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Here’s how identifying your stress triggers can help you to relax

August 18, 2022 - 15 min read

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What is stress?

What are stress triggers?

3 types of stress triggers

Why do certain things make you feel stressed?

How to identify stress triggers

How does stress affect your health?

6 stress-associated behaviors

The importance of time management skills

We’ve all overcome stressful situations in life — or at least, we think we have. 

But stress triggers can pop up out of nowhere and take control of our lives. Sometimes the effects of stress are too much for us to handle, and deep breathing exercises aren’t enough.

Learning how to identify stressors and how stressful situations impact our lives is important for our mental and physical health. 

In this article, we address the types of stress, why stress impacts people differently, and how we can work to manage our stress. It’s not something that we can accomplish within a day, but learning how to deal with stressful events and experiences will benefit your health for the rest of your life.


What is stress?

Stress occurs in response to a threat or major challenge, and causes our bodies to release hormones like adrenaline or cortisol. People experience stress in different ways, but our fight or flight response usually bumps our heart rates up. It causes people to worry about themselves, their surroundings, and what kind of action they need to take. 

We can experience stress in every aspect of our lives. Throughout every stage we go through, stress will always be a possibility. That’s why learning how to manage our stress is important.

It’s a normal, common experience that everyone goes through. So why not learn how to face it — head-on — rather than let it control our lives?

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What are stress triggers?

It can seem like stress can come out of nowhere, but our stress triggers are purposeful. They’re designed to keep our bodies safe from threats of any kind. 

But they have a greater purpose than to just protect us. Any type of trigger shows us what kind of challenges we face, what’s meaningful to us, and how our lifestyle impacts our wellness.

They serve as a window into who we are on the inside, rather than just what we project outward. Identifying what triggers our stress helps us gain more self-awareness, and tells us what we need to do to live healthy lives. 

Maybe we aren’t bothered by giving presentations but performance reviews keep us up the night before — while our closest work friends feel the opposite. This can help us identify the meaning behind our stress and what it’s trying to tell us.

Stress triggers can be found everywhere and in varying forms due to different types of stress, including acute and chronic stress. But with all of this talk about stress, we need to highlight the difference between good and bad stress.

Eustress is a positive form of stress that contributes to us feeling excited with anticipation. It’s what athletes feel before they play a game and before you start your dream job or move into a new apartment. 

In a survey by the American Psychological Association, 64% of adults reported that money and financial stress were the biggest stress trigger. Besides financial stressors, we can also feel stressed at work, in our personal lives, or about world events. In the same survey, 62% of Americans said the political climate was a huge stressor.

While it can seem like we have to dodge stress triggers everywhere we go, it doesn’t have to be shocking or unmanageable. Understanding our stress responses helps us develop coping strategies to combat them.

3 types of stress triggers

Knowing that stress can come from various places or causes is intimidating. But identifying each stress trigger and understanding its roots is helpful. We can learn what sort of action we need to take to get some stress relief on our own or look for support groups.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has outlined three sources of stress that can trigger us to experience stress — either on a short-term or long-term basis. Take a moment to reflect on what kind of stress you experience, and if any of these triggers relate to you:

  1. Routine stress: These triggers happen because of what happens in daily life. Things like heavy workloads, homework, or responsibilities at home contribute to routine stress. 
  2. Disruptive change: Life is full of changes, but sometimes those changes hurt our stress levels. If we’ve moved somewhere new, started a new job, or started school, we can experience these triggers. Anything that disrupts our usual way of doing things can cause this.
  3. Traumatic events: Extreme trauma like being in an accident, experiencing violent abuse, or dealing with the loss of a loved one or family member creates these triggers. It’s hard to learn how to deal with post-traumatic stress triggers, but that’s why it’s important to have social support and other support groups to help you cope.

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Find someone who will help you identify your stressors and work on how you manage them. A coach can guide you as you become more self-aware and determine what areas of your life are causing you the most stress.

Why do certain things make you feel stressed?

Have you ever wondered why some people seem so calm during stressful situations? What some people find stressful, others aren’t bothered to the same degree.

Everyone experiences stress differently. And some people are better at managing their stressors than others. Don’t worry — you can gain the control to keep yourself grounded in stressful times.

