Stress Origins

Stress is a daily part of our modern, busy lifestyle, and it’s something easily taken for granted. Perhaps you’ve stepped back and wondered exactly what causes stress and where it comes from. Before you can take steps to reduce stress, you must first be aware of the origins of stress in our bodies, the types of stress we may experience and some common sources of stress in our lives.

Origins of Stress in the Body

Stress is your body’s response to danger, whether actual or perceived. This response may be triggered by a physical threat such as a violent attack, or any experience that makes you feel threatened in everyday life, from losing your job to an assignment you’re not sure you have the ability to complete.

The stress response, or “fight or flight” response, prepares your body to either run away to safety or fight off a threat. When you feel threatened, your hypothalamus gland activates your sympathetic nervous system and your adrenal-cortical system. These two systems work together to release a variety of neurotransmitters and hormones into the bloodstream, creating the fight or flight response. Here are some major changes that occur in the body during the stress response:

  • Constricted veins in skin to allow more blood flow to major muscle groups
  • Difficulty focusing on small tasks
  • Dilated pupils
  • Hairs stand on end
  • Higher blood sugar levels
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Non-essential systems including digestion and immune system shut down
  • Tensed major muscles and relaxed smooth muscles.

The stress response is normal and healthy, and can save your life when you are faced with real danger. Stress only becomes a problem when it becomes a constant response to the upsets of daily life.

Types of Stress

Many different types of stress exist, originating from a variety of sources. Some of the most common types of stress include:

  • Environmental stress: Many things in your everyday environment may be stressful to you, such as crowds, noise, odors or challenging work and family situations.
  • Internal stress: This involves worrying about things you cannot change, or even worrying for no identifiable reason. Some people actually become addicted to internal stress and unconsciously seek out situations that produce worry.
  • Fatigue and overwork: This type of stress builds gradually over time. Working too many hours, working too hard or not knowing how to manage your time can cause this type of stress. Not taking time for relaxation also contributes to fatigue and overwork stress.
  • Survival stress: This type of stress is a response to actual physical danger such as an accident or attack.

Source of Stress

Stress is a very individual response, and what is stressful for one person may be well tolerated by another. Certain life events that are great sources of stress for many people include:

  • Death of a spouse or close relative
  • Divorce, separation or reconciliation
  • Injury or illness
  • Jail time
  • Losing a job
  • Marriage
  • Retirement.

Other situations that often contribute to stress include financial concerns, family/relationship issues, work challenges and feeling like you don’t have enough time for your responsibilities.


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Mountain State Centers for Independent Living. (n.d.). Understanding and dealing with stress. Retrieved August 13, 2010, from

Smith, M., et al. (2009). Understanding stress. Retrieved August 13, 2010, from