What Causes Stress?

 What Causes Stress? Make a list of the stressors in your own life, and you’ll probably find that the items on your list can be sorted into three major categories: catastrophes, major life events, and daily hassles. Before we consider these causes of psychological stress, however, let’s step back and ask a more basic research question: How can a psychologist know how much stress a person is under? How can it be mea- sured? There are many different sources of stress, or stressors, and their effects can be defined in different ways.

Over the years, two different types of approaches have been taken. Using self-report, many researchers have asked people to check off life events that have happened to them from a list of known stressors, others have asked people to keep daily diaries in which they report on stressful experiences as they occur, and still others have conducted live interviews to get more detailed information about the source and extent of the stress. Looking at stress as a bodily response to perceived threat, other researchers use physiological measures by analyzing stress hormone levels in blood, urine, or saliva samples or by recording autonomic arousal through heart rate, respiration rate, blood pres- sure, or sweat gland activity. It may even be possible to assess the effects of stress on the body over time. In recent years, researchers have observed that accumulated levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) found in hair samples are associated with exposure to stress— suggesting that hair cortisol may provide a “biomarker” for life stress.

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