Chapter 3 - Identifying Stressors
Many of us may feel “stressed out” in our daily lives without knowing why. As many people are on medication due
to anxiety and depression, it is obvious that many of us are under a great deal of stress. While medications to
alleviate the symptoms of stress can help, they are merely a mask. The real problem is the stressful situation that
we are enduring, either in our minds or in reality.
Janet was a secretary for a large law firm. She had a boss who would criticize her every move on a daily basis.
Janet was in no position to leave her job as she was the sole supporter of her two young children. Her husband had
died two years prior and this was the first job Janet had since his death. She worked hard, but no matter what she
did, she could never please her boss. However, she had to work so she kept her mouth shut and never said anything.
Janet’s boss had been through three secretaries in the past six months before he hired Janet.
Although her boss was very critical, Janet liked the people with whom she worked very much and considered
herself lucky to be able to earn enough money to keep her children in the lifestyle to which they had all been
accustomed when her husband was alive. She considered herself happy. She felt that she was finally able to get on
with her life after the unexpected death of her husband.
She could not understand, therefore, why she felt anxious all of the time. Especially on Sunday evenings. One
Sunday night she ended up in the emergency room of the hospital with heart palpitations. She thought she was having
a heart attack so she got her mother to look after her kids and went to the hospital. After a series of tests, it
was determined that Janet suffered from a “panic attack.” The ER doctor gave her a prescription for tranquilizers
and advised her to see a psychiatrist.
A psychiatrist! Janet wasn’t “crazy.” And everyone knows that only “crazy” people have anything wrong with them
mentally. So she took the tranquilizers and ignored the advice of the physician. She continued to experience “panic
attacks” on a more frequent basis until one Monday morning, she couldn’t get out of bed. Her children got very
upset and called their grandmother who found Janet in a catatonic state. She took her daughter to the hospital
where she was admitted to the psych ward for a few days. Janet had what used to be called a “nervous
Was Janet “crazy?” No, she was just suffering from severe anxiety and depression caused by several stressors.
One of them was her boss who was just a bully. The other was the fact that her husband had died and left her as the
sole provider for her two children.
Fortunately, Janet’s mother took her to the hospital as Janet had been thinking more and more about joining her
late husband. Even more fortunate for Janet was the fact that the doctor at the hospital was able to help Janet
identify her stressors. While Janet could not do anything about the death of her husband, she could do something
about the second stress factor, which was her boss. She looked for a new job with a boss who was a bit more human
and finally found herself not only with a better boss, but more money. She was still able to keep in contact with
the friends she made at her old job, who regaled her with stories about how her bully boss kept going through
Identifying stressors is not so easy for most people as it was in Janet’s case. While some of us can point to
different stress factors that have occurred recently in our lives, others have absolutely no idea why we are
stressed. In some cases, the original stressor can be something that happened in our childhood.
In the film “The Three Faces of Eve,” a woman is depicted as having a “split personality disorder.” The film
follows this very usual psychological disorder until they get to the root of the problem which was the fact that
she was made to kiss the face of her dead grandmother as she lay in her coffin. This was not done as a form of
abuse, but was a cultural belief. Her mother, who made her kiss the dead woman’s face, did not do this to abuse her
child, but believed that by kissing the face of the dead, it would cause you not to miss them and for them not to
Unfortunately, the trauma that this girl endured caused her so much stress that she actually felt it necessary
to retreat into her own mind and develop other “personalities” who usually emerged whenever she was under any sort
of stress. The personalities took over the her life and Eve had no recollection of what the personalities were
doing when she was “out of it.” She would simply black out and one of the personalities that she created in her own
mind, would take over for her.
The film ended, of course, with the woman being helped. The simple recollection of the incident in her childhood
that had been buried in her mind, was able to “cure” her of her split personality disorder. She no longer needed
the personalities that she created to help her cope with stress in life.
While some of us can identify stressors as easy as Janet, others may have a difficult time putting our finger on
what causes us to react to stress, such as in the case of the film example.
If you are feeling “stressed out” sit down with a pen and paper and try to identify the cause of your stress. In
most cases, it will be more than one different problem that is causing you stress. Try to pinpoint the source of
your stress by writing down everything that is worrying you.
Keep a journal of your day to day activities and how you feel periodically throughout the day. Think about the
different people with whom you interact with during the course of the day and how you feel about each
Once you have identified the source of your stress, you can then make a determination on how you can handle the
stress that is affecting your daily life. Chances are that your stress factors will be one of the following:
• A personal relationship;
Some of the stressors you will be able to control, others you will not be able to do anything about. But in
order to help yourself, you are going to have to know what you are up against when it comes to the cause of your