Internal and External Stress
Can you identify some internal pressures and some outside factors that can cause you to feel stressed?

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Internal and External Stress

You've probably struggled with stress at some point in your life. Simply put, stress is a physical response to a feeling, situation or event that interferes with your sense of well-being.

The factors or emotions that cause you to feel anxious, tense or afraid are called stressors.

Some stressors are internal - stress-inducing thoughts or behaviors. These thoughts come from psychological or emotional feelings, like being depressed or worried, or putting pressure on yourself to be perfect.

Other stressors come from external factors, which are forces that you can't easily control. Examples are a major life event, pressure to pay off debts, anxiety over public speaking or an upcoming exam. These are called external stressors.

Internal and external stressors can have the same physical and psychological effects. You may have trouble sleeping, lose your appetite or lose interest in daily activities. You may be irritable, have headaches, stomach pains or find that you cry easily.

Over time, chronic stress can be even more damaging. As your body stays in a state of alert, your immune system may be weakened. You could be more at risk for cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, inflammatory arthritis, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.

So you can see that it's important to figure out the sources of your stress so you can start working toward a more healthy and relaxed mental state.

Whether internal or external, stressors can usually be managed. Sometimes you can learn to respond to the stressor differently. You may try stress-relief techniques. And sometimes adjusting your thinking to a positive attitude can help. Making sure you're eating a well-balanced diet and staying active with exercise also are important tools in helping manage stress.

Some examples of internal stressors
According to mental health experts at, here are some common internal stressors:

  • Inability to accept uncertainty
  • Pessimism
  • Negative self-talk
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Perfectionism
  • Lack of assertiveness

Some examples of external stressors
Here are some examples of external stressors, says:

  • Major life changes
  • Work
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Financial worries
  • Being too busy
  • Children and family

Left untreated, everyday stresses can build up and lead to chronic stress. You start to think there is no way out of your miseries and worries. You may even stop looking for solutions. If you get to this point, seek help from your doctor or a mental health professional right away.

By Ginny Greene, Editor
Created on 05/13/2013
Updated on 05/13/2013
  • Stress symptoms, signs and causes.
  • American Psychological Association. Stress.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Managing stress.
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