A dragon can be a symbol of a major stressor

17 Common Sources of Stress

I often ask audiences this question, “How many of you are routinely feel too much stress?” Almost everyone raises their hand. Then follow-up with: How many of you want to feel no stress? Again almost everyone will raise their hand.

Written by Murray Johannsen. I welcome connections via LinkedIn or directly on this website. And DON’T MISS OUT on insightful content on our Linkedin feeds. Themes for posts are: 21st Century Skills: What’s Needed and What’s Not; AI Savvy: Essential Skills For AI at Work; and Bootstrapping Your Dreams: Growing  Digital Business Skills.

Learn To Dial Down Stress

Even in 2019 stress was a problem in many organizations. According to a Gallup study of remote workers, 28% of full-time employees reported feeling burned out at work “very often” or “always.” An additional 48% reported feeling burned out “sometimes.” That means most full-time employees — nearly eight in 10 — experience burnout on the job at least sometimes.

 Sometimes I will ask again, “do any of you know any group of people who experience no stress? Most people don’t get it but one person raised his hand to say, “I know of such a group.”

And I said, “Go ahead.” And the person said, “People that reside in the cemeteries.”

And that is the nature of the challenge. Stress is part of your life. The question is whether it controls you or you control it. 

Humor: The Traffic Stop

Typically, this type of car produces stress.
A Michigan state police car. Typically, this type of car produces stress when it is seen.

A police officer pulls over a man and wife for speeding. The officer goes, Sir, do you know you where breaking the speed limit? The man relies, “no I’m sure I wasn’t, was I dear.” His wife replies, “You know darn well you were going at least 75 miles per hour.” The officer then said, “Well, I’m also going to have to cite you for a broken tail light.” The man replies, “My that just happened, didn’t it dear.” His wife relies, “Actually that light has been broken for months.” The officer then says, “Also, I’m going to write you up for not wearing your seat belt. The man goes, “I just took it off as we were pulling over, isn’t that right dear.” His wife say, “Actually, my husband never wears his seat belt.”

Finally, the man could take no more and screamed at his wife, “If you can’t help me, why don’t you just keep your mouth shut.” The officer then said to the wife, “Is he always this mean?” To which the wife responded, “Only when he’s drunk.”

At one level, this story describes a husband and wife under stress. (well, actually under distress). It’s a classic example of what is called acting out.

Four Sources of Physiological Stress

Jacob van Oost (II) (1639–1713): Saint Macarius of Ghent giving aid to the plague victims.

There are numerous sources of stress but they boil down to figuring out which of your stressors come from environmental, physiological, and psychological sources.

1. Genetic based illness

Many diseases have a genetic component, some of which run in families. Examples include alcoholism and schizophrenia.

2. Bacterial and Viral Disease

There are thousands of small critters running around which obey the biological imperative “to be fruitful and multiply” by attacking the host body that feeds them

3. Disability

The loss of physical ability such as sight, mobility, speech, etc. is extremely stressful.

4. Chemical dependency

Certain drugs such as alcohol and opiates have dependency conditions that create a painful withdrawal. Other drugs such as the central nervous system stimulate create a “down” after the “high.”

But for many, most of the stressors come from the environment.

Eleven Sources of Stress From The Environment

Yefim Volkov. The Fire

Money Worries

“60% of Americans identify money as a significant source of stress.” — American Psychological Association (2019) Stress in America, 13th Survey

In good times and bad, money drives a great deal of stress in our lives. As one article on stress starts, “If your finances are stressing you out, you are not alone. I suppose that is the good news. There are lots of people in the same financially leaky boat.

Societal & Cultural

Certain things in the life of nations create stress for millions. These include recessions, war, political repression, etc.


Organizations periodically enter crisis periods that result in reorganizations, downsizing, plant and office closing, consolidations, and layoffs.

The Physical Environment

What for others are misfortunes are for him calamities. When their hog strangled on its tether, a laborer and his wife were desolate. The woman tore her hair and beat her head against a wall while the husband sat  mute and stricken in a corner. The loss of the hog meant they would have no meat that winter, no grease to spread on bread, nothing to sell for cash to pay taxes, and no possibility of acquiring a pig the next spring. Such blows may fall at any time. Fields may be washed away in a flood. Hail may beat down the wheat. Illness may strike. To be a peasant is to stand helpless before these possibilities.” — Banfield, E. C. (1958). The Moral Basis of a Backward Society. New York: The Free Press.

It can be hot enough to sweat or cold enough to shiver, too noisy, noxious orders can abound, the light is blindingly bright or frustratingly dim.


Most people have a nasty side. 

One winter’s day in 1659, a band of warriors from the Petun Indian village of St. Jean, south of Georgian Bay, went out to intercept an invading war party of Iroquois. They did not find the enemy. When they returned to the village, four days later, they saw only the ashes of their homes and the charred and mutilated bodies of many of their wives, children, and old men. Not one living soul had been spared from the flames. The Petun warriors sat down in the snow, mute and motionless, and no one moved or spoke for half a day, no one even stirred to pursue the Iroquois in order to save the captives or gain revenge. — Wallace, A. F. C. (1956). Mazeway disintegration: The individual’s perception of sociocultural disorganization. Human Organization, 16:23-27.

