Having a "bad experience" causes us to later be stressed in that
situation, i.e. pairing a neutral stimulus (situation) with a
painful, scary experience will condition a fear response to the
previously neutral stimulus. (classical conditioning)
Fears and other weaknesses may yield payoffs; the payoffs
(like attention or dependency) cause the fear to grow. (operant
Avoiding frightening situations may reinforce and build fears
and stress. (operant conditioning--negative reinforcement)
Cognitive learning processes
Seeing others afraid and being warned of real or nonexistent
dangers can make us afraid under certain conditions.
(modeling) This can include seeing a movie or TV or reading a
book or perhaps just fantasizing a danger.
Some people have learned to see things negatively; they have
a mental set that causes them to see threats and personal
failure when others do not. Of course, seeing the situation as
negative ("terrible"), unpredictable, uncontrollable, or
ambiguous is stressful.
Many long-lasting personality factors (neuroticism, pessimism,
distrust, lack of flexibility and confidence) are related to stress,
decision-making, and physiological responses.
Having a negative self-concept--expecting to be nervous and a
Irrational ideas about how things "should be" or "must be" can
cause stress when we perceive that life is not unfolding as we
think it should.
Believing that we are helpless, that we can't handle the
situation causes stress.
Drawing faulty conclusions from our observations, such as
scary ideas, like "they don't like me" or "I'm inferior to them,"
or having unreasonable fantasies of awful consequences ("I'll
be mugged") increase our fears and restrict our activities.
Pushing yourself to excel and/or failing to achieve a desired
goal and one's ideal lead to stress.
Assigning fault for bad events, i.e. placing blame on self or on
others, causes stress and anger.
Realizing we may have been wrong but wanting to be right
stresses most of us. Careful, logical decision-makers are usually
calm; people who have learned to be indecisive worriers or
quick impulsive risk-takers are tense.
The ideas of dying, of loosing relationships and things we value,
of having a meaningless life, etc. scare us.
Unconscious urges and processes
Having freedom and the associated responsibility can cause
anxiety and a retreat into submission to authority (see