Stress Management Series
“Examining Common Causes
of Stress–Part 2”

by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., adapted from SkillTrack®
Vol. 11 – Stress Management

Note: This article, Part 2, continues Common Causes,
Part 1; for an introduction to this material, see that article, SL#89.

4. Common Stressor #4:
Family and Personal

Your family, by whatever size or shape, offers the greatest
possible source of responsibility and satisfaction; it also brings with it
the front-line potential for stress. What is written about responsibility
includes the family: “the social force that binds you to your obligations
and the courses of action demanded by that force.”
(Princeton University’s

Why is family a possible, even a likely, stressor in your personal
life? Joy as it may be, the family is also a responsibility, one that does
not go away with time, or can be left when the going gets tough like a bad
job! Family stress can be caused by any number of very real and profoundly
personal responsibilities: financial, health, illness, injury, death.

  • Work/employment responsibilities–Every
    member of the family is affected by the stressors related to the job of
    each family member. Such stressors include employment and unemployment;
    pay, training, and promotion; work conditions and challenge; living conditions
    and relocations; commitment to work and to family; conflict between competing
    careers; and preparation for retirement and/or changing market demands.
    These stressors are bound up with those that follow.
  • Financial responsibilities–contributing to the welfare
    and well-being of the entire family unit. Money offers more stress-related
    obstacles than almost anything else. As a single person, you may seem to make
    financial decisions mostly for yourself; while sometimes stressful, that is
    still an accountability ratio of 1:1. In a family, decisions and the decision-making
    process over making money, spending money, and saving money involves spouses,
    children, and sometimes parents as well.
  • Raising children–the awesome task of being a parent.
    Stress can come from all of the worry, desire, disappointment, and excitement
    you have for your children (and all of that usually comes in one day!). It
    is the greatest social responsibility we have, and can also feel like the
    most difficult. We not only have a responsibility to care for our kids, we
    also have to impart our sense of responsibility and values onto them as well,
    whether they like it or not! As you likely don’t need to be told, opportunities
    for mismanaged stress here lurk everywhere!
  • Relationships–Family is not just obligation, of course,
    it’s also love and relationship–in fact that usually started it all!
    Maintaining and growing relationships with a spouse, with parents, siblings
    and in-laws can be a stressor for the same reasons as any interpersonal relationship:
    you can be dealing with issues of conflict, decision-making, communication,
    commitment, broken promises, and trust.

Reflection: This is a good time to record your own thoughts
about family—its source of great satisfaction and cause of stress and

5. Common Stressor #5:

Each of us lives out of an internal purpose, or reason, for
life and living; this is a real component of everyday life and how we approach
it. Such a purpose also shapes a vision, or dominant view, of our past and
our future. Elements of this become stressors, both negative and positive,
that makes the whole.

  • Of the Future: A positive vision of your
    future may nurture hope, expectation, and challenging efforts in your life
    experience; that’s good stress. Worry over the future can be an immense
    stressor. Whether grounded in a valid basis for concern, or a general anxiety
    about the future, this stress is real and can cause problems. Areas where
    your vision of the future can cause distress:
    • decision-making anxiety leads to delayed or failed
      life decisions
    • fear of failure so strong that you simply don’t
    • worry that your present success can’t or won’t
    • general anxiety over future world conditions or of
      the unknown
    • fear of future medical problems/complications/relapses
    • fear of future financial problems–debt/stock market
      decline/loss of income/retirement.
    Vision of the future can be a stressor anytime we feel
    ill-equipped to deal with what is to come–whether it’s certain or
    uncertain, positive or negative.
  • Of the Past: Reflection of the past can
    encourage thanksgiving for your blessings and opportunities and humble repentance
    for your wrongs and failures. Or, obsessive worry over your past can be
    stressors causing guilt, remorse, shame or loss lingering in your rear-view
    mirror. Chronic stress over the past can lead to serious depression and
    can have serious negative impact on your physical and emotional health.
    Common past haunting that can become stressors include:
    • loss of job, that never should have happened, or that changed your whole
    • loss of loved one, relived every day over a long period of time coloring
      your life with others
    • end of relationship/marriage caused by a pattern of mistakes that have
      long since been acted on
    • regretted decision of any kind, causing interpersonal, vocational, or
      financial ill effects
    • wrong done to another, damaging permanent trusting relationships
    • physical or emotional traumatic experiences that settle from your past
      to your present.

When the past is a constant laboratory for learning lessons and self-understanding
and improvement, it can be a positive arena of thought. But when we dwell
on negatives from the past, like feeding a monster, negative stress responses
are sure to come. Don’t underestimate the impact your MIND can have
on your BODY!

Reflection: Make a short list of your own future or past
stressors. What are they and what are you doing about them? Do the mistakes
of your yesterdays get addressed and laid to rest, or do they become a backyard
compost helping stress grow toward depression or low self-esteem?

