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Dossier: Stress and relaxation

Identifying and avoiding stress factors

Noise, time pressure, exam nerves, too much work: what stresses one person may not matter a jot to someone else. We need to be aware of our stress factors to be able to avoid them.

Text: Julie Freudiger

People react differently to stress. Some people freeze or lose their temper at the slightest thing, others turn to chocolate, while others can’t eat anything. And the causes are just as varied: for example, relationship problems, constant noise or an excessive workload. It’s generally the feeling of losing control that stresses people – the feeling that they can’t cope with a situation or can’t solve their problems. Stress factors are situations or stimuli that trigger a physical stress reaction.

External and internal stress factors

Whether or not we feel overwhelmed often depends on our personal attitude. If you don’t care what people think of you, you don’t worry about their negative comments. And if you’re not desperate to please, you’ll be OK with the fact that you may not get something done on time. Frequent stress factors:

  • Perfectionism: Constantly striving to give 100% at work and get things done immediately and not wanting to make any mistakes – putting yourself under pressure like this can cause stress.
  • Not being able to say no: Trying to please everyone all of the time can be stressful. If you can’t say no decisively, the work builds up even if you don’t have the time to do it.
  • Constant availability: Always looking at your phone and mailbox is one of the most frequent stress factors. The boundary between work and leisure is becoming increasingly blurred, with people consequently having less time to recover. 

External factors can also cause stress:

  • Noise, heat or cold: Constant noise, e.g. from a pneumatic drill on a construction site can make it hard to concentrate at work. Noise at home can be a problem, too.
  • Lack of sleep: Getting enough sleep is important for the body to recover. If you’re tired, your nerves are weaker and you get stressed more quickly. However, sleep disorders are often a result of stress. It’s a vicious circle.
  • Time pressure: The feeling of never having enough time triggers a feeling of constant overload.
  • Social stress triggers: Unresolved issues, separations, arguments, fear of loss or a feeling of lack of recognition can cause stress. 

The first step to reducing stress is to recognise the individual stress factors and, if possible, avoid them. If this doesn’t work, the situation has to change. For example, if work is always very stressful, it may help to switch jobs. Another important step is to understand that negative patterns of thought and action are self-imposed, accept your own limitations and set priorities. After all, no one’s perfect.