What are the causes of stress

Four Common Causes of Stress

Stress is best described as the external factors that affect us all. As a society, some stressors have an equal effect but because each of us is an individual, those stressors create different levels of anxiety. Anxiety is how we react to stress and is internal. What may be a big deal to me may well be something that has little to no effect on you, and vice versa.

All too often, the stress that is part of our daily life becomes just that, a part of our daily life. Sometimes it is good to take a look at common stress factors and to recognize the contributing factors of our anxiety.

Earth Siress Factors

Just what are the causes of stress? Four common factors that generate stress:

1) Environmental Factors: excess noise, uncomfortable living spaces, pollution, natural disasters, and weather.

2) Social Factors: deadlines, financial difficulties, interpersonal relationships

3) Physiological Factors: health, poor sleep, muscle tension, headaches, accidents, and illnesses

4) Thoughts: how we look at events, expectations we have

Our environment directly affects stress levels in a unique and individual way. These factors remind me of the conditions aboard each of the US Navy ships I had the privilege to serve on. Let me try to describe the conditions aboard ship in relation to each of the factors.

Environmental Factors:

Excess noise. While each ship is different, some things are always the same. Aboard ship, depending on where you’re berthing compartment is, the normal noises always include the background of operating machinery, ventilation, various pumps that may be operated continuously or on a set/random schedule. You may hear the sound of the sea rushing along the side of the ship, if SONAR is operating those sound vibrations may be loud or faint. Depending on the time, the 1MC (the public announcing system) may be in use.

With the number of personnel assigned and with the 24-hour day operating tempo, there is always the noise of people coming and going, getting dressed or undressed, rattling keys opening and shutting lockers and opening and shutting doors. The noises the ladder (stairs) makes as guys go up and the sound when we just used our hands to slid down using the railings. The thump at the bottom and the squeaks boots make when you walk over a tile floor.

Uncomfortable living spaces Let’s see, you have 60 plus men living in an area. Bunks are 3 high, separated on one side by a sheet metal divider and on the other by enough room for two people to turn sideways and pass each other. We do have a curtain along the open side, providing a little privacy for sleeping. Mattresses are about 3 inches thick; laid on top, of course, metal. Pillows are usually flat. Blankets are of wonderful wool and are almost as a rule, thin. A lot of guys (including me) purchased pillows from the Exchange or other stores and had our own personal blankets.

With over 60 personnel using one head (bathroom), sometimes it could get crowded. We had 2 urinals, 3 commodes, 3 Pollution Stress Factorssinks, and only 2 showers; this was pretty standard for my last 2 ships. With the stringent hygiene requirements, often there would be a line for the showers and sinks.

Pollution The ship’s ventilation systems usually did a great job and I would not like to be living in a berthing compartment without it. Each of the newer bunk assemblies come with ventilation ducts and individual fans but still berthing and the head could get pretty rank. Add in the occasional toilet back-up, fuel spills and (Neptune help us) someone getting seasick… perhaps not what you may think of when someone says pollution but still it all adds up to some pretty bad air.

Natural disasters/Weather The safest place for a ship to be during a natural disaster is out to sea. Preferably far from shorelines. Inclement weather. is usually handled by avoiding (if possible) but taken as just part of the normal. Just like all other jobs, if it is raining or cold we stay inside. If we have to be out, we deal with it and continue on.


If the weather. is extreme, we would discontinue ship’s work except for essential tasks and allow everyone to just go to their bunks. Rough weather. also has the added factor of causing sea sickness, adding to the “pollution”. One of the worst effects is that while it only takes one seasick sailor to set off a chain reaction. Nasty thoughts and memories, let’s just move on…

Social Factors:

Deadlines Aboard ship, each day is planned out, sometimes weeks or months ahead. The daily schedule or training and tasks all have to be completed. Ship’s movement, the times we are scheduled to enter or depart a port must be kept, the Geadlines Stress Factorssame if we are scheduled to be at a particular position or location at sea. Because of the sense of normalcy that develops we often forget that we are on a deadline almost 24 hours each day. Even our sleep. Because of the ship’s schedule, our work day and with standing 4 plus hour watches (shifts), if you don’t keep to a deadline of when to lie down for rest you will end up not getting any or too little rest.

Financial difficulties I have known a few Sailors who have had some money and a secure financial future. A few but not very many. The US Military members have a good pay rate based on pay-grade and years of service, a really outstanding benefits package and yet our personnel (especially our junior members) almost always seem to be living payday to payday and just above the poverty level. With seniority comes greater pay but as I often counseled my younger Sailors “No one is going to get rich in the US Navy.”