We can feel stressed because of a variety of factors such as:

  • Your comfort zone and how comfortable you are in different situations
  • Other life experiences you’re going through simultaneously 
  • Past experiences that have impacted your behavior and how you feel
  • How much social support do you have from loved ones and those around you

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Sometimes, certain things might stress you out more than usual. For instance, you could be very comfortable driving when you have other people in the vehicle with you, but you feel stressed as soon as you drive alone. Or your daily commute could feel overwhelming when you’ve had a particularly long day at the office.

It doesn’t mean you’re bad at stress management, it just means that some things impact you differently.

How to identify stress triggers

Learning how to identify anxiety or stress triggers is an excellent first step toward being more mindful in stressful situations. It helps you increase your self-awareness and learn how you can best take care of your well-being.

Once you know what stresses you out, you can begin to manage your stress accordingly. To identify sources of stress, you’ll need to evaluate all aspects of your life and do your best to track your stress.  You'll also want to consider whether the stress you're feeling is harmful distress or growth-promoting eustress

That can sound like a tall order, but we’ve broken down four tips on how you can do that:

  1. Notice your physical health: Do specific environments make your stomach drop, your hands become sweaty, or your mind begins to race? Being mindful of our physical bodies and how they react to things can give us a clue about what causes us stress.
  2. Think about your job: Reflect on how you feel when you log onto work or walk through the front doors of your office. Do you dread how long you have to work or your responsibilities? How do your bosses make you feel when they enter the room?
  3. Evaluate your personal life: We can take on many things at once in our personal lives. Perhaps you just bought a house, are going through a divorce, or are a family member’s primary caretaker. These things that seem like usual parts of our daily routine can cause stress. 
  4. Flip through the news: Sometimes, our stress is caused by things out of our control. That can be from the political climate and other world issues that linger.

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How does stress affect your health?

Stress impacts you everywhere in your body, from your head to your toes. Learning how to deal with stress triggers involves being aware of their impact on your mental and physical health.

Perhaps you justify that you don’t get enough sleep because you have a busy schedule, but it could make a difference when you learn how to sleep when stressed and anxious. Not sleeping enough can contribute to your stress levels.  

One study found that although acute stress impacts can be reversible, it’s not clear how chronic stress impacts can be changed. The study cited that people who experience stress can have a weakened immune system, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of heart disease, heart attack, and other cardiovascular issues.

But the health problems don’t stop there. Stress has even been linked to hair loss. If you notice that your hair is thinning or falling out fast, you can talk to a health professional about any other health conditions. They can also help you assess if stress could be the underlying reason.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health found that when stress is overwhelming, it can increase your risk of mental health issues like anxiety and depression. You may struggle with decision-making abilities, lack self-confidence, and develop low morale. Due to stress, you can also feel confused, on edge, and indecisive.

6 stress-associated behaviors

The health impacts that we experience while stressed cause us to behave differently. When we experience stress, our cortisol levels increase. Cortisol is one of the main stress hormones that influence our brain functions.

Here are six ways our stress can influence our behavior:

1. We begin to withdraw from social situations

2. Our muscles ache and tire easily

3. We catch common colds and illnesses more easier

4. We’re emotional and frequently cry 

depressed-woman-stress-triggers

5. We become easily irritated and restless

6. Either at work or in our personal lives, we feel burnout

The importance of time management skills

Our stress triggers can stem from a variety of places in our lives. Things from the past, present, and what we’re nervous about in the future all affect us. 

As we learn what coping strategies work the best for us, we need to keep time management in mind. How you spend your time acting and thinking can play a big part in managing stress. Think about it: How often do you make time for self-care practices? Do you only use relaxation techniques when feeling stressed, or are they part of your daily routine?

Setting aside time to look after your physical health, pursue your passions, and hang out with your social support system is important. If you have a busy professional life, finding work-life balance is crucial.

Making time for ourselves will always be a way of investing in yourself for the future. Never forget that slowing down and saying “no” to things if it means lowering your stress is always the best route.

Learning how to manage your stress triggers means that you’re choosing to prioritize your physical and your mental health, and that’s what BetterUp is here to help you do. We love guiding people toward managing their stress and anxiety and having a healthy work-life balance.

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Published August 18, 2022

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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