Stress occurs when you are feeling strained or under pressure. Experiencing a certain amount of stress can be a good thing, as it can motivate us to achieve something. A little bit of stress keeps you happy, challenged and productive. Some people thrive on stress and even need it to get things done.

When the word stress is used in a medical context, it refers to a situation that causes discomfort and distress.

People experience stress when they feel like they are unable to cope with the demands of their circumstances. Stress can lead to mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression and physical health problems, such as stroke, heart attack and ulcers. Society is busier than ever, and as more and more demands are placed on us, stress is becoming more prevalent.

Stress can either be caused by events in your external environment, or the way you internally perceive situations. External factors include work, relationships, family and all the situations, challenges, difficulties and expectations you encounter on a daily basis. Internal factors are your ability to respond to and deal with the external factors which are causing the stress. Internal factors which influence your ability to handle stress include your health and fitness, emotional wellbeing and how much sleep and rest you get.

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The causes of stress are many and varied. What is stressful for one person may not be stressful for someone else. For example, most people are stressed out by the thought of public speaking, however some people love it! Never dismiss someone else’s stress or judge them as overreacting because you don’t perceive their situation to be stressful.

Some external causes of stress include:

  • Major life changes
  • Work
  • Relationships
  • Financial difficulties
  • Being too busy
  • Children
  • Family

Some internal causes of stress include:

  • Inability to accept uncertainty
  • Pessimism
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Perfectionism
  • Lack of assertiveness
  • Negative self-talk



Stress can affect people in a wide variety of cognitive, emotional, behavioural, and even physical symptoms, and the symptoms of stress vary enormously among different individuals. Stress can affect people in many ways, including:

Cognitive Signs

  • Forgetfulness
  • Poor concentration
  • Anxious or racing thoughts
  • Constant worrying
  • Indecisiveness
  • Apathy
  • Hopelessness

Emotional Signs

  • Inability to accept uncertainty
  • Pessimism
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Perfectionism
  • Lack of assertiveness
  • Negative self-talk

Behavioural Signs

  • Eating more or less than usual
  • Sleeping longer or less than normal
  • Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
  • Isolating yourself from other people
  • Using alcohol, cigarettes or drugs to relax
  • Nervousness
  • Nail biting

Physical Signs

  • Aches and pains
  • Diarrhoea or constipation
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Colds or flu

The signs of stress are different for each person. None of these signs necessarily means an individual is experiencing high levels of stress, as any of these symptoms can be caused by other medical or psychological conditions.

People who have pre-existing medical conditions may find that their symptoms become worse when they are stressed. When people are experiencing behavioural signs of stress, these signs can actually lead to an increase in the severity of symptoms, which results in a vicious cycle of symptoms and harmful behaviours.



Stress can either have a positive or negative effect on the mind and body. Positive stress that enhances performance is called Eustress. It is also described as being ‘in the flow’. When we have eustress, we are energised, focused and what we are doing feels effortless.

On the other hand, Distress is a negative type of stress that is often caused by our perception of the external environment. It overwhelms us, causing fatigue, exhaustion, poor health and burnout.

Acute Stress

This is the most commonly occurring type of stress. People who have acute stress can be affected by events that have recently occurred to them, upcoming events, or both. A little bit of acute stress is a good thing, whereas too much acute stress has negative consequences, such as psychological distress, headaches, churning stomach and other physical ailments.

Everyone is subject to acute stress at some time in their life. It is relatively easy to manage this type of stress. Some examples of acute stress are meeting a deadline, having a minor car accident, extreme sports or a child misbehaving. Acute stress is short term, so it doesn’t have enough time to do the severe harm associated with long-term stress.

Episodic Acute Stress

Episodic Acute Stress occurs when someone experiences Acute Stress so often that they are permanently in chaos. People who have Episodic Acute Stress take on more than they can handle and feel like they are under pressure most of the time. They create so many demands for themselves that they are unable to get organised.

People who have Episodic Acute Stress usually have a short temper, lots of nervous energy and they are anxious. They are always in a hurry, yet they are always running late. Sometimes their abruptness can come across as being hostile.

Episodic Acute Stress sufferers may also be inclined to worry endlessly. They constantly worry about anything and everything and they always foresee disaster, accidents and illness. Their outlook on life is so negative that they believe something terrible is always about to happen, which causes them to become anxious and depressed.

The symptoms of episodic acute stress are tension headaches, migraines, hypertension, chest pain and heart disease. Individuals are also likely to blame their troubles on other people or situations. They believe they are victims of their circumstances, and therefore they are very resistant to treatment.

Chronic Stress

Chronic Stress occurs when someone is experiencing ongoing demands and pressures for long periods of time and they cannot see how their situation will ever improve. Chronic Stress has a detrimental effect on the mind, body and every aspect of the sufferer’s life. Individuals who have Chronic Stress lose hope and stop looking for solutions.

Factors that can cause Chronic Stress include poverty, war, long-term unemployment or an abusive relationship. Chronic Stress can also be caused by early childhood experiences that remain painful to adults. These experiences affect the individual’s beliefs about themselves, others and the world. Working on changing these negative beliefs to more positive ones requires active self-examination professional help.

Chronic stress can lead to suicide, violence, heart attack and stroke. Because people who have Chronic Stress are physically and mentally worn down over a long period of time, treating it may require extended medical and behavioural treatment and stress management.



If you are feeling stressed, doing the following will help you reduce your stress levels:

Sleep – Being tired makes stressful situations seem even more stressful and reduces your ability to cope with the stress.

Nutritional Food – Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and avoid sweet, fatty and processed food.

Support Network – Speak to a family member, friend or professional about your stress.

Exercise – Reduces stress response and releases endorphins. Exercise is also an excellent treatment for depression.

Relaxation Exercises – Mediation, deep breathing and visualisation calms the mind and body.

Get Musical – Listening to music or playing a musical instrument has a calming effect.

Get Into Nature – Go to the beach, the bush or spend time with pets.

Change Your Attitude – A predominantly negative outlook on life adds to the feeling of stress. Adopt a positive attitude to life, embrace challenges and accept change.

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