Interpersonal relationships Aboard ship, especially when underway on a deployment, you work and live in a small area and are constantly around the same group of people. When I was on active duty, your division was the central point of contact with others. While I had friends in other divisions, I had limited contact with them underway. My schedule and theirs sometimes determined that on a small ship with a crew of about 300, being able to have time just talking with other division shipmates was difficult. As a result, you worked with, had meals with, slept in the same areas with a relatively small number of people.Friendship Stress Factors

Maintaining friendships sometimes depended on the time of day and with what work or training was going on. Add in the differences in pay grade, age and professional responsibilities. Add in individual personalities, learned behaviors and there is always a powder keg that could go off. Let’s be honest and say that not everyone can be friendly to each other all the time. I have had personal and professional issues plenty with others, coping and learning to co-exist can best be described as walking a tight-rope without a net.

Adding family and friends that are not in the Navy were additional stressors. The frequent separations, the back home and gone again schedule, the unspoken (mostly) worries about the future, dividing up family responsibilities… Maintaining healthy relationships was then and still is today, difficult.

Physiological Factors:

Health and Illness Being in the military, maintaining good physical health is of the upmost importance. Aboard ship, with the close living conditions, we always looked out for each other and did the best we could do to prevent any illness to spread.

Poor sleep Maintaining sleep patterns is next to impossible aboard ship. Between standing watches and long work days along with the almost constant coming and going of others in the berthing compartment, a solid 8hours of sleep is almost impossible. But with time, you can become accustomed to the sounds. And then begins the being waken up to answer questions or to take care of problems with the equipment you work with.

Muscle tension and Headaches Doing repetitive work, usually in a cramped area and with the ever present deadline of “We need this system on line NOW” leads to a lot of sprains and sore muscles. Just walking thru the passageways and remembering to step high and to duck going thru hatches left a lot of inexperienced Sailors with bruised shins and knots on their heads.

Accidents I may have been lucky but we had to deal with only a few work related accidents while I was in. There was always the potential of being injured; having a crew who watched out for shipmates and who were trained in First Aid makes it a lot safer.


How we look at events My time aboard ships began before cell phones and the internet. Underway we were dependent on regular old-fashioned letters and the occasional news we could receive thru Navy channels. Aboard my last ship, we did have periods when internet access was available but nothing like today. As a result, most of us looked at current events the same.

Expectations we have Positive, negative, and devil may care attitudes abound aboard ship. Sailors are like everyone, personal goals and dreams mix in with professional goals. The way we respond in different situations is related to our own expectations.

Your life and your situation

Each individual faces stress differently. As a start on eliminating stress, first I recommend taking a look at the factors contributing to your stress. Some you may have little to no control over, some a degree of control and others you may have a great deal of control over.Hope Stress Factors

Begin with something simple, develop a plan and follow it to completion. Sometimes changing just a few things that you have control over can make a lot of difference in your level of anxiety.

Look at different relaxation and meditation techniques. There are many great techniques and different types of meditation that may be right for you. I use and practice what works for me, a mixture of tips from all. Incorporating music into my relaxation and meditation gives me a focus point that helps me to find balance.


What are the causes of stress? To recap the four common factors that generate stress; Environmental Factors, Social Factors, Physiological Factors, and Thoughts. The amount of control we as individuals varies and are somewhat determined by where we live and our profession.

Using my Navy comparison, we should have been the most stressed out group of people on the planet. And we would have been except we all had different relaxation techniques that worked for us as individuals. I used reading, music, breathing, relaxation techniques, and to a degree Mindfulness meditation. I also took advantage of getting off ship when in-port and just doing what I wanted when possible.

To be effective, relaxation needs to be a part of our everyday life; not just something we do when the stress factors are overwhelming us and anxiety levels are high. We will never be able to live a totally stress free life, never be able to eliminate these four stressors… but we can develop a plan to decrease them as much as possible and to have effective, healthy ways to find relaxation and enjoy life.

What is the factor sub-group that is your biggest stressor? The least? Which do you as an individual have the most control over? Take some time, be realistic and make a plan on how to reduce the stress in your life. And, if not already using meditation /relaxation, make a commitment to relax each day. Great tip for you, Relax, Meditate with Music!

Walking the Path of Peace, Sanders

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