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What is stress

Effectively coping with stress, managing stress and finding ways to reduce unnecessary or unhealthy levels of stress are important life skills - skills that everybody needs.

Negative stress, tension and anxiety are extremely common problems in modern life - most people will suffer from potentially dangerous or debilitating symptoms of stress and stress related issues at some point in their lives.

You may encounter stress from a number of sources including:
  • Personal Stress: which may be caused by the nature of your work, changes in your life or personal problems.
  • Stress in family or friends: which in turn may affect you.
  • Stress in your colleagues: which also may affect you.

Stress can be described as the distress that is caused as a result of demands placed on physical or mental energy. 


Stress can arise as the result of factors including:

Anxiety is caused when life events are felt to be threatening to individual physical, social or mental well-being.  The amount of anxiety experienced by an individual depends on:
  • How threatening these life events are perceived to be.
  • Individual coping strategies.
  • How many stressful events occur in a short period of time.


Tension is a natural reaction to anxiety.  It is part of a primitive survival instinct where physiological changes prepare the individual for ‘fight or flight’.  This sympathetic response, as it is known, results in a chemical Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) being released in the body and causes muscles to tense ready for action. 

Blood vessels near the skin constrict, to slow bleeding if injury is sustained, and to increase the blood supply to the muscles, heart, lungs and brain.  Digestion is inhibited, the bladder relaxes, the heart rate and breathing speed increase, the body sweats more.  The person affected becomes more alert, their eyes dilate and a surge of adrenaline gives rise to an increase in energy.

These responses are extremely useful in situations of physical danger but, unlike for primitive humans, many of the anxieties of modern life are not ones that can be solved by a ‘fight or flight’ reaction or by any physical response.

Modern day stressful situations tend to continue for much longer periods of time and an immediate response does not relieve the anxiety-provoking situation. Therefore, prolonged states of anxiety can lead to symptoms of stress which prevent the individual from returning to his or her normal, relaxed state. Prolonged stress can therefore be detrimental to health and wellbeing.

Stress-Inducing Events and Situations

Different people find different events and situations more or less stressful than others, individuals have a range of events or situations that are particularly stressful to them, most people would agree that major events such as losing a job, divorce or money problems would be stressful for anyone.

Many of the most stressful situations in live come as a result of unplanned changes in personal circumstance.


 In addition to stress being caused by events, certain situations can lead to people feeling stressed; although as mentioned before the degree of stress will depend, amongst other things, on that individual’s coping strategies. The environment can make us stressed: for example, noise, crowds, poor lighting, pollution or other external factors over which we have no control can cause us to feel anxious and irritable.


Adjusting to modern-day life can also be a source of stress. We now communicate with people in many different ways, e.g. through the Internet, mobile phones, and various broadcast media, and the expectation of a quick response has increased. 

We also have many more commodities available to us and some people feel an expectation to maintain a certain lifestyle and level of consumerism.  In addition, for many women it is now the norm to manage a full or part-time job and to be the primary carer nurturing a family. All of these changes mean that stress is now unfortunately commonplace in both our personal and professional lives. 

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