Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.
What Is Stress?
Have you ever been in a situation in which you felt completely overwhelmed? Maybe you felt like you were unable to cope with what you were experiencing? If so, what you were feeling was stress. Stress occurs when an event or stimulus requires us to change in some way. Stress is our brain's way of saying, 'I know I have to change, but I don't have to like it!' Stress involves an imbalance between what is demanded of us and what we are able to cope with or respond to.
Stress varies based on the individual and situation. Most stress is temporary, although there are situations where stress can last for a long time. For example, people who work in sales and advertising generally find that there are high levels of stress associated with their careers. In these cases, stress must be managed. For example, a first-time parent may feel stress as a result of bringing a new baby home, but by the end of the first week, the parent has ideally learned how to cope with these demands and is no longer stressed. Stress can build over time if not managed properly, causing several health effects, including anxiety, headaches, problems sleeping, depression, and high blood pressure.
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Stressors that are found in our surroundings are called environmental stressors. Everyday life is full of environmental stressors that cause minor irritations. If you use an alarm clock to wake up, the loud noise from your alarm is an environmental stressor. Extreme temperatures are also environmental stressors and can lead to discomfort. Other common environmental stressors include:
- Air quality
- Tornadoes and other natural disasters
- War and other manmade disasters
Recent research has linked extreme temperatures, crowding, and noise with increased levels of discomfort and aggression. Studies have also shown that crime rates are higher during those hot summer days. Different colors can raise or lower your stress levels. For example, green is often associated with life and growth and is known to reduce tension and anxiety. Exposure to light can improve your mood and decrease fatigue, while prolonged exposure to darkness can interfere with sleep patterns and lead to symptoms of depression.
Imagine that you are a clinician sitting in your air-conditioned office and writing client progress notes on a hot summer day. Your air conditioner stops working, so you call the repairman. He tells you that he will be there tomorrow, so you hang up and continue writing. The temperature in your office begins to rise, and you start sweating. The air in the room becomes stale, and there are no windows in your office, which increases your discomfort.
You look at the red walls in your office and become angry. As your feelings of discomfort and anger intensify, it becomes harder to concentrate on your notes. You become overwhelmed and eventually decide to give up on your notes. The air quality, temperature, and room color are all examples of environmental stressors.
Let's look at another example. Say that you are driving to work and two cars in front of you get into a collision. Traffic begins to back up for miles. You jump as you hear the siren from the ambulance rushing to the scene. You look down at your clock and notice you have ten minutes left to make it to your job on time. As a result, you become anxious, and your stress level rises. This is an example of how things in our environment (a traffic jam, car accident, and loud siren) can cause stress.
Stress occurs when an event or stimulus requires us to change in some way. Environmental stressors are stimuli in our environment that cause stress. Some common environmental stressors are war, temperature, noise and crowds. So the next time you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, look at your surroundings to see if you can pinpoint any stressors. Then get rid of them!
Following this lesson, you should have the ability to:
- Define stress and environmental stressors
- Identify common environmental stressors
- Explain examples of environmental stress in everyday life
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Environmental Stressors: Examples, Definition & Types
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