13 Things That Can Cause Stress

Stress is normal but can adversely affect your health in large doses. Learn about what may be causing or worsening your stress to reduce those triggers.

Everyone experiences stress at some point. Stress is the body's reaction to a challenge or demand. Stress is a normal feeling, and it may even be good for you sometimes. In contrast, when stress lasts for a long time, it can put you at risk for severe health conditions like high blood pressure, depression, and anxiety.

Though you might know a few of your triggers—like work deadlines or fights with your significant other—stress could be sneaking into your life in other, unexpected ways.



Several aspects of your personal life, such as your health, school, work, loved ones, and responsibilities, can trigger stress. Expectations that you and others place on you, uncertainty, and doubt can add to and exacerbate stress. 


Even people in the best shape of their lives stress about their bodies, diets, and fitness levels. In fact, people who take healthy living to an extreme may have some rather unhealthy side effects. For example, people following low-carb diets are likelier to report being sad or stressed out. Likewise, people on any restrictive meal plan, like the ketogenic ("keto") diet, may feel more tired than usual.

People can become obsessed with healthy eating and working out, known as orthorexia. Like any form of perfectionism, those problems can be stressful at best and extremely dangerous at worst.

Looking for support?

Contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) for support at 1-800-931-2237 if you or a loved one are coping with an eating disorder.

How to reduce this stressor: Talk therapy can be helpful if you excessively worry about your eating and exercise habits. A mental healthcare provider can teach relaxation techniques that may alleviate stress during mealtime. Likewise, a registered dietitian nutritionist can ensure you consume enough nutrients to maintain health.

Education and Work

A college degree boosts your odds of landing a well-paying job. Although you may be less likely to suffer from money-related anxiety, your education can bring on other types of stress.

One study published in 2014 found that highly educated people are more likely to be stressed out thanks to job pressures, being overworked, and conflicts between work and family.

How to reduce this stressor: Practicing time management and staying organized can help your tasks at school or work feel less daunting. For example, make to-do lists, plan ahead, and schedule due dates for when you want to complete tasks. Do not be afraid to ask for help from your peers if you feel overwhelmed.

Loved Ones

You are bound to do things that get on each other's nerves even if you have a blissfully happy relationship with your loved ones. For example, living with your partner or spouse can be a source of stress.

"Early in the relationship, it's usually about space and habits—like whether you squeeze the toothpaste from the middle or the bottom of the tube," Ken Yeager, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, told Health. "Later on, you might clash over parenting style or financial issues, and finding a unified front to face these issues together."

How to reduce this stressor: Living with anyone, whether a parent, sibling, roommate, or partner, can sometimes be challenging. Balance is the key to surviving and thriving in your life together.

According to Yeager, finding a balance may include the following:

  • Spending the right amount of time together (i.e., not too much and not too little)
  • Making compromises
  • Keeping communication open and honest
  • Remembering to acknowledge what you love about each other daily


Does folding laundry help you feel calm, or does it boil your blood? Even responsibilities you once enjoyed may feel like torture if you live in a situation where you feel like you take on an unfair share of work.

Multitasking can be another source of stress when it comes to your responsibilities. Often, you are not actually being efficient by taking on four tasks at once. Multitasking can reduce your productivity while boosting your stress. 

How to reduce this stressor: Instead, focus on one task at a time to ensure you do that job to the best of your abilities and get the most out of it. That way, you will not have to worry about it or go back and fix it later. Remember that you will have enough time to do it all. In fact, you may discover you have more time than you thought.


Traumatic events that happened as a child can continue to affect your stress levels and overall health into adulthood. One study published in 2015 found that those childhood experiences may change parts of the brain responsible for processing stress and emotions.

How to reduce this stressor: Consult a mental healthcare provider specializing in trauma to help cope with the stress of past traumatic events. Trauma-focused talk therapy may include discussing the event, processing your feelings, and learning ways to cope with those feelings and move forward.


When things do not go as planned, do you tend to get upset and act defensively? You could be contributing to a mindset of pessimism that will slowly wear you down, even when things may not be as bad as they seem.

How to reduce this stressor: "Your level of serenity is inversely proportionate to your expectations," said Yeager. That doesn't mean you should not set ambitious goals for yourself or settle for less than what you want. Instead, be realistic about what is truly possible and important.


Stress is the body's reaction to any perceived or actual threat. Any doubt looming over your head can contribute to your stress levels daily.

"When you know something could change at any minute, you always have your guard up, and it's hard to just relax and enjoy anything," said Yeager.

For example, financial uncertainty—not being sure if you will keep your job during a round of layoffs or how you will pay your credit card bill—may be one of the most obvious stressors. Insecurities in other areas of life, like your relationship or housing status, can be significant stressors, too.

