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7 Most Common Life Changes that Cause Stress

Everyone experiences stress. It is a normal part of life. In the proper context, a little pressure can actually be quite beneficial! It could motivate you to get your report done on time, get a promotion at work, or push you through the last kilometer of a 5K. Unfortunately, the kind of changes that cause stress most often aren’t as helpful. One of the most talked-about 2020 (and now 2021) stress management tools has been pet ownership. 

Table of Contents

There are three main types of negative stress:

1. Acute stress (the most common)

Acute stress is set off by a significant event – like running late to work, getting in an accident, or more extreme events like a loved one’s death. This type of stress is short-term but not to be glossed over; its impacts can be severe. Symptoms can include tight muscles, increased blood pressure, stomach aches, back and jaw pain, and a rapid heart rate. If severe enough, some events can lead to acute stress disorder or PTSD.

2. Episodic stress 

Episodic stress is similar to acute stress, but it happens more regularly. It is not event-specific and can cause a person to feel an ongoing pressure or the feeling that something is always going wrong. Someone with episodic stress may appear jittery with nervous energy and may always be running late or rushing. Symptoms can include relationship trouble, irritability, and unintendingly lashing out toward others.

3. Chronic stress 

Chronic stress is the type that wears the mind and body down over time. It’s the stress that comes from things like being trapped in an unhealthy relationship, working for a horrible boss, living in poverty, or suffering from a chronic illness. This type of stress lasts well past the initial ‘event’ and wears you away day after day, week after week, year after year. It’s the one that has the potential to cause the most health issues and affect your quality of life due to the fact that the nervous system is being constantly alerted by “fight or flight.” Symptoms can include long-term effects on the heart and a compromised immune system.

All these forms of stress should be managed to keep a healthy balance. But the biggest challenge is what to do when that acute stress hits: the life-change that is often unexpected and can derail us in an instant.

Get Your ESA Today


Due to the new Department of Transportation (DOT) policy, Emotional Support Animals are NO longer allowed to fly in airplane cabins for free. However, Psychiatric Service Dogs are eligible.

So, what is causing all this stress, and can we anticipate it before it occurs? 

Survey Says… 

In the 1960s, a couple of psychiatrists named Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe wanted to find the connection between stressful life events and physical illness. They came up with the Social Readjustment Rating Scale, or the SRRS, which listed 43 life events. After asking nearly 400 people to rate the life events, Holmes and Rahe ended up with a list they could order from most to least stressful. 

Here are their top seven most stressful life changes and a few tips on how to handle the stress they bring. 

7 Most Common Life Changes that Cause Stress

1) Death of a spouse or child.

It’s no surprise this tops the list as the most stressful life event. There is no easy way to recover from this life event, and it will take lots of time to find a new normal. The important thing is to take the time to grieve, get away from work, process with friends and family and embrace the feelings, no matter how ugly. An Emotional Support Animal could be an excellent resource for you as you grieve. Grieving the loss of your dear loved one can really get you down, but having an ESA to cry your ugly cry to, and to take care of every day, could be the thing that pushes you to get out of bed in the morning.

2) Divorce.

It is certainly no walk in the park to let go of the one you’ve given your whole heart to. Not only that, but chances are you’ve lost your friend, financial security, and emotional support as well when you sign those divorce papers. Whether you saw it coming or not, divorce can put anyone through the wringer. 

One of the most important things you can do when going through a divorce is to seek emotional support. That may be in the form of a therapist, a friend, or a family member… but it could also be in the form of an Emotional Support Animal. Research shows that even just making eye contact with a dog or a cat can raise oxytocin levels in our systems. There’s also evidence that interaction with an animal can increase levels of the feel-good hormone dopamine. Having the stability and responsibility of caring for a pet can help ease the stress that accompanies divorce.

3) Marital separation.

Like divorce, but without the same sense of finality, marital separation is third on the list of stressful life changes. As with divorce, it’s essential to have an excellent emotional support network and practice healthy boundaries. 

4) Detainment in jail or prison.

Being put in prison or jail for committing a crime can be extremely stressful. The uncertainty of your future or the exact consequences you may face can easily send anyone into a tailspin. Of all the events on the list, though, this one can be avoided by obeying the law and avoiding any situations that could cause you to get caught up in unlawful activity. 

7 Most Common Life Changes that Cause Stress

5) Death of a close family member.

While death is unavoidable, it is nearly impossible to get through without severe emotional stress. Grieving for the loss of a loved one can take its toll on us. It’s essential to lean on the relationships in your life you know you can count on for that emotional support during those times. Not only that, getting out in nature, taking walks, and staying active have been proven to be excellent ways of keeping those feel-good hormones flowing.

7 Most Common Life Changes that Cause Stress

6) Major injury or physical illnesses.

When we experience a traumatic event that affects our physical health, the ability to carry on as usual disappears. Being suddenly faced with new health challenges can result in over-thinking, google spiraling, and a loss of sleep. Maybe even feeling a fair bit of anger, frustration, hopelessness, and depression. One form of comfort that helps navigate stress and big feelings in uncertainty is interacting with a furry friend. Even hospitals have caught on to the fantastic benefit of animals and are using therapy dogs. The folks over at Mayo Clinic say that “animal-assisted therapy can reduce pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue,” in a wide range of patients facing a myriad of injuries and illnesses, both young and old. Not only that, but they have also found that the family members visiting the patients say they feel better after interacting with the animal too!

7) Marriage.

They say it’s the best day of your life. I’m not sure who “they” are, but clearly, they haven’t considered the stress level of a wedding planner or bride-to-be! Not only can the wedding day be one of the most stressful events of the year, what about after the honeymoon? Learning to live with someone 24/7 brings a whole new perspective to “All You Need is Love.” Because sometimes all you need is for your significant other to pick up the underwear off the floor for the eighty-seventh time. Or for the dishes to make it off the counter and into the actual dishwasher. Marriage can be a significant source of stress for some. While it may just be a short time to adjust to living with your forever-love, that doesn’t mean the stressors just go away once you put a ring on it.

Is an Emotional Support Animal Right for Me?

As you can see, sometimes we can smell a stressful situation from miles away and anticipate how to cope. Other times, not so much. There are many ways to help cope with stress, whether it’s predictable or not, but one thing that seems to be a recurring theme: Emotional Support. 

Having an Emotional Support Animal by your side through all of life’s ups and downs can be a wonderful non-medical treatment for the effects of both chronic stress and acute stress caused by life events. Having the responsibility of caring for a furry friend and the added companionship and judge-free zone a pet brings can reduce the toll that stress takes on our bodies. 

If you think an Emotional Support Animal could help you ease stress symptoms, take our quiz to see if you qualify

ESA or PSA Certification?

The benefits of an Emotional Support Animal certification and a Psychiatric Service Dog certification are drastically different. Fortunately for you, American Service Pets’ network of active board certified doctors can help you find the right path to certification. To find out whether you need an ESA or PSD letter, take our easy, three-step Pet Owner Survey!


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