What is Stress?


Stress can be defined as the way a person feels when they are under too much pressure. However, a moderate amount of pressure can be positive, making us more alert, motivating us, and enhancing our performance. In fact, a stress free life would be too dull and boring for most of us. However, too much pressure, or prolonged pressure, can lead to chronic, cumulative stress and this can cause illness of both physical and emotional natures.
All sorts of situations can cause stress. The most common include the workplace, money problems and family relationships. Stress may be caused either by major upheavals and life events such as separation or divorce, redundancy or unemployment, illness and bereavement, or by a series of seemingly minor irritations such as feeling undervalued or overworked by your employer. Occasionally there are no obvious causes of stress.
Stress has a major impact on industry and the 2005/06 survey of Self-reported Work-related Illness (SWI05/06) prevalence estimate indicated that around 420, 000 individuals in Britain believed in 2005/06 that they were experiencing work-related stress at a level that was making them ill. The Psychosocial Working Conditions (PWC) surveys indicated that around 1 in 6 of all working individuals thought their job was very or extremely stressful.

When stressed, the body produces more: –

  • Adrenaline and noradrenaline that leads to a raising of the blood pressure, an increase in heart rate and increased perspiration. These two hormones also reduce blood flow to your skin and reduce stomach activity.
  • Cortisol, that causes fats and sugars to be released into your system. It also reduces the efficiency of the immune system. These are the the so-called ‘fight or flight’ chemicals, which prepare the body for an emergency, making it easier to take flight, a basic instinct when faced with peril.

However, the ‘fight or flight’ reaction may have saved the lives of our distant ancestors but in the environment that we now live in the over- production of these two hormones is life-depleting rather than life saving. In a situation where, for example, you are stuck in a traffic -jam while you should be at an important meeting, your body can react to this stress and produce these hormones. But the situation is compounded by the fact that there is nothing to fight or run away from…………..the body cannot make use of these chemicals and over time they, and the changes they produce, can damage your physical and mental health.

Stress may cause a person to experience a variety of feelings, including anger, frustration, anxiety, fear, and depression. This can then lead to further, physical, symptoms that can exacerbate the problem.

Severe anxiety can cause heart palpitations, dizziness, headaches, and stomach disorders. These, in turn, can leave the sufferer feeling so unwell that they then worry that they have a serious physical condition (such as heart disease, a brain tumour, or cancer) causing escalation in their stress level.

stressed out

Stress can induce a change in behavioural patterns such as: – 

  • Becoming withdrawn or reclusive.
  • Becoming irritable and short tempered.
  • Becoming aggressive.
  • Becoming inflexible.
  • Becoming indecisive.
  • Changes to sleep patterns (ie. Sleeping during the day and unable to sleep at night).

Prolonged stress can contribute to a variety of other mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Stress may also contribute to physical health problems such as: –

  • Stomach and duodenal ulcers.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Ulcerative colitis.
  • Asthma.
  • Over-activity of the thyroid.

Who Is Affected by Stress?

Both sexes and, unfortunately with the pace and pressures of modern life, from childhood onwards.
The big question is…….”Am I suffering from stress?” As a simple guide to your own stress levels, try filling out our online Stress Evaluation Form. The more “yes” answers, the higher the level of stress.

What Are the Symptoms of Stress?

  • Headaches.
  • Chest pain.
  • Palpitations.
  • Hyperventilation.
  • Panic attacks.
  • Constant fatigue.
  • Constipation, diarrhoea, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
  • Muscle cramps or spasms.
  • Dizziness.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Indigestion.
  • Nausea.
  • Frequent crying.
  • Nervous twitches or tics.
  • Irritability.
  • Restlessness.
  • Insomnia.
  • Excessive sweating.

Stressors encountered in the workplace

  • Workplace demands that include work patterns, workload and the work environment.
  • Workplace support.  This includes mentoring, encouragement and resources that are provided by the employer, management and colleagues.
  • Control.  This includes how much input you have regarding your work role and the way that your role is carried out.
  • Your Role. Understanding your role within the organisation.
  • Relationships. This includes avoidance of conflict, separatism and unacceptable behaviour.
  • Change. Including how organisational change is managed and communicated.

Stressors encountered at home

  • Marriage, divorce or separation.
  • Death of a partner, family member or close friend.
  • Financial worries.
  • Moving home.
  • Serious illness of yourself, a family member or close friend.
  • Parenting issues or family tensions