How to reduce this stressor: You may find your brain wandering to the worst-case scenario if you face uncertainty. Ruminating about possible disasters will only increase stress. Instead, redirect your brain to think about what you can control. For example, you can develop a morning routine to prepare for a big day at school or work. Having some structure can help alleviate stress.


The world can be full of stressful distractions, such as unwanted noise. Practicing mindfulness or replacing stressful distractions with calming music or noise can help alleviate tension.


A distraction can be a good thing when it takes your mind off a stressful situation or difficult decision, like taking a break from work to meet a friend for lunch. Distractions work the other way, too: You may be unable to enjoy what is happening around you if you are so busy thinking about something else.

How to reduce this stressor: Practicing mindfulness, or enjoying each moment, gives your brain the refresh it needs. For example, take a walk outside and pay full attention to your surroundings, like the sounds of birds chirping or the colors of the trees. Mindfulness can help manage stress, reduce anxiety and depression, and boost self-esteem.


You may deal with unwanted noise regularly if you live on a noisy street or in a busy city. Research has found that chronic low noise levels can lead to adverse side effects, such as trouble sleeping, which can trigger stress. Noise can directly stress you out if you are conscious of it.  

"What tends to be the most stressing is a noise that's less predictable and high-pitched," Frank Ghinassi, PhD, the president and CEO of Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care, told Health. "It can be frustrating to concentrate, and that can lead to more energy to work against that frustration."

Noise triggers a stress response in your amygdala, the part of your brain that regulates emotion. The amygdala learns what sounds may signal danger. In response to those noises, the amygdala releases cortisol, a stress hormone.

How to reduce this stressor: Try replacing unwanted noise with calming music or ambient sounds. Wear headphones while working, roaming your space, or before falling asleep. Research has found that white noise and other relaxing sounds can help alleviate stress.


Although people depend on them for many things, electronics and social media can be significant sources of stress.

Social Media

It may seem like Facebook or Instagram are the only ways you keep up with the friends you don't regularly see. Social media can negatively affect mental health, according to a report published in 2015 by the Pew Research Center.

Social media can make you aware of stressful situations in your friends' lives, adding more stress to your life. The Pew Research Center did not find that social media users had higher stress levels. Still, some evidence suggests frequent social media use can increase negative body image and depression risk.

How to reduce this stressor: Avoid "doomscrolling" or spending too much time looking at headlines, and ruminating about other people's successes or failures by setting time limits on your phone. Set aside a certain amount of time daily to check social media.

Digital Devices

According to Yeager, technology may largely affect your mental health, whether you use it for work or play. For example, using computers or e-readers too close to bedtime could lead to sleep problems. 

Spending too much time virtually socializing can also make real-life interactions more stressful. Then, there is the dreaded "work creep," when smartphones allow employees to be tethered to their jobs, even during off-hours.

How to reduce this stressor: Try not working past a certain time to maintain a work-life balance. Then, set aside electronic devices at least one hour before bedtime to avoid blue light exposure that can keep you up at night. Instead, try reading a book or listening to calming music to reduce stress.

Food and Drinks

Beyond your personal life, the world around you, and social media, the food and drinks you consume may trigger or worsen your stress.

Tea and Chocolate

Often, caffeine worsens stress. You probably know to take it easy on the coffee when you already feel on edge. Drinking several cups of tea at once or enjoying a bar of dark chocolate, both of which can contain nearly as much caffeine as a cup of coffee, can also trigger stress.

In addition to stress, too much caffeine can cause problems with sleep, digestion, and irritability. Those symptoms can heighten stress, as well.

How to reduce this stressor: In the morning, your body releases cortisol to naturally increase your energy. Wait about one hour after waking up to have any caffeine when your cortisol levels begin to dip. Then, stop consuming caffeine at least six hours before bedtime so it does not interfere with your sleep.


Sometimes, having a glass of wine after a long day can help you mentally chill out. Other times, alcohol can work against you. Alcohol causes the body to release high cortisol levels, making you feel stressed after you come down from the buzz. Consuming too much alcohol can cause memory loss and poor judgment.

How to reduce this stressor: Limit your alcohol consumption to the recommended intake of two drinks or less daily for men and one drink or less for women. Seek support from trusted family, friends, and healthcare providers if you depend on alcohol to relieve stress. A support system can help reduce your dependence on alcohol and find healthy coping strategies.

A Quick Review

Stress is the body's normal reaction to perceived or actual danger. In high doses, stress can adversely affect your health. Learn what may be causing or worsening your stress, and try taking steps to minimize the trigger's impact on your life. Consult a mental healthcare provider if stress keeps you from your daily activities. 

Updated by
Korin Miller
korin miller
Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, sexual health and relationships, shopping, and lifestyle trends, with work appearing in Women’s Health, Self, Prevention, Forbes, Daily Beast, and more.
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