Two nights ago, someone broke into my car, threw my stuff around, and stole my GPS. This person also took the ancient, red Dustbuster that was in the trunk of my car, and then discarded it along the side of the road about a half block away. Poor Dustbuster.

It all turned out OK in the end. The police officer who reported to the scene was very nice. The insurance company representative was polite. My car (and my Dustbuster) will live to see another day. But it was exhausting. And it was stressful.

Stress comes in many forms. Everyone is familiar with it. Crime is stressful. But so are traffic jams, long lines, family conflicts, having too many things to do, and having difficult deadlines at work. Stress can be really debilitating, both physically and emotionally. But it can also be managed. The best way to start managing stress is to take a critical look at what causes it.

There are four basic kinds of stress:

  1. Frustration – You experience frustration when you want something but you can’t have it. For example:
    • You were really hoping to get a raise at work, but you don’t get it.
    • You need to get somewhere quickly, but you’re stuck in traffic.
    • Someone you care about is sick, and there’s nothing you can do to help that person get better.
  2. Conflict – You experience conflict when you have a difficult choice to make and you can’t reach a decision. You keep asking yourself, “Should I, or shouldn’t I?” You can also experience conflict when you have disagreements with other people – or when others behave in ways that you find irritating or frustrating. Conflicts can cause you to become anxious and upset.
  3. Life changes – Any kind of change in your living circumstances can cause stress. Even positive life changes (like having a baby, getting a new pet, or getting a promotion) can make you feel anxious and uncomfortable.
  4. Pressure – You sometimes feel pressure when you’re expected to behave or perform in a certain way. Work can be a source of pressure – especially for people who have very demanding jobs (like air traffic controllers or surgeons), or people who have tight deadlines and lack the necessary time to get things done.

Keep in mind that not every stressful situation is going to fit into one of these tidy categories. Stress can be hard to define and categorize because it’s very personal. What is stressful to one person may not be stressful to another. But this information will hopefully help you to understand your stress a little better. And understanding your stress is the first step in combating it.