6. Common Stressor #6:

  • Lifestyle in the 21st century is a major cause for stress
    for every person; frustration is often our response of choice, but not the
    healthiest. Modern-age stressors causing frustration include changing technology,
    expanding information, denied entitlement rights, global complexities right
    next door, and speed (fast-paced life)! For better or for worse, we have
    become accustomed, but not necessarily adjusted, to today’s fast-paced
    society. The most wasteful stress responses, and unfortunately the most
    common, we experience today are really a result of modern-day advances.
    Why experience exhausting frustration over things generally not in our control?
    Things like:
    • waiting in lines or for delayed appointments
    • sitting in traffic, especially now that fuel is so
    • on hold–busy telephone signals
    • our crashing, confusing computers!
    • service at stores, restaurants.
    Any time our immediate desires are delayed–or we perceive
    them to be–frustration can become a stressor that leads to anger and even,
    at worst, rage. This damaging stressor is really a function of our ability
    to accomplish so many things today in such a short period of time; so, frustration
    cycles can be not just daily but hourly phenomena if we fail to manage them.
Reflection: What is the level of frustration
you experience on a regular basis? How much frustration is your stress response
system able to process? Frustration as a stressor is not easily separated into
personal and professional; in fact it has proven to converge and even to be
compounded. Create your own “frustration profile” and begin to look
for better responses than being highly stressed.

    “Life is hard no matter how old you are.”–Rosalinda,
    age 13, from a Youth Calendar

7. Common Stressor #7:

  • Compounded Routine: Anxiety and stress
    are not limited to individual challenges, events or circumstances. Overload
    becomes a stressor when perfectly manageable tasks or obligations are compounded
    one on top of another! Something as simple as answering phone calls, routinely
    accomplished with no stress, can turn into a negative stressor when six
    calls are received in five minutes, or three people are on hold. Overload
    is one of the premier stressors in overachievers who overextend. However,
    those leaders with a clear grasp on their limitations are sometimes more
    able to keep down the number of balls in the air at one time.

    College students who insist on cramming their schedules with more credit
    hours than is recommended, parents who have to work overtime or more than
    one job to make ends meet, those in occupations that require wearing many
    hats at once—all are prime targets of the negative stress responses
    associated with overload.

  • Responsibility Overload: The common danger is not that
    the responsibilities are by themselves more than the person can handle; it
    is the requirement to be constantly “on”–at work and at home.
    Daniel Girdano’s thorough work, Controlling Stress and Tension,
    picks up on this theme of stimulation by defining overload as: “a level
    of stimulation or demand that exceeds the capacity to process or comply with
    that input; over-stimulation” (p. 80). That text goes on to describe
    the overload effects of one of the most stressful known occupations–air-traffic
    controllers (ATCs):

ATCs are faced with a combination of excessive time pressures, life-and-death
responsibility, often insufficient support (either managerial or technical),
and a virtually damning expectation for perfection from themselves and
others. Research on these workers clearly demonstrates the stressful outcome
of task overload . . . . Research has revealed that ATCs are occupationally
predisposed to certain stress-related diseases, the most significant of
which is hypertension, followed by peptic ulcers, and finally diabetes.
The most highly stressful jobs of ATCs must certainly help explain why
32.5 percent of those examined in one study suffered from either gastric
or duodenal ulcers
(Girdano, p. 81).

  • Over-Stimulation: Most of us are rarely required to perform
    such intensive tasks, requiring such constant focused attention, with such
    high stakes, as an air-traffic controller. But the message and pattern are
    clear. The constant rain of stimulation will eventually put you under water
    up to your neck, and beyond. And the overload danger of the minister who must
    monitor the workings of the church, visit and comfort every ailing or troubled
    member, and maintain a 24-hour, 7-day on-call status, as well as attend his
    own family/relationship needs, and in the case of the bivocational/small church
    minister, take on another job, should be taken very seriously.

Reflection: Do you try–or are you required–to do too many
things at once or in rapid succession without a break?

Conclusion to Seven Commons Causes/Action

In SL#89 and this article, SL#90, we have summarized seven
significant stressors. Hopefully this creates an opportunity for honest self-evaluation
and action. Each of the seven stressors we have examined is listed below, along
with “Other stressors,” a reminder to add your personal thoughts
and experiences. Which of the seven categories do you consider to be your
#1 Stressor
; and which specific element in each category would
you identify as the most prominent cause of stress in your life or leadership?
Which might be causing significant stress responses in you that you had not
noticed or given much attention? Will you be looking for clues and strategies
for stress management? Remember this checklist:

  • Personality:
  • Change:
  • Expectations:
  • Family:
  • Vision of the Future/Past:
  • Frustration:
  • Overload:
  • Other stressors:

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© 2009; hosted and copyrighted
by Lloyd Elder & Associates, Inc.
For full citation of referenced works, see Bibliography/Links
Adapted by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., Founding Director, Moench Center for Church Leadership