How to Identify Stressors

by The Cooperative
Stress is an inevitable and frequent visitor in our lives. Often, it comes in the form of acute stress (short-term, such as public speaking) or chronic stress (long-term, such as ongoing health issues). While it is impossible to avoid stress altogether, it can be regulated with various methods ranging from deep breathing to cardio-based exercise. However, to do so, it is beneficial to address the root of the cause. A solid understanding of your stressors is the first step to applying a practical and effective approach to each. The following exercises can help you build that foundation:
  1. Examine the conflicts specific to your life. Are you currently experiencing any issues at work, home, or in your social life? To determine where your stress is originating, it is crucial to explore the following:
    1. Economic/social factors: finances, employment, family expectations, cultural norms, relationship status, and political views.
    2. Environmental factors: noise, weather, and temperature.
    3. Emotional factors: personality, mood, and temperament.
    4. Cognitive factors: beliefs, thoughts, morals, and values.
    5. Biological factors: injury, illness, hunger, and poor health habits.
Thoroughly examining these categories will allow you to identify the significance of each and even detect stressors that weren’t apparent on the surface. Subsequently, you can ask yourself:
  • Which factors can you control?
  • Which factors are beyond your control, and how can you cope effectively?
  1. Pinpoint a mental pattern. Take a moment and recall any negative thoughts or beliefs you’ve experienced in the past three, six, and twelve months (or longer).
    1. What was the nature of the thought? For example:
      1. Comparing yourself to others.
      2. Overgeneralizing situations.
      3. Jumping to conclusions.
      4. All-or-nothing thinking.
      5. Catastrophizing (assuming the worst possible outcome).
      6. Feelings of inadequacy.
    2. What emotions did it evoke? How did it affect your mood or performance?
    3. Have you experienced past thoughts or beliefs that elicited the same response? If so, how did you address them?
Recognizing these thought patterns can increase your self-awareness, which in turn, can drive you to challenge the validity of the thought. As a bonus, it can help you flip the script in your mind, moving your mental state from negative to positive.
  1. Track your daily moods. When assessing external factors, creating a log of your day-to-day mood changes can be eye-opening. Using the tracking method of your choice, monitor how your mood fluctuates in relation to situations or events:
    1. Record what has progressed to alter your mood potentially. Did you spill your coffee or receive difficult news about a family member?
    2. Record when and where it’s occurring. Does your level of stress coincide with an afternoon energy slump, or is it happening at the grocery store?
    3. Record how you responded. Did you take a couple of deep breaths, or did you turn to a vice for comfort?
    4. Record accompanying physical symptoms. Do you experience an increase in heart rate, rapid breathing, or muscle tension around the time of a specific event or situation?
Studying your individual peaks and valleys can encourage you to learn more about your stress response. Most importantly, it can help you navigate through these moments and develop healthy coping mechanisms tailored directly to you. 
  1. Be mindful of your health habits. A long-term shift in health-related habits can serve as a form of stress itself. Not only can it negatively impact your immune system, but it can affect how well you react to external stressors. Therefore, it is essential to identify any unhealthy behaviors that have crept into your lifestyle:
    1. Long-term lack of sleep (less than seven hours per night).
    2. Poor nutrition (processed foods, overeating, or undereating).
    3. Lack of activity (less than 150 minutes per week and/or no strength exercise).
    4. Noticeable rise in detrimental behaviors (drinking, smoking, or compulsive shopping). 
Offering your body well-balanced nutrition, exercise, and sleep can ensure that your body remains at peak performance. When all systems function properly, you can tackle stress more flexibly and easily.
No matter the form of stress you’re experiencing, identifying your “why” can produce long-term health and wellness benefits. Absorbing that knowledge is the key to facing your stressors and establishing a deeper relationship with yourself. After all, how can you cook a nutritious meal if you don’t have a clear understanding of healthy foods?

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