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Stressors, the sources of stress, include three types of events, referred to as daily hassles, major life events, and catastrophes. Additionally, specific types of stressors occur within certain domains in life, such as family, work, and school.

A. Stressors

Daily hassles are the little hassles or annoyances that occur practically everyday, such as having to make decisions, arguing with friends and family, trying to meet deadlines at school or work, and stepping on a piece of bubble gum that someone carelessly spitted out. Although a wide variety of daily hassles can be sources of stress, they often involve conflicts between behaviors people may or may not want to do. If someone is experiencing an approach-approach conflict, that person has to choose between two attractive alternatives, such as going on vacation or buying a new computer. If someone is experiencing an avoidance-avoidance conflict, that person has to choose between two unattractive alternatives, such as having a pet "put to sleep" or spending the money on an expensive surgical procedure for it. If someone is experiencing an approach-avoidance conflict, that person has to choose whether to engage in an activity that has both attractive and unattractive qualities, such as mowing the lawn, an activity that would result in a nice lawn but would not be enjoyable to do (Miller, as cited in 99).

In particular, daily hassles that involve interpersonal conflicts seem to have an impact that lasts longer than does that of most other daily hassles (25). Additionally, according to a survey of middle-aged adults (87), the top ten daily hassles are as follows:

  1. Concerns about weight
  2. Health of a family member
  3. Rising prices of common goods
  4. Home maintenance
  5. Too many things to do
  6. Misplacing or losing things
  7. Yard work or outside home maintenance
  8. Property, investments, or taxes
  9. Crime
  10. Physical appearance

In general, major life events do not appear to be significant sources of stress (118). Accordingly, major life events generally do not tend to be related to the health problems that accompany stress (96; 148). Under some circumstances, however, major life events can be sources of stress. Whether major life events involve positive or negative feelings, for instance, is relevant. Major life events that are positive tend to have either trivially stressful or actually beneficial effects (156; 164), but major life events that are negative can be stressful and are associated with medical problems (141). Examples of major life events are getting married, getting divorced, and being fired from a job.

Although they do not happen very often, when catastrophes do occur, they can be tremendous sources of stress. One major type of catastrophe is natural disasters. After people are exposed to natural disasters, they are more anxious, have more bodily complaints, drink more alcohol, and have more phobias (138). A group of Stanford University students who completed a survey before and after the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, for example, were more stressed afterwards than they were beforehand (115). War is another type of catastrophe. It is one of the most stressful catastrophes that you could ever endure. Between 16% and 19% of the veterans who served during Operation Desert Storm, for example, had symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such as recurrent memories, nightmares, restricted emotions, sleep disturbances, and irritability (160). PTSD is a mental disorder (described later) characterized by the reexperiencing of stress responses associated with an earlier traumatic event like withstanding a natural disaster or being assaulted.

Compared to the impact of other types of events, the cumulative effect of daily hassles over time are probably the most significant sources of stress (33; 87; 98; 174). An obvious reason why major life events and catastrophes are probably less significant sources of stress is that people just do not experience them as often. It is not every day that a person spends time in prison or retires from a job, for instance. Likewise, people do not have to and possibly never will face the repercussions of a nuclear war, for instance, on a daily basis.



B. Life Domains

1. Family

Specific types of stressors that family members are exposed to through their family include a lack of parent-child emotional bonding, parental workload, misbehavior of children, teenage pregnancy, lack of emotional closeness between spouses, poor communication between spouses, tension between spouses, divorce, remarriage, and maternal depression (48; 64; 116). Additionally, a family member's job can interfere with his or her home life (64).

Marital conflict is a good example of a daily hassle that is specifically related to the family. Marital conflict tends to occur when spouses come from different social and economic backgrounds and the spouse of higher status emphasizes his or her superiority. Marital conflict often occurs in the context of unequal occupational statuses, for instance (121).

Teenage pregnancy, particularly the unplanned pregnancy of an unmarried, teenage daughter, is a good example of a major life crisis that is specifically related to the family. Regarding teenagers who follow through with the pregnancy, this event leads to several premature role transitions, such as the teenager becoming a young mother and the mother becoming a young grandmother (48). These kinds of role transitions tend to be sources of distress in the family if new mothers are still teenagers but sources of eustress if new mothers are age 20 or older (30; 76). In cases in which teenagers terminate the pregnancy, they tend to find it especially stressful if they perceive a lack of support from their parents or the father of the child, are less sure of their decision and coping abilities beforehand, blame themselves for the pregnancy, or delay until the second trimester (4).

2. Work

The specific types of stressors that employees are exposed to in the workplace fall into four categories of demands: task demands, interpersonal demands, role demands, and physical demands (139). Among these categories, work overload, boundary extension, role ambiguity, role conflict, and career development are particularly relevant stressors (117). Additionally, an employee's home-life can interfere with his or her job (64).

Work overload is a good example of a daily hassle that is particularly relevant in the workplace. When employees feel overwhelmed from trying to work on more tasks than they can handle or from trying to work on tasks that are too difficult for them, they are suffering from work overload. Work overload is common after layoffs among the remaining workers who are assigned more tasks. It is also common among newly appointed managers who feel unprepared for their new, unfamiliar roles (139).

Boundary extension is another good example of a daily hassle that is particularly relevant in the workplace. Some jobs, such as public relations and sales, require employees to work with people in other occupational settings. Such boundary extension can be difficult for employees, especially if it involves any of the following difficulties:

  • Dealing with very diverse organizations
  • Maintaining frequent and long-term relations with people in other organizations
  • Interacting in complex and dynamic environments
  • Not having screening mechanisms like secretaries or voice mail
  • Participating in nonroutine activities
  • Trying to meet demanding performance standards (139)

Two more good examples of daily hassles that are particularly relevant in the workplace are role ambiguity and role conflict. When employees are unsure about what is expected of them, how to perform their job, or what the consequences of their job performance are, they are experiencing role ambiguity. When employees finds it difficult to perform their job effectively because of the multiple explanations about their job performance, they are experiencing role conflict. Role conflict takes place in five basic ways:

  • Receiving conflicting or incompatible expectations from another employee
  • Receiving different expectations from two or more other employees
  • Receiving expectations that lead to incompatible roles
  • Receiving too many expectations, expectations leading to too many roles, or expectations leading to roles that are too complicated
  • Having values and beliefs that conflict with expectations (139)

Career development is a good example of a major life event specifically related to work. Changing jobs or occupations can be stressful. People may feel frustrated and afraid, for example, after being laid off or fired from their job. Similarly, employees may feel belittled or embarrassed after being demoted. These feeling may be even more damaging for employees if such changes in occupational status interfere with their family life (139).

3. School

As with work, work overload, role ambiguity, and role conflict are daily hassles that are particularly relevant to students. Students in college, for instance, often feel overwhelmed from having too many assignments or assignments that are too difficult. Additionally, they sometimes experience role ambiguity in poorly designed courses or from poor instructors and sometimes experience role conflict from instructors who seem to believe that the students in their classes are not taking any other classes. According to two surveys (8; 93), the following stressors are particularly relevant for college students:

  • Final grades
  • Excessive homework
  • Term papers
  • Examinations
  • Study for examinations
  • Time demands
  • Professors
  • Class environment

Among children and adolescents, transitions from one stage of schooling to another are major life events that can be significant stressors. The transition from elementary school to junior high or middle school, for instance, can be a significant stressor (32; 49).


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