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Top 20 Life-Stressors That Can Trigger Anxiety And Sadness

People go to therapy for a variety of reasons—quite often they have a vague sense “that something isn’t right,” or feelings of sadness or depression. They might be worried that they or someone they care about might have a mental illness, or they’re having problems with significant others.

Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend who was stressed out about doing his taxes. He joked, “Hey, is there therapy for tax-related stress?”

Sometimes the answer is yes.

Those who’ve been reading Therapy Soup know that I believe in the value of psychotherapy, but that I also strongly believe that therapy isn’t always suitable for every person or every situation. However,  sometimes even relatively minor stressors, such as doing your taxes, can trigger significant symptoms. Anxiety, fear, panic, insomnia, mental confusion, hysteria, depression that doesn’t seem to lift, and more can be triggered by major (and in some cases, minor) stressful events.

In many cases, relaxation methods help—breath work, exercise, meditation, prayer, making time for family leisure activities, music, art, and so on.

If you find that during stressful times you seem to struggle with persistent symptoms more than you feel is acceptable and that cannot be relieved by usual relaxation methods, therapy might help.  Sure, your belief system, personality, mental and physical health, and other factors determine how you respond to life stressors, but sometimes the sheer magnitude of stressful conditions or times where these situations seem to pile on top of each other, can be overwhelming.

Whether or not you might benefit from therapy is a personal decision that no one can make for you. Brief therapy or, if necessary, longer-term therapy with a highly focused treatment plan, can help you deal with stressful events and the emotions they trigger.

Below, I list twenty life stressors that can trigger emotional symptoms. It’s also helpful to note that in some cases, if you are having some minor symptoms that you haven’t had before, by recognizing that, “Hey, I’m dealing with a major life stressor right now,” that recognition might even alleviate some anxiety and you might find your symptoms lessen on their own.:

Death of a family member

Terminal illness (one’s own or a family member)

Physical incapacitation, chronic pain, or chronic illness

Drug or alcohol abuse (self)

Drug or alcohol abuse (family member, partner)



Loss of job or job change

Moving house

Change of school (primarily for children or teens, but this can effect adults, too)

Primary relationship problems (spouse or parent/child/sibling)

Persistent Relationship Problems, non-primary (difficulties with other family members, conflict and loss of friends, difficulties with coworkers)

Academic problems (poor grades, inability to retain information, problems with teachers, unable to meet deadlines)

Occupational problems (lateness, absences, problems with boss or coworkers)

Victim of abuse

Victim of crime

Criminal actions towards others

Abusive actions towards self or others

Extreme loneliness/lack of community membership or friendships

Severe financial problems (including tax problems!)


Top 20 Life-Stressors That Can Trigger Anxiety And Sadness

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2012). Top 20 Life-Stressors That Can Trigger Anxiety And Sadness. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2020, from


Last updated: 15 Mar 2012
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