Top 10 Most Stressful Life Events: Your Survival Guide

major life events

Humans strive for a general feeling of peace, including safety and security. Stress can interrupt these feelings.

We all experience stress at some point in life, and may even go through each of the numbers on this list. It’s important to understand stress and how to cope with it, as it’s an inevitable aspect of adulthood.

Keep reading to learn the top 10 major life events that cause stress.

How to Measure Stress

Before we delve into major life events that cause stress, it’s important to know how to measure stress.

The Perceived Stress Scale, or PSS, is one of the most popular psychological instruments for measuring the perception of stress. This was developed to measure the degree to which someone’s situations are evaluated as stressful.

Another popular measure of stress is the Holmes and Rahe Stress scale. This is a questionnaire that aims to understand the long-term impact of stress on health. It uses 43 life events, and each event has a different “weight” for stress. Meaning, the more events that the user added up, the higher the numbered score would be. The higher the number, the more likely the user or patient was to become ill.

But what are the major life events that cause stress and how should you handle them?

1. Experiencing the Loss of a Loved One

Experiencing the death of a loved one varies for everyone since people grieve in different ways. There are studies, groups, books, and programs all dedicated to bereavement and the stages of loss.

The Kubler-Ross model defines the five stages of grief as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. During these stages, you can feel many emotions like shock and guilt. It can feel difficult to move on without the person you’ve lost.

Coping with loss means taking care of yourself by trying to eat well and getting rest. It’s important to rely on other people to be your support system and give yourself time to heal. Sharing your grief is a huge aspect of healing, so talking to family and friends is a part of the process.

Death and grief can also cause serious health problems, like depression. Recovering from loss can be a life-long journey. Many people look for support groups or professional therapists to assist in coping.

The stress that someone goes through after a loved one dies is different for each situation. A mother losing a child or a husband losing a wife causes varying levels of stress. Choosing a coping method can be helpful for recovery.

2. Going Through a Divorce or Separation

Even when a divorce or separation is amicable and both partners agree on severing the relationship, it can be very stressful. Sometimes it’s not just the emotional stress that can be difficult to deal with since divorce often is accompanied by legal fees and possibly child custody.

Divorce can cause stress for the two people involved in the relationship, but it can also be stressful for any friends or family caught in the middle. Children of divorce also often experience high levels of stress. The children may also not be able to put their emotions into words and may not understand why the divorce is happening or how it changes their lives.

When going through a divorce, it’s helpful to lean on the support of family and friends, while taking care of yourself. Sticking to your normal care activities like exercise will help you get through the process. Take time to make decisions and to heal from the separation.

You can also help children process divorce by talking it through. It’s important to be honest and to stay civil when talking about your partner to the children.

3. Having a Wedding and Getting Married

On the opposite end of the spectrum from divorce is marriage. Getting married and planning a wedding is one of the most stressful events in a person’s life. While it’s often also a happy experience, planning a wedding is usually stressful.

Organizing an event, which can be large and include most of your family and friends, involves lots of details and complexities. Most people have never had to plan an event the size of a wedding and aren’t sure how to handle roadblocks as they appear.

It can also be stressful to blend two families, and they may have conflicting opinions about the wedding details. Hearing families argue or give their strong opinions is overwhelming.

Handling the stress of wedding planning can be eased by honest and open communication. Lean on your partner and be open with your family if they are adding stress to the process. Communicate what you envision for the event and prioritize your wants and needs while compromising. Also, remember to take care of yourself.

Staying connected to your partner and not getting lost in the details of wedding planning is helpful. Set aside time for fun and life events that are outside of the wedding.

4. Moving to a New Home

Whether you’re moving from a city to the country or from a small house to a mansion, moving is stressful. Disrupting your routine and everyday life causes stress and moving into new home changes your daily routine. This is especially true if you’re moving to an entirely new town, state or country.

The factors involved in moving cause stress before the actual move itself. Finding a new home and new schools are all emotional decisions that cause stress. Then you have the added stress of packing. It’s difficult to know how to pack all of your belongings, especially if you need to move with your entire family.

Understanding that it may take a while for you to feel comfortable in your new home can help you cope. While trying to feel normal in your new space, maintain as much of your routine as you can. This is especially important for children.

Relying on friends and family can also help with this process, along with hiring movers if you’re able to afford it. Planning each stage and staying organized will help things run smoothly on the day you move. Also, get involved in your new community to help you settle into the area.

5. Chronic Illness or Major Injury

Having a chronic illness or serious injury is one of the most stressful things a person can experience. It’s also a huge stress for the entire family of the person who is ill or injured. This can be an emotional struggle for everyone who helps the person, especially for children.

