4 Common Stressors That Hide In Plain Sight

If you're like most folks, you can probably pinpoint the most prominent stressors in your life. This likely involves some combination of work, finances and family—just to name a few. There's also the generous sprinkling of daily stressors, like traffic jams or losing your keys.

But some sources of stress go unnoticed. These hidden stressors lurk in the background, secretly fueling the fire behind your mental strain. They can even hinder your efforts to manage other stressful triggers, adding to the stubbornness of an inextinguishable flame.

"Even though [these stressors] might seem small, they can play big role in negatively impacting your health," says Meridith Alexander, a motivational speaker, mindset expert and author based in Florida. So, let yourself pause and take a moment to notice the not-so-obvious sources of stress. By identifying and acknowledging these secret stressors, you can make moves to minimize their effect.

1. Addiction to smart electronic devices.

While electronics can add value to our daily lives, they can also cause unnecessary stress. For example, while smartphone notifications are brief, their attentional cost is associated with reduced task performance. These mini distractions can make it difficult to focus on work or school, which, by extension, contributes to stress and anxiety.

The content on smart devices could spark stress, too. "A disruptive text, an emotionally charged article or a controversial post can quickly make you lose positive momentum," shares Alexander. Or, you might feel obligated to check your work email long after you've clocked out.

If you suspect technology is behind your stress, find ways to live beyond the glowing screen. Turn off your notifications, use "airplane mode" more often, give your phone a "bedtime" and focus on activities that don't require electronics.

2. Undiagnosed health issues.

It's easy to ignore undiagnosed symptoms, from heart palpitations to recurring aches. Overlooking them, however, will simply feed your underlying stress in the long run. Plus, when you downplay your symptoms to other people, you're forced to keep up with the lie and hide your discomfort. This adds even more stress, says Dr. Holly Sawyer, Ph.D., M.S., L.P.C., N.C.C., a licensed therapist in Philadelphia.

But remember, an early diagnosis could make all the difference. Sawyer compares it to driving a car with the "check engine" light on. "Once you get it checked out, you're knowledgeable on exactly what your car needs. The body is the same way," she notes.

3. Lack of meaningful relationships.

In today's fast-paced society, it's common to fly through life without nurturing social relationships. But without enough quality connections, you're more likely to feel socially isolated. This could lead to prolonged stress, along with physical effects like high blood pressure and inflammation.

Besides, humans are social creatures. Social relationships offer support and emotional safety, which are essential for coping with daily stressors. 

To cultivate more quality relationships, be mindful of your smartphone habits, as mentioned earlier. Enlist a "no phone" rule when spending time with loved ones. "Try doing more interactive things with others," adds Alexander. For instance, instead of vegging out in front of the TV, play a board game or go on a hike.

4. Cluttered home or desk.

According to Dr. Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in California, some folks find comfort in clutter. But if you're in tune with your visual environment, a cluttered space might be causing unnecessary stress. In fact, a 2017 study found that older adults with more clutter experienced less satisfaction with life. A 2019 study also determined a cyclic relationship between stress and clutter in the workplace. 

When you're surrounded by clutter, not only is it harder to find things, but it's also common to feel suffocated by the lack of space. Start by getting rid of the excess. From there, Manly suggests briefly tidying up every day to help manage stress. "Simply carve out 10 to 15 minutes each evening or morning," she recommends. That's all it takes.

Amid work deadlines and family obligations, hidden stressors often hide and slip through the cracks. But by taking time to look into those subtle spaces, you can discover small yet impactful ways to better handle stress.