The top 10 causes of stress

Many things can trigger our stress response, from having too much on our to-do list to endurance exercise. We discuss the ten most common stressful events that can happen in your life.

Stress can be triggered by a single stressful event or the build-up of smaller incidents over time. Chronic, or long-term, stress can also have a huge impact on both your mental and physical health. 

Looking after your mind and body through a healthy diet, regular exercise, and taking time to unwind, are all effective ways of managing some levels of stress. However, there are times in your life that may cause added pressure or stress.

We look at the ten most common causes of stress throughout life, how you may feel, and what you can do to help.

10 most stressful life events

  1. Death of a loved one

Although we are all going to experience the loss of a loved one at some point in our lives, it remains hugely traumatic. Whether it’s an expected death after a long period of illness or sudden and unexplained, the death of a loved one will always be tremendously painful for the ones left behind. 

How might I feel?

Bereavement affects everyone in different ways, and you can feel a range of emotions, including:

  • Guilt
  • Anger
  • Shock

How can I relieve the stress after the death of a loved one?

  • Talk to the people around you about how you feel.
  • Get in touch with an organisation like Cruse bereavement support. Their volunteers are trained in all types of bereavement and can help you make sense of how you’re feeling.
  • Take care of your wellbeing. Have a look at our health and wellness guide for help to get a good night’s sleep.
  1. Illness or injury 

Around 15 million people in England have a long-term health condition [1]. Becoming ill with a life-long condition or injury can be a big shock. The change in circumstances can leave you feeling a wealth of emotion.

How might I feel?

  • Angry
  • Fearful of the future
  • Emotional

How do I relieve the stress after a new life-long condition or injury?

  • Talk to your healthcare team about how you are feeling. Ask them questions and make sure you have a thorough understanding of everything. Working alongside your healthcare team can help you feel more empowered and in control.
  • Chat to your friends and family about your needs. Your friends and family will want to support you in whichever way possible.
  • Look after your mental health. Talking to charities and organisations such as Mind, can help support you with any negative feelings you may be having.
  1. Divorce or breakdown of a relationship

The UK divorce rate is estimated at 42% [2], meaning that roughly one in four marriages will end in divorce. No longer being part of a person’s life, one of which you spent significant amounts of time with, can have a huge impact on your life, mental health, and stress levels.

How might I feel?

  • Low self-esteem
  • Grief
  • Disconnected

How do I relieve the stress of a divorce or the breakdown of a relationship?

  • Fill your time with activities that you enjoy. Activities like running or yoga are a great place to start as they can have a positive effect on both the mind and body.
  • Reach out to friends, especially ones you may have lost touch with. Surrounding yourself with people that make you happy and are fun to be around can help boost low self-esteem.
  • Talk to people who can help. If you feel as though you need extra support or guidance after the divorce, or the breakdown of a significant relationship, charities like FamilyLine offer a team of volunteers that can help.
  1. Planning a wedding

In a poll of 2,000 British married couples, 52% of them found the whole process stressful [3]. Though exciting and happy, stressors like financial strains and family drama can cause people to become stressed whilst planning a wedding.

How might I feel?

  • Financially strained
  • Under pressure
  • Overwhelmed

How do I relieve the stress of planning a wedding?

  • Focus on what is most important for you and your partner on your wedding day – and stick to it!
  • Don’t spend money that you don’t have. Getting into debt can cause further stress in your life. If you are limited to money but want to get married, stick to something small and then consider renewing your vows with a bigger ceremony later down the line.
  • Talk to your friends and family about your stresses and needs. This is your day and you shouldn’t feel guilty about setting healthy boundaries.
  1. Moving house 

Moving to a new home is exciting and brings new opportunities. However, finding the right house and navigating the financial complexities of getting a new home are no mean feats.

How might I feel?

  • Stressed
  • Overwhelmed
  • Financially strained

How do I relieve the stress of moving house?

  • Write out a list and approach one task at a time. Splitting tasks down into smaller tasks can help them seem less overwhelming and more achievable.
  • Get involved in your new community. Getting out, meeting new people, and feeling part of a new community can help lessen the stress.
  • Have a look at money saving expert. There are some great tools and resources to help you to understand your affordability. It can be helpful to understand the full costs of moving to help avoid any hidden costs down the road. 
  1. Financial strain

Money difficulties can cause tremendous stress. The more stressed you feel, the more difficult you may find it to sort your finances. This pattern can spiral. It’s important to get organised and ask for professional help if you need it. 

How might I feel?

