Don’t bottle it up Importance of identifying, managing stress drivers

Fredrick Qaphelani Mabikwa

Stress is the body and mind’s response to challenges or threats. It emerges from any event, situation, or circumstance in one’s environment that endangers their well-being and healthy functioning.

Essentially, it is our mental, emotional, physical and behavioural reaction to events that induce anxiety. This leads to strain, pressure or tension on an individual’s well-being.

Not all stress is detrimental; there is positive stress known as eustress, which can act as a catalyst for growth and development.

The process of preparing for and taking exams can be stressful, but upon passing, it results in growth and development — this is eustress.

Conversely, there is negative stress, referred to as distress. This occurs when there is a perceived discrepancy between demands and our capacity to meet them. In this article, I will examine some prevalent causes of negative stress and distress.

Financial hardship is a frequent source of stress. When financial obligations surpass income, problems ensue. Many individuals exacerbate these difficulties by resorting to illegal or unethical means to resolve financial issues. Salaries prove insufficient, and businesses fail to generate expected returns. Family disputes also constitute a significant stressor. Every family has its dynamics, and sometimes these can become toxic.

Disputes over estates left by deceased relatives, including houses, properties, and businesses, can be major sources of stress.

Marital issues are another significant source of stress. Newlyweds may find themselves unable to adapt to new marital responsibilities, which include financial obligations, parenting, sharing and transitioning from previous habits and relationships.

The phase when children attend college or leave home can also be highly stressful, with concerns about their success once they depart. Stress also arises when children are financially or otherwise unprepared to leave home. Later stages of marriage, such as grand-parenting, come with their own challenges, including age-related health issues, insufficient pensions and the general pressure of family responsibilities, particularly the care of grandchildren.

Bereavement is a very common stressor. The departure of loved ones can lead to stress, especially if the death was sudden or if the deceased was the family’s primary provider. The void left by a loved one’s passing is a stressor in itself. Families must make significant adjustments to cope with this loss, which can be highly stressful. Chronic illnesses are major stressors due to the substantial financial commitments and resources they require. Caring for a patient at home is a challenging task. Traumatic events, such as abuse, can also lead to lifelong stress if not properly addressed through counselling. Such stress can escalate into mental health issues, resulting in conditions like depression.

Work-related issues can be a major source of stress. Workplace stressors include excessive workloads, tight deadlines, lack of adequate rewards for work performed, unfair labour practices, and toxic relationships with colleagues, and difficult superiors. Unresolved conflicts in the workplace can lead to stress. I didn’t realise noise was a stressor until I built a house near a constant source of loud noise. Persistent, uncontrollable noise can be a significant stressor, particularly if it disrupts sleep and concentration, such as during study sessions.

For many parents, children are a source of stress. Beyond the parenting challenges already mentioned, discrepancies between parental expectations and children’s behaviour can cause stress. Children may engage in substance abuse, leaving parents to deal with the medical consequences. When children under-perform academically, parents often receive notices from schools to discuss disciplinary issues. Children’s association with toxic friends and involvement in various harmful activities can also be stressful for parents. School consultation days can be particularly daunting.

Frustration is another source of stress. The general inability to cope with life’s daily routines can be a significant stressor. When everything seems to be going wrong, frustration can lead to lethargy, which in turn can result in non-assertive behaviour that diminishes confidence and creativity. Sometimes, poor planning and time management can cause stress. Retirement-related stress can occur when individuals fail to prepare adequately for retirement, leading to a stressful and potentially premature end to life. This lack of preparation often stems from a lack of goal-oriented behaviour.

The symptoms of stress are diverse and can manifest as physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioural issues. Behavioural symptoms may include drug, alcohol or food abuse, with individuals eating more or less than usual. Changes in sleep patterns can lead to oversleeping or insomnia. Some individuals may withdraw and isolate themselves from others. Lethargy is a common symptom, often accompanied by procrastination or neglect of responsibilities. Physical symptoms include fatigue, random body aches, muscle stiffness, headaches and stomach pains.


Loss of appetite and nausea are also common. Some individuals may experience a decrease in sexual drive and some women may have irregular menstrual cycles due to stress. Cognitive symptoms can present as memory loss, difficulty concentrating, poor judgment, pervasive negativity and constant worrying. Emotional symptoms can include anxiety, increased sensitivity, moodiness, general unhappiness and irritability. Recognising when one is stressed is crucial so that, where possible, remedial action can be taken.

You Might Also Like