someone else into the picture, and things can become extremely overwhelming. Parents of young children, those who care for a sick spouse, and those who tend to elderly parents are under high levels of stress.

It’s easy to see why, too: ensuring that the needs of the person you are caring for, as well as your own needs, are met is extremely demanding.

5. Not Getting Enough “Alone” Time

While it’s nice to be surrounded by other people, sometimes, it’s nice to spend some time alone. In fact, it’s not only nice; it’s extremely important. Alone time allows you to concentrate on your own needs, and not getting that time can really heighten stress levels.

How to Identify Your Stress Triggers

Fortunately, you can combat the effects of stress. How? By identifying what triggers it.

Finding out how to pinpoint your specific stress triggers can help you better maintain them and manage your stress levels, thus combating the negative side effects that are associated with chronic stress. Here are some tips that will help you identify your stress triggers:

Become Familiar with Your Response to Stress

When you’re faced with stressful situations, your body sends out certain signals: your heart starts to pound; you start sweating; your breathing becomes quicker and shallow; your stomach becomes upset; you become irritable…

Pay attention to your body’s response to certain situations. Doing so will help you determine what triggers your stress.

Keep a Stress Journal

Jot down the things that cause you to become stressed, as well as your body’s responses to stress. Doing so will allow you to be better equipped to take prompt and proper action so that you can reduce your stress levels and move away from stressors.

Speak to a Medical Professional

If you’re having a hard time determining what it is that is causing you to feel stressed, you might want to speak to a medical professional. Let your doctor know how you’re feeling. He or she will be able to help you determine what triggers your stress response.

Therapists Specializing in Stress

How to Manage Your Stress Triggers

Given the negative effects that are associated with excessive stress, it is important to learn how to cope with your triggers. When you’re better able to manage your response to stress, you will be better equipped to confront your stressors head-on, thus avoiding the negative side effects that the “fight-or-flight” response can cause.

How can you manage your stress? Here are some tips that will help prevent you from feeling overwhelmed when you’re confronted with your stress triggers.

Build Your Resilience

The more resilient you are to stress, the better you’ll be able to respond to stressful events – even minor stressful events (like sitting in traffic or the morning rush to get out of the door.)


When you have a lot on your plate, it is easy to become overwhelmed and stressed out. By organizing your list of things to-do, you’ll be able to easily prioritize your tasks. Put those things that need your attention immediately at the top of your list, and things that can wait toward the bottom. Then take a single-tasking approach to tackling everything on the list.

As you move throughout your day, instead of focusing on what you have yet to finish, focus on what you have accomplished. When you see that you have taking care of the top priorities, you will feel less stressed and you will be better able to handle the things that are of lesser priority.

Make Lifestyle Changes

Your lifestyle contributes to how you handle stress. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, are eating an unhealthy diet, aren’t getting enough exercise, or drink too much caffeine or alcohol, consider making changes. These actions have a negative impact on how you deal with stress, and can actually make you more prone to it.

Try Deep Breathing & Relaxation Techniques

There are several deep breathing and relaxation techniques that can help you reduce your stress levels. Yoga, meditation, massage, or even simply lying in a bathtub, away from stimulation, can help you relax. By partaking in relaxation and deep breathing exercises on a regular basis, you will be better equipped to deal when you encounter your stress triggers.

Talk It Out

It may seem trivial, but talking to someone can actually help you better control your stress. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, talk to a trusted family member, friend, a work associate, or therapist; doing so will allow you to vent your frustrations and seek support.

To learn more about the types of stress and what causes it, check out this video from Dr. John Kenworthy. It illustrates the two primary causes of stress, and looks into the most common factors that contribute to it.

Everyone deals with stress. Knowing your stress triggers and how to handle them–and your response–is highly beneficial for your health and well-being.

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Additional Resources

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About the author

I'm an avid reader and love anything to do with mindfulness and mental health!

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