Main Causes of Stress in Mind and Body

By Val Silver

If you were to poll a group of people about the main causes of stress in their lives, most could quickly rattle off a laundry list of names, events and circumstances that get them worked up. Our awareness of feelings of fear, overwhelm, and annoyance accompanied by a pounding heart, tunnel vision and other symptoms alert us that we are in the grips of stress. 

But contrary to popular belief, the main causes of stress are physical as well as mental and emotional stress factors. Below your levels of awareness, other types of stress are affecting your health and well-being in mind and body. 

Physical Stress Factors

Working your body too hard, or working without the rest, nutrients or water it needs, puts your physical body under a strain. Dealing with invaders, injury, or imbalance requires extra effort from your body systems.

Common physical causes of stress include:

  • illness
  • acute and chronic pain
  • exercising too hard or too long
  • lifestyle choices such as not getting enough sleep and overeating.
  • dietary factors - junk foods and nutritional deficiencies
  • toxins - chemicals, drugs, allergens, metabolic by-products
  • caffeine and other stimulants
  • ignoring your body's signals for food, rest, thirst and other physical needs.
  • mental distress

Although they may appear unrelated, chronic mental stress is a major contributor to physical stress and illnesses resulting from stress. You cannot be stressed mentally without it affecting your entire body. You may jiggle, sweat, fixate visually, and tense up. Those are only the physical signs you notice. There is a lot more going on inside.  

Mental distress puts heavy demands on the body nutritionally and physically. Cortisol levels elevate which focuses your body systems for fight flight at the expense of digestion, healing and normal functions not needed for immediate survival. DHEA, the cell repair hormone, is sacrificed to make more the stress hormone cortisol. In this tense state, your body puts healing on the back burner. 

Physical stress is often compounded by worry about health problems and coping with them. You may also feel guilt for not taking care of your health properly. 

This video details main causes of stress in the body and how they lead to ill health. 

Main Causes of Mental Stress

What causes stress mentally and physically vary widely from person to person. What may be no big deal for you may be catastrophic for someone else.

A typical stressor that is no big deal for you one day can set you off on another day, especially when fluctuating hormones are driving you. Because your mental state is also related to your physical state, your hormones, blood sugar, brain chemicals and your general health can all affect whether or not a situation bothers you or not. 

Mental stress factors are often triggered by

  • your job or lack of a job and difficult coworkers
  • coping with the needs of children and their health and behavior
  • not having enough money and too much debt
  • personal relationship difficulties
  • being too busy, multi-tasking, and feeling overwhelmed
  • not allowing yourself enough time to get places or complete a task
  • physical and mental health concerns and weight control
  • addictions to cigarettes, alcohol, drugs and/or junk food
  • death or loss of a loved one or something you valued
  • cluttered, dirty living and work spaces
  • your perceptions of your life circumstances
  • reliving painful past events and worrying about the future
  • life transitions - having a baby, getting married, moving, changing jobs
  • too much screen time - for children and adults.

Examples of Stressors that Affect Body and Mind

Living in the modern world has many stress factors that affect both body and mind. Some of these can be avoided or reduced with awareness, others cannot. Because mind and body are intimately connected, stressors that originate in the body often affects your mental state, and vice versa. 

Much of what stresses you mentally has to do with your perceptions and feelings of control and empowerment. Fear of losing control, or thoughts of losing someone or something you value are main causes of stress. Even very positive events such as getting married can be a major stress factor because of all you have to do, anticipating change, wanting to make the right decisions, etc. 

Excess screen time and stress

Seeing screen time on the list of main causes of stress may come as a surprise, especially if you feel anxious at just the thought of disconnecting yourself from your phone, tablet, or computer for more than several minutes. 

Studies have shown that excessive screen time causes stress to mind and body. Here's why:

  • you get less sleep and your sleep is disrupted
  • you get less exercise and movement in general
  • you are more prone to social, behavioral, and emotional problems.

This happens because screen time activates the sympathetic nervous system. This "fight, flight, or freeze" response activates when our brain perceives a threat, whether the threat is real or not. Even sending a text or email and waiting for a response causes the SNS to respond. Heart rate increases, you may feel anxious, and body functions needed for health and repair go on standby instead of taking priority.  When you consider that many people, teens in particular, check their phones hundreds of times of day, this can be a problem. Our bodies and minds are not designed to go into the stress response many times a day, every day.

Physical clutter stress

Being surrounded by clutter in your home, office, or car is stressful. This can be even more distressing when you have to function in someone else's mess. Just notice how you feel when you enter a pleasant space as opposed to a chaotic one. In a clean, orderly space, your brain is likely to dip into a more relaxed alpha state as opposed to the more stressful beta state that accompanies a chaotic space.  

If the cluttered space is also dirty and full of debris, you also risk injury or illness.

Reliving emotional wounds

What causes stress in mind and body for many of us is reopening and reliving old emotional wounds over and over. You think about them and talk about them, you can't or won't let them go for years or ever.

Because your brain treats events - whether real, perceived, or relived - as occurring in the moment, the negative event triggers your stress response every time, especially if it is fueled with emotion, blaming others, feeling like a victim and withholding forgiveness.  You feel the distress in your mind and as tension and discomfort in your body. Active wounds negatively affect how you perceive and interact with yourself, others, and the world; they can play havoc with your health and sense of well-being.

These types of stress are common to all modern people. It would be impossible to live in this world free of unwanted physical and mental challenges and situations. That does not mean you have to live in a constant state of turmoil. 

What are the main causes of stress in your life? It would benefit your mental and physical well-being to find and use ways to ease and relieve your distress naturally.

Related Pages

Main Causes of Stress page updated 11/2020

For Educational Purposes Only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult with your health provider before using natural remedies and/or complementary therapies if you are pregnant, nursing, or you are being treated for a medical condition. Be aware that certain herbs and supplements interact with medications.

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