  • Embarrassed
  • Alone
  • Ashamed

How do I relieve the stress of financial strain?

  1. Court proceedings

Being implicated in legal proceedings can bring stress no matter what the cause or whether you are taking legal action against another, or it’s against you. There are substantial financial implications as well as its impact on your reputation, your work, and your relationships.

How might I feel?

  • Financial pressure
  • Lack of control
  • Fear for the future

How can I relieve the stress of court proceedings?

  • Be well informed and keep a level head. Understanding what is happening and why can help to bring a sense of clarity and make it easier to make the best decisions
  • Talk to professionals and have support from loved ones. The Samaritans have a great support system and can help with stress relief in complicated, or challenging times.
  • If you can’t afford legal support, check if you are eligible for grants or legal aid. In some cases, you may be eligible for legal aid. You can check your eligibility and find more information on the government website.
  1. Traumatic event

Trauma comes in many forms and can affect anyone at any time – it will have a stressful impact at the time of the event but sometimes long after too.

Trauma can include being:

  • Attacked
  • Abused
  • Involved in an accident

It can also relate to being a witness to these happening to others.

How might I feel?

  • Confused
  • Anxious
  • Fearful

How can I relieve the stress of a traumatic event?

  • Talk to your GP if necessary. Getting support can help you to reduce the risk of long-term implications for your mental health. Speak to your GP about how you feel.
  • Get in touch with a charity. There are charities that can also help, depending on your circumstance such as PTSD resolution.
  • Take care of your mental health. Mind has a list of useful contacts that can help you depending on your circumstance.
  1. Caring for someone unwell 

Around 8.8 million adults in the UK are carers [5].  Providing a caring role to a loved one will become part of most of our lives at some point, be that long-term or for a short while.

Being a carer can be very rewarding and deepen our connection to the people we are caring for, but still be stressful. You may find that the caring role needs to be for many hours of your day, to the point where you can easily neglect your own needs. 

How might I feel?

  • Frustrated
  • Guilty
  • Overwhelmed
  • Exhausted

Remember that you can’t pour from an empty cup, so you must look after yourself. Looking after yourself will help you with the energy and mental strength you need to look after another. 

How can I relieve the stress of caring for someone unwell?

  • Talk to the Carers Trust. They work to improve support, services, and recognition for unpaid carers in the UK. They have tips for taking care of yourself and getting a break. These resources may help you in relieving some of the stress.
  • Look into financial support. If caring for another is putting a financial strain on you, there are options such as Carer’s allowance and the carer’s element of Universal Credit.
  1. Stress in the workplace 

Work-related stress, depression, and anxiety cause 44% of work-related illnesses and led to 54% of working days lost in 2018/2019 [6].

Reasons you could be stressed at work include:

  • Workload
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Difficulty with relationships

Losing your job, or being at risk of losing your job, also brings about anxious feelings regarding your future. 

How can I relieve stress in the workplace?

  • Talk to your manager. Seek support from your management to create a plan of action to help resolve the issues that could be causing stress.
  • Prioritise tasks and delegate where possible. Doing so can help relieve stress. Splitting tasks down into simpler ones can also make them feel less overwhelming.
  • Ensure you have an adequate work-life balance. Making sure you look after yourself and your family first can help you be in a better mental place for your work life.

Stress saliva test

If you’re unsure whether your cortisol levels could be affecting your wellbeing, our Cortisol Saliva Stress Test can help.

These simple at-home saliva tests can measure your cortisol levels, helping you to understand whether your stress levels are having a negative impact on your health and wellbeing.


  1. The Patients Association. 2021. Long term conditions. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 21 December 2021].
  2. Dont Disappoint Me. 2021. UK Divorce Statistics to Keep You Engaged in 2021. [online] Available at: <,-(ONS)&text=Almost%20half%20of%20these%20breakups,the%20first%20decade%20of%20marriage> [Accessed 21 December 2021].
  3. The Independent. 2021. Planning a wedding can be stressful for Britons, claims study. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 21 December 2021].
  4. the Guardian 2021. Covid has exacerbated soaring personal debt levels in the UK | Mia Gray. [online] Available at: <,loss%20or%20large%20unexpected%20bills> [Accessed 21 December 2021].
  5. 2021. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 21 December 2021].
  6. Work-related stress, anxiety or depression statistics in Great Britain, 2021. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 21 December 2021].

Related tests

Cortisol Saliva Stress Test

Our popular cortisol saliva test helps you understand your stress levels and adrenal function by testing your cortisol levels 4 times over the course of a day

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