What is stress?

Stress is something we’re all familiar with. We face a lot of demands in our daily life. Stress is a response that happens when a situation seems difficult to handle or threatening; a response that will usually end once the situation has ended.

Stress can be upsetting, making us feel anxious and reactive, depending on whether we have perceived the “stressor” (situation) as overly challenging and our resources as inadequate. However, we may also perceive the  situation as a “positive challenge”, a healthy response to stress that is motivating and improves function, such as in a situation like public speaking (what we call eustress).

Chronic stress is a more permanent state of tension and occurs when challenges in life may feel like they’re starting to pile-up, and we feel stressed most of the time. This can make us feel overwhelmed and negatively impact our physical and psychological health. We may feel like we’re struggling to cope with everything that is being asked of us – at work, at home and in our relationships.

Stress can become a threat to our wellbeing if it is long-lasting. Thankfully there are many ways to prevent a build-up of stress, and to respond to situations in life with resilience rather than stress.

Physical Effects of Stress

When we feel stressed, our body shifts gears and goes into “Emergency mode”. We are flushed with hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which prepare us to stay and fight, or get away as soon as possible.

Chronic activation of the stress response and excess stress hormones can wreak havoc on the body. We are at increased risk of health problems, such as weight gain, muscle tension, digestive issues, heart disease and sleep problems.

Psychological Effects of Stress

The “Fight or Flight” stress response can also impact us psychologically. If it stays on too long, it can create feelings of anxiety, depression, reduced memory and concentration, lack of motivation and fatigue.

These changes in mood and functioning can make us feel out of sorts and like we’re not acting like ourselves. We might withdraw from our relationships and people we usually love spending time with, over or under eat, exercise less and generally spend less time doing the things we enjoy doing.

How can I prevent and manage stress?

There are many ways you can manage stress, that are supported by scientific evidence. The important thing is to find one, or a few, that work for you – and to include these into your daily life. This preventative approach means you will be less likely to experience the negative physical and psychological effects of stress, and more ready to cope with stress when it does occur in your life, in more calm, measured and resilient way.

If we are proactive about our physical and psychological health, we will experience more positive emotion and be more likely to have a healthy stress response. Some activities you can think of are:

  • Meditation. Meditation is a wonderful way to calm the mind and to prevent and lower stress. Start small with 5 minutes, and increase time if you feel like it is helping you. There are some great resources, like the “Headspace” app and “Insight Timer” app that will teach and guide you.
  • Relaxation techniques like deep breathing. Deep breathing is a great way to lower stress in the body, calm the mind and reduce tension, and it is a technique we can use anytime. There are some great resources on breathing techniques online and on YouTube.
  • Spending time doing things you love, like reading a book, listening to music and being creative. Factor some time into your day for doing something just for you.
  • Spend time in nature. Spending time in nature can hugely benefit our mental health and make us feel more relaxed. You don’t need to drive anywhere special to reap the benefits, start with a walk in your local park.

Get insight into your own stress levels

We have created a quick and easy online wellbeing measurement that gives you insight into six key drivers of your mental health and wellbeing, stress being one of them. After you complete the measurement, you get immediate access to your own personalised report.

Want to give it a go? Check out the bottom of our measurement page for more information.