From work, school, and finances, to friends, family, and first dates, pretty much every aspect of our lives can (and will) be a cause of stress at some point.
Chronic stress can have a long-term, negative impact on both your mental and physical health, but a part from that, stress a totally normal and expected part of the human experience. Most of the time, we can prepare for stressful situations in our lives in advance, but sometimes stress can show up for no apparent reason — and it makes it way more difficult to cope. Unexpected sources of stress, according to experts, are everywhere — but doing a little prep can make it way easier to handle.
If you know the source of your stress, it's way easier to be proactive, use
effective coping skills, and to seek solutions. If you've done a self-inventory, and have come to the conclusion that your current stress doesn't seem to be stemming from your regular triggers, that's probably your clue to begin looking at other factors in your life. Stress can physically manifest as headaches, skin breakouts, chronic colds, achy muscles, a sore jaw, or fatigue. What's more, according to the Mayo Clinic, stress can impact your mood by making you feel more irritable, sad, restless, and overwhelmed than usual. Keep an eye out for these unexpected causes of stress that may be sneaking up on you, and you're one step closer to nixing stress altogether.
Even if you are working on projects at home, or at work you enjoy, spreading yourself too thin could be unanticipated cause of stress in your life.
Dr. Inger Burnett-Zeigler, a practicing psychiatrist at the Asher Center for the Study and Treatment of Depressive Disorders, and assistant professor at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, tells Bustle, "People often report feeling 'overwhelmed.' They are trying to balance multiple tasks, and experience an immense amount of pressure trying to 'do it all.'"
Instead of putting too much on your plate, Dr. Burtnett-Zeigler says to "Be mindful of pleasant moments. Sometimes we are moving so fast, focused on all of the things that are stressing us, that we miss out on the small daily pleasures of life. Slow down and pay attention."
Typically, the point of a vacation is to get away from stress, but they can sometimes
harm your mental health rather than help it. "The planning, travel, family, events, and timeframes of vacation can all be stressful. Many can feel they need a break after a vacation," Scott Dehorty, LCSW-C, the Executive Director of Maryland House Detox at Delphi Behavioral Health, tells Bustle.
Not to mention, if you live paycheck to paycheck, the idea of saving up money and taking a week off work for a vacation may cause even
more hassle. If that's the case, maybe think about a staycation to stave off the stress.
Because humans evolved to be social creatures, loneliness can be "a warning sign that tells us that we're in danger. It sends a cascading stress response from the brain and body to get us into self-preservation mode," Dr. Nick Hobson, the Science Director at
PsychologyCompass.com, tells Bustle. Psychology Today reported loneliness can be a direct cause of stress, worsen social anxiety, increase your risk of suicide, and negatively affect your quality of sleep. While pressuring yourself to be more social won't help eliminate this stressor, but that "improving social and emotional intelligence" can.
Not Fueling Yourself Enough
On a busy day, it can feel easier to run to the closest fast food joint or grab a coffee instead of eating a balanced meal. It happens to everyone from time to time, but it's important to remember
your gut and brain have a bilateral relationship — meaning, the health of your digestive tract can directly influence your mental health, and vice versa.
Dehorty explains that if you're loading up on
caffeine and sugar, or skipping meals altogether, you'll probably find nutrition is playing a role in your stress levels. "If we don’t properly fuel ourselves, we may find a lower stress tolerance and poor coping skills," he says. If you find yourself stressed out for seemingly no reason, try making sure you're properly hydrated and grab a nutritious and satisfying snack.
Another source of unexpected stress Dr. Burnett-Zeigler warns to be aware of is the news, and constant exposure to the tragedies and state of politics. In fact, the news cycle is becoming such an increasingly huge trigger for stress, mental health professionals have dubbed "
Headline Stress Disorder" as an unofficial diagnosis.
Being aware of what's happening in the world is a good thing, but be sure to unplug from your phone every once and a while if the news is leading to symptoms of stress. "Pause and check-in' with yourself," says Dr. Burtnett-Zeigler. "Often people are moving so fast, running on auto-pilot, that they don't slow down long enough to notice how they are feeling mentally, emotionally and physically."
Studies have shown that constantly being on social media can be
extremely detrimental to your mental health. Dehorty explains that technology "has also provided us a view into other people’s lives that we never would have had, and that we now compare ourselves to." Even if you're not consciously making the connection between looking at cute cat videos and feeling less than great, it could be a contributing factor to stress in your life.
If you find your phone usage is becoming unhealthy, try a
digital detox. Additionally, Dehorty adds to "find things that are soothing and relaxing — walking, listening to music, reading, meditation. Engage in these activities when feeling stressed."
You Have To Make Too Many Decisions
Many of the decisions we make on a daily basis are made without our having to actually think about them on a conscious level. Yet, these unconscious decisions can still affect the amount of stress and worry you feel. "Consider the hundreds or thousands of decisions we make in our day-to-day. For each of these decisions, the brain needs to have a 'low-conflict' read in order to actually make the decision. While the majority of such choices come with low-conflict, many are often plagued with high-conflict," says Dr. Hobson.
"We don't necessarily feel the pang of anxiety each and every time," he explains, "But the tiny accumulation of little conflicts gets registered each time by the brain's 'conflict system' in the
prefrontal cortex. And it's this slow build up can lead us to feeling overwhelmed."
The cause of stress be tricky to pinpoint at times, but being aware of your unique triggers — that could be happening on a conscious, and unconscious level — is key to creating a life that's a stress-free as possible.