Major stress can be caused by anything from a natural disaster to rape, from unemployment to wars. This section briefly explains some factors influencing the severity of stress, their effects, and coping mechanisms. Natural disasters – including earthquakes, floods, and fires – produce severe stress. At first in the shock stage, the victim is stunned and apathetic and sometimes amnesic for the stressful event. In the suggestible state, victims are passive and ready to do whatever rescue workers tell them to do. In the recovery stage emotional balance is regained, but anxiety often persists, and the victims recount experiences over and over again. In later stages, survivors may feel guilty because they lived while others died. In extreme cases, severely stressful events can cause a psychological disorder known as post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Unemployment is also a major source of stress. A number of studies revealed that many of the workers who lost their job reported suffering from high blood pressure, heavy smoking, alcoholism, and anxiety. The deterioration or end of a family relationship is one of the stressors and one of the frequent reasons why people seek psychotherapy. If one spouse wants to continue the marriage, and the other initiates the divorce, then the one initiating the divorce may feel guilt at hurting his or her partner. The rejected spouse may feel anger and humiliation. People commonly use defensive mechanisms particularly denial and projection to cope with the impact of divorce or separation.
Following the death of a loved one, people generally experience severe stress which is known as bereavement. In bereavement people commonly experience strong feelings of grief and loss. Normal grief begins with numbness and progresses through months of distress in which anger, apathy, depression may all come together. People may cope with this phase defensively by using denial or displacement.