Similar to other stressful life events, experiencing a chronic illness can cause additional health and psychological issues like depression. Managing chronic pain and increased financial burdens are difficult for people and inevitably cause a lot of stress. It can also be a big transition if illness or injury causes limitations.

If your injury happens at your job, this is also a major stress inducer. There are some situations where you may even need to request workers comp due to work-related anxiety.

Understanding the illness or injury, and having as much information as possible about treatment, can help with managing stress. Also taking care of yourself with sleep and exercise will help physically deal with the new stress. Finally, adjusting expectations and settling into the new reality of life can help you to focus on what’s important to you and how to move forward.

6. Losing Your Job or Starting a New Job

Losing your job can take an emotional toll on a person. It can cause unexpected financial struggles and might result in anxiety or depression. Being fired from a job can change a person’s self-esteem and cause them to stress about money and finding a new job.

Much of the stress is caused by the uncertainty of the future and the disruption of your normal life. Even if you quit your job, you may still experience the same stressors. Also, starting a new job can be stressful for many people. This is another way that our normal routine is broken and results in stress.

Regardless of your career, starting a new job can feel overwhelming while learning a new environment and new expectations. Taking it slowly and asking questions can help you feel less overwhelmed. If you remain unemployed for a while, leaning on resources that are available to you, like from the federal or state government, can help release some of the financial burdens you are facing.

7. Other Workplace Stressors

Even if your job is stable and you aren’t losing your employment status or starting a new career, one-quarter of the workforce claims their job is their biggest stressor. Whether you’re afraid of being fired, or trying to manage a large workload, workplace stress can be overwhelming. Poor management or lack of enjoyment in work activities can also be stressful.

These types of stressors can negatively impact your life outside of work. Allowing the stress to follow you home can affect your family, friends, and even your health.

It’s important to keep this type of stress in check and find ways to manage it. Finding strategies for handling your time at work and prioritizing certain tasks can help you to deal with the stress while you’re at work. Or if you’re able to delegate work when you’re overwhelmed, this can help you bring your workload to a more manageable level.

Outside of your office, consider stress releases like meditation, exercise, or any type of physical release. This can help you to leave the work stress at the office and not carry it with you.

8. Financial Issues

A report by the American Psychological Association showed that money and finances are a huge cause of stress, according to 76% of Americans. Financial issues can be caused by sudden job loss, children, illness, family illness, and much more. These types of money issues can make it difficult for people to meet their basic needs like housing and food.

Dealing with your financial stress is important for your future. Start by identifying the exact financial stress you’re experiencing and come up with a plan to more effectively handle your situation.
Identify health coping mechanisms you can use to manage your financial stress successfully. Avoid leaning on things like substances or gambling, as these can add to your financial stress.

9. Puberty and Adolescence

Stress can affect us at any stage in life, including adolescence. Being a teenager comes with many changes that are difficult to adjust to, including puberty. There’s also peer pressure, friendships, academic pressure, and physical changes that can all cause major stress.

Teenagers also often have difficulty dealing with stress due to higher levels of hormones and bad sleeping and eating habits. To help lower stress, it’s good to encourage your children to get the proper amount of sleep a night. The recommended amount is about 8 to 9 hours a night, and sticking to a regular schedule can help this.

Also, avoiding food that is high in sugar, fat, and caffeine can help with physical stress and sleep. This can also give them more energy by eating better and exercising. Help your teenagers to focus on the positive aspects of life, and allow them to spend time with friends.

10. Transitioning to Retirement

While many people picture retirement as the epitome of relaxation, it can actually cause a lot of stress. It’s another way normal routine is interrupted and can be a difficult transition. Having a daily schedule and work routine helps us deal with other stressors, so when this is taken away, it can be a struggle to adjust.

Also, people often have existential troubles at this stage in life. They may not only be at an older age, but they’re also left wondering about who they are and what their purpose is without work.

Taking the time to adjust to this new opportunity will help with the stress. It’s also a good time to reinvent your daily routine and look for ways to get involved in new activities. Leaning on hobbies, along with friends and family, can give your days meaning and make them fun.

Understanding the Major Life Events That Cause Stress and How to Handle Them

The ten major life events that cause stress listed above are situations that nearly everyone has encountered. Many of them, like puberty and death, are totally unavoidable. So it’s important to understand what events cause stress and how you can best handle them.

Accidents can happen anywhere, so if you’re injured, reach out to us rather than letting the stress build-up while trying to manage it on your own.

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