Time Pressure

The effects of stress present a complex picture- — one with many pieces one must understand to get a true picture of what is going on.
The effects of stress present a complex picture- — one with many pieces one must understand to get a true picture of what is going on.

Too much to do in too little time is a common complaint of managers everywhere. Numerous Deadlines. The only thing worse is changing deadlines. the best way to relieve stress is to manage my time. You might empathize with this person who said, “As my daily schedule is so busy, sometimes I need to do my work at the last minute, and following the deadlines, doing some job at the last minute is hard and stressful for me. “

 Stress at Work

Survey: Work Place Stressors from a poll that was done in USA Today in 1987.

  • 64% — Type of Work Done
  • 50% — Lack of Communication
  • 46% — Understaffing
  • 44% —Employer Demands
  • 44% —Employer Demands
  • 38% — Preoccupation with work
  • 32% — Incompetent Supervisors
  • 32% — Co-workers
  • 31% — Too many hours
  • 29% —Incompetent Subordinates

Many causes leading to stress in a typical workplace  (CDC, 1999).

Environmental Conditions

Image Creator: Roger Price. This is a building where trains were once repaired.

Unpleasant or dangerous physical conditions such as crowding, noise, air pollution, or ergonomic problems. Example: David is exposed to constant noise at work. 

Design of Tasks

Heavy workload, infrequent rest breaks, long work hours and shift work; hectic and routine tasks that have little inherent meaning, do not utilize workers’ skills and provide little sense of control.

Preventing Burnout Can Boost The Bottomline. The last thing you want to do is burn out. Unfortunately, most employers lack any kind of sense of responsibility for the endless hours that cause burnout. Still, some employers are making a difference (Noguchi, 2014)

Career Concerns

Image by: Jeroen Pulles. National Career Lamp
Image by: Jeroen Pulles. National Career Lamp

Job insecurity and lack of opportunity for growth, advancement, or promotion; rapid changes for which workers are unprepared. Example: Since the reorganization at David’s plant, everyone is worried about their future with the company and what will happen next. 

Work Roles

Woman worker in the Douglas Aircraft Company plant (Oct 1942). This girl in a glass house is putting finishing touches on the bombardier nose section of a B-17F Flying Fortress, Long Beach, Calif

Conflicting or uncertain job expectations, too much responsibility, too many “hats to wear.” Example: Theresa is often caught in a difficult situation trying to satisfy both the customer’s needs and the company’s expectations. 

Dominant Leadership Style

Portraits of Napoleon I

Lack of participation by workers in decision-making, poor communication in the organization, lack of family-friendly policies.
Example: Theresa needs to get the boss’s approval for everything, and the company is insensitive to her family’s needs. 

Your Boss Is Bad For Your Health? According to Anna Nyberg, “If you are working under a boss who destructively stresses you, and your possibilities or chances to change the situation are limited, you should try to change jobs as soon as possible.” The reason has to do with the fact that you increase your risk of a heart attack, high blood pressure and increase risky behaviors such as smoking and alcohol use (Shannonhouse, 2014).

Interpersonal Relationships

Quote_Latin Proverb_Don't_Dont_Let

Poor social environment and lack of support or help from coworkers and supervisors. Example: Theresa’s physical isolation reduces her opportunities to receive help from them.

An interesting statement but Beecher is not correct.

Two Psychological Sources Stress


1. Cognitive Illness

In 1985, the National Institute of Mental Health interview thousands of adults. Based on the interview, it was estimated that 19% of adults (36 million) suffer from a mental illness. 

A 27 year-old asthmatic woman apparently died of cardiac standstill and did not exhibit asthma either before or during the interview. She had been reluctantly drawn into a discussion of her psychological problems, including the humiliation of a seduction, an illegitimate baby, and a rape attempt by her brother. As she recounted how she had been increasingly rejected by and cut off from her family and had to quit junior college and take menial jobs only to lose them because of asthmatic attacks, she became increasingly excited, cried, hyperventilated, and finally collapsed unconscious just as she was saying, “Naturally I always lost my job and had no hope anymore to recover. That’s why I wanted to die and want to die all the time, because I am no-good, no-good.” — Engel, G. L. (1971). Sudden and rapid death during psychological stress, folklore or folk wisdom? Annuals of Internal Medicine, 74:771-782

This type of illness is one that primarily originates from problems in thinking. For example, sometimes anticipatory stress comes from imagined catastrophes, uncertainty regarding the future. Such thoughts can lead to worry.

2. Affective illness

This class of illness originates primarily from problems and the inability to deal with emotions. For example, depression is sometimes brought on by conditions of high anxiety.

Image by the Detroit Publishing Co. Photochrom print of an elderly Irish woman at a spinning wheel. Notice how much work has changed from the age of the craftsperson, who had control of both their time and their work.

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Centers For Disease Control (1999). National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Stress . . . At Work, Publication 99-101.

Noguchi, Yuki (2014). Preventing Burnout Can Boost The Bottomline. National Public Radio, September.Paragraph

Work Skills For the 21st Century