David Wilkinson

Author and expert on Ambiguity and Emotional Resilience.

The 6 things that cause distress in organisations

The 6 things that cause distress in organisations

Whilst there are many many different situations and occurrences which cause us problems in daily life, research is starting to converge on what are now considered to be the six major causes of anxiety, stress and distress in human beings. 

Not only are each of these factors individual causes for distress but we are now in a position where we can fairly accurately predict whether an individual will suffer distress and therefore succumb to stress, anxiety disorders and other illnesses. 

It is now widely accepted that the 6 major causes of distress in human beings are:

  1. Uncertainty 
  2. Negative emotions / thought patterns
  3. Ambiguity
  4. Frustration
  5. Physical discomfort, and
  6. Perceived consequences of anxiety 

It has been found that the characteristic that turns each of these factors into a potential stressor is the level of tolerance or resilience an individual has for each factor. People with low levels of tolerance for any of the six factors are significantly more likely to develop negative reactions and develop a disorder as a result compared to those with higher levels of tolerance. 
Interestingly research is also finding that developing tolerance to one factor also increases resilience in the other five. One study just published this month found that you can use the tolerance level of just one factor to predict the likelihood an individual has of developing a serious distress related disorder like General Anxiety Disorder.  

Looking at at the six factors of uncertainty, negative emotions / thought patterns, ambiguity, frustration, physical discomfort, and any perceived consequences of anxiety and thinking about the activities and behaviours with organisations, it doesn’t take much of a leap to understand the causes of distress, stress and anxiety in modern work.  

This is where work on dealing with uncertainty, ambiguity and developing emotional resilience / emotion regulation pays such dividends for organisations.


Anka, A. etal (2013) Main and Interactive Effects of Distress Tolerance and Negative Affect Intensity in Relation to PTSD Symptoms among Trauma-Exposed Adults. J Psychopathol Behav Assess. 2013 June; 35(2): 235–243. doi: 10.1007/s10862-012-9325-2

Berenz. E.C. et al (2012) Anxiety Sensitivity and Breath-Holding Duration in Relation to PTSD Symptom Severity among Trauma Exposed Adults. J Anxiety Disord. Jan 2012; 26(1): 134–139. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2011.10.004

MacDonald, E.M. etal (2014) An Examination of Distress Intolerance in Undergraduate Students High in Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Journal of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. Oct 2014 DOI: 10.1080/16506073.2014.964303

Rate this blog entry:
The difference between an emergency and a disaster...
Step-by-step guide to a high performance team

Related Posts


No comments yet