Sources of Stress – Individual, Family, Society and Environment


What is Stress?

Stress is a feeling of emotional or physical tension. 

Lazarus and Launier (1978), regarded stress as a transaction between people and the environment. They described stress in terms of person–environment fit.

For example – It is waiting to take a test when you are not sure that you have studied enough or studied the right material.

According to American Psychological Association (APA), stress is the physiological or psychological response to internal or external stressors.

For example, it may be manifested by palpitations, sweating, dry mouth, shortness of breath, fidgeting, accelerated speech, augmentation of negative emotions (if already being experienced), and longer duration of stress fatigue.

It shows up in both physical and emotional behaviors.

Stress is a negative emotional experience accompanied by predictable biochemical, physiological, cognitive, and behavioral changes that are directed either toward altering the stressful event or accommodating to its effects.

When a individual is not able to cope up with the existing situation, he tends to experience stress or tension.

In fact for most of the time individuals are responsible for stress. However, organizations also create stress in the individuals. Why one should be concerned about stress? The reason is that the stress has more negative  consequences than positive.

Let us learn about sources of stress.

Sources of Stress

What is a Stressor?

Individual experiences deviation in his biological system which is called potential stress. Potential stress moderated by individual, organizational and environmental variable leads to actual stress. The variables that convert potential stress into actual stress are known as stressors.

Initially, researchers focused on stressful events themselves, called stressors. In the United States, for example, people report that money, the economy, work, family health problems, and family responsibilities are their top fi ve stressors (American Psychological Association, 2008).

But an experience may be stressful to some people but not to others. If “noise” is the latest rock music playing on your radio, then it will probably not be stressful to you, although it may be to your neighbor. Whereas one person might find the loss of a job highly stressful, another might see it as an opportunity to try a new field, as a challenge rather than a threat. Thus, stressors can be subjective.

There are multiple daily problems encountered which are the causative factors for stress. For example,

  • Fast paced life
  • Relationship issues
  • Loneliness
  • Financial Instability
  • Lack of proper adjustment
  • Lack of enough personal space
  • Time constraints
  • Consumerism
  • Frustration due to non fulfilment of desires
  • Addiction
  • Prolonged physical illness
  • Constant feeling of uncertainty
  • Family problems
  • Cut throat competition

1. Sources of Stress within the person (Individual Factors)

Individual basic dispositions are the main reason for potential stress. Introversion, extroversion, masculinity, rigidity, locus of control, personal life, demographic differences are some of the sources of stress.

Health : Sound health enables a person to cope up stress better than unsound health.

Economic Problems:  Poor management of personal finances, heavy family expenditure, and constant demand for money, poor incoming earning capacity and slow financial growth in the job are some of the economic reasons responsible for greater stress.

For example, an increasing family expenditure, increased expenditure on children education and health create heavy demand for income. This creates greater stress in the individuals.

Excess of Motivation : Strong urge for satisfaction of needs compel people to over work and may lead to stress.

Locus of Control : Greater degree of locus of control leads to stress. A person is less likely to feel stress as he believes that he can exercise control over external factors.

Self-efficacy : Self-efficacy and stress are negatively related. Higher degree of self-efficacy elevates motivation levels. Therefore people with greater self-efficacy remain calm and effectively face stressful situation. Perception of capacity to bring changes provides greater ability to withstand stress.

Psychological Hardiness : Hardiness is the ability to withstand provocation from others. People with greater psychological hardiness are able to survive and withstand stressful environment.

For instance, people who remain calm even at the provocation of others and ignore the esteem are less likely to feel stress.

Perception : It helps in understanding the environment. Person possessing a positive perception understands reality and appraises the events objectively. Thus, he feels less stress.

Neuroticism : Hostility and aggressive behavior is positively related to stress. A person who becomes aggressive and gets quick anger is cynical and does not trust others. Hence, he feels more stress than others who are cool and calm.


2. Sources of Stress in the Family 

Family issues influence the personal life of individuals. Sound marital relationships, marital discipline, timely and healthy children may lead to happy personal life. They enjoy the life and become positive in their attitudes. So they do not tend to greater stress.

On the other hand, some of the reasons for greater stress in the individuals. can be –

  • Poor marital relationships
  • Nagging spouse
  • Family separations
  • Extra marital relationships
  • Untimely and unprepared parenthood
  • Divorce of parents
  • Abuse / Control
  • Poor settlement of family members
  • Aging parents
  • Busyness
  • Death of spouse or other close family member

3. Sources of Stress from Society, Community & Workplace 

Working conditions : Working conditions and stress are inversely related. Employees working with poor working conditions are subject to greater stress. The factors that lead to more stress are crowded work areas, dust, heat, noise, polluted air, strong odor due to toxic chemicals, radiation, poor ventilation, unsafe and dangerous conditions, lack of privacy, etc.

Administrative Policies and Strategies: One of the sources of stress of employees is related to certain administrative strategies followed by the organizations. Down sizing, competing pressure, unfair pay structures, rigidity in rules, job rotation and ambiguous policies are some of the sources of stress in organizations.

Organizational Leaderships: Top management is responsible for creation of healthy workplace. The climate provided should be free of tensions, fear, and anxiety. Authoritarian leadership style creates a directive environment in which employees are pressurized to attain targets. They work under impersonal relationships and tight controls. This creates greater work stress to employees.

Group Dynamics : Groups have a number of functional and dysfunctional consequences. They provide social support and satisfaction, which is helpful in relieving stress. At the same time, they become the source of stress also. Lack of cohesiveness, lack of social support, lack of recognition by the group and incompatible goals cause stress

Role Demands: Individuals play multiple roles in their personal and social life. Incidentally, all these roles are performed simultaneously. Thus, they cause anxiety and emotion. Another potential reason is role conflict. It arises because of poor role perception, role ambiguity, role overload and role overlapping. Role ambiguity and stress are positively related. The greater the role conflict, individual experiences more stress.

4. Sources of Stress from Environment

They are political, economical, technological, legal, ecological, governmental, social, cultural and ethical. Certain propositions describing the impact of environment on stress are presented below:

Politics : As the new laws and regulations are enacted by the new political party, the political changes bring uncertainty in the environment.

Unstable National Security : Environment of war, terrorism can induce a great amount of stress.

Economics : It deals with income levels, demand and supply, inflation etc.

Social, cultural and ethical environment : It can bring stress in the individuals. Social factors influence the life styles of employees. Certain sociological variables such as race, sex, social class, gender etc., and cultural factors such as beliefs, customs and traditions cause potential stress.

Certain other environmental factors that result in stress in recent times are stock market crashes, frequent elections, down sizing, information technology and the related changes in the business. Racial and gender discriminations, health hazards due to pollution and imbalance in the natural environment etc. are contributing to stress


How to manage stress?

Let us see the aspects of stress management in short.

  • Time Management
  • Physical Management
  • Psychological Management (relaxation, behavioral self-control, cognitive therapy, etc.)
  • Social Management
  • Self – Awareness Management
  • Interpersonal Management
  • Organizational Management

Stress or tension is inevitable in life. If it is in moderate intensity, it appears to be useful by providing motivation to the individual. But if the individual experiences intense stress, then his/her capacities to deal with it gets imbalanced.

Hence, it is necessary to get acquainted with healthy coping strategies.



  • Ogden, J. (2017). Health psychology: A textbook (4th ed.).McGraw Hill Education.
  • Taylor, Shelley E. (2018). Health Psychology (10th ed). McGraw Hill Higher Education. Indian Edition

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