Understanding Stress and The Secrets To Dealing With Life Issues

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January 2022

By: Dr. Jane Nyutu- Mind & Beyond Counselling Centre (Mount Kenya University)  & Dr. Lucy Ng’ethe


Stress is an internal psychological or physiological response of the body towards physical and psychological demands of life Sue et al (2013). 

Stressors are external events or situations that place a physical or a psychological demand on a person Sue et al (2000). Human beings are subjected to external forces from the outside world or pressure from life issues that may affect every area of an individual’s life Melgosa, (2001). Stress has affected human race since its creation as the aftermath of the fall of man (Gen 3).

Causes of stress

  1. External causes:

i). Unpleasant life events such as natural calamities (landslides, floods, fire/s, famine, road carnage, theft, terrorism activities among others.

 ii) Traumatic events such as the death of a loved one, divorce or being abandoned, rape or sexual abuse, robbery, violence, etc.

iii) Life’s responsibilities that demand energy such as parenting, job-related issues, difficult work environment, long working hours, juggling work and family, toxic relationships, cyberbullying- all that might heighten stress levels George, M. (1998). The author continues to suggest that today’s society expects everyone to be a quick thinker, work more diligently, excel in every task they undertake which might lead to a stressed-out society.

2. Internal causes

 According to Davis et al (2000), stress is an everyday fact of life. Life has stress and a certain amount of stress is necessary for our lives. 

i). Conflicting choices such as watching a movie series or attending to academic work, going for chama or doing house chores, hanging out with friends, or taking care of your young children can be a source of stress.

ii). Personality issues: Persons with personality “A” (extroverts) are more prone to stress than type B personalities. Type A is associated with high levels of arousal, always seem pressured to do something, and often hide feelings, thus leading to more stress, they worry a lot and get angry more easily. Type” B” (introverts) has a relaxed /calm personality, is not hot-tempered, and has a quiet demeanor hence suffering a low level of stress.

iii). Physiological sources: The rapid growth in puberty and adolescence may be a source of stress among young people. The attention this draws from others and the comments they receive might leave them feeling overwhelmed. Messages such as “..you look different…you are too skinny or too big.….too short..” You have acne/freckles on your face …”.

Sometimes young people may feel unattractive and engage in negative intrapersonal communication like …I hate my lips…makes me look so ugly… my ears are too big; my hair does not grow like my peers etc. “

iv). Life changes happen such as menopause for women, aging, acquired disability, injuries, paralysis, retirement, adjusting to divorce and separation, loss of a significant other, among others.

v). Environmental sources:

 These are extreme weather conditions such, as floods, fires, traffic, pollution, pollen, dust, and heat. People are expected to adjust and endure.

vi). Thought Patterns: How a person interprets the issues and circumstances around them such as a how they perceive a glance or a look or spoken words from a supervisor at work determines their stress levels especially if it is perceived negatively Davis (2000). Positive appraisal leads to relaxed thinking while negative appraisal (“seems like Am losing it, am overwhelmed…”), might trigger stress.

vii). Social causes: these include dealing with deadlines, preparing for a competitive interview, financial crisis, disagreements with significant others, deteriorating relationships, demands for your time and attention from family, work, community, peers, and death of a close person or friend Davis (2000).

Types of stress

Selye (1975) differentiates between positive (Eustress) and negative stress (distress). Eustress is good stress. For instance, when planning for a wedding, a newly married couple expecting a newborn, or a student waiting to sit for an exam. Eustress can also be due to a promotion, falling in love, or moving to a new location.

Distress is an abnormal, negative, and disturbing stress. It occurs when people perceive that the issues they are facing are dangerous, difficult, painful, or unfair Davis et al (2000) For example, loss of a loved one, tragic accident, sexual assault, and violence. Distress can also be due to anxiety related to downsizing at the workplace, getting debt-ridden/bankrupt, or long-term illness. These might make someone feel like they lack the necessary resources to help them cope.

Hyper stress: Stress exposure over a lengthy period for instance; terminal illness such as complications that come with diabetes, AIDS disease, cancer among others.

Hypo stress: It is a short moment of stress for example being bored, feeling demotivated/lacking drive, or uninspired.

Stages of stress:

i). Alarm stage is where there is a clear warning that a person is experiencing stress. This happens when one perceives something as stressful and the body initiates either a “fight or flight” response. People might for instance find the workload overbearing, have trouble completing a task, or meet deadlines. These are stress signs.

ii). Resistance stage: When stress is not resolved, the body might remain in a state of high alert in an attempt to adapt to living with the stressor. The body can try to resist the stress and press on through sleep deprivation, constant studying, poor dieting, resulting in poor concentration, irritability, or frustration.

iii). Exhaustion and burnout:

Persons who are unable to address stress at the first 2 stages may enter the burnout level. They may collapse and get sick, get anxious, fatigued, lethargic, and depressed. If not checked, burnout may occur leading to body shut down and finally, death may happen.

Symptoms of stress

Stress symptoms vary from one individual to another. Stress is manifested in pain that rings a bell to the person that all might not be okay.

The Human body will show signs of stress in different ways

  • Emotionally-nervousness, impatience & irritability, low self -worth, feeling discouraged, frustration, and inability to set goals.
  • Behavioral signs– sleep disorders, overeating, obsessive working, withdrawal, self-harm tendencies, and being irritable. The person might risk engaging in socially unacceptable coping strategies such as violence, bullying (in schools, home, and workplace) or alcohol and substance abuse.
  • Cognitive signs are memory loss leading to forgetfulness, low concentration, impaired judgement, (may become accident prone), lack of enthusiasm, and creativity
  • Biological symptoms include mouth sores, prone to flu/cold, bodily wear and tear, back pain, stroke, and ulcers. This indicates that stress affects the immune system in many ways. The physiological reaction to the environmental, social threats and changes might contribute to stressful symptoms leading to muscle tension, headache, stomach upset, and anxiety. Davis et al (2000).

“Generally, stress is manifested as pain. Which we may think of as bringing us a message that something needs to change”.  George (1998).


  1. Borysenko, J. (2001). Inner Peace for Busy People: 52 Simple Strategies for Transforming Your Life. Hay House. Inc, CA: USA
  2. Dickinson, R. (2019). Little Acts of Self-care: Countless Ways to Relax Mind, Body & Spirit. SJG Publishers: UK.
  3. George, M. (1998). Learn to Relax: A Practical Guide to Easing Tension & Conquering Stress. Chronicle Books, San Francisco LLC
  4. Sue et al. (2013). Understanding Abnormal Behavior. (10th Edition). Wadsworth, CA USA.
  5. Redding, H. (2019). 24 hours to Change your Life. SJG Publishers: UK.

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