Understanding stress and stressful environments, and some self-help tips and advice in helping you reduce the amount of stress you are experiencing.



Stress is being in a situation that triggers a particular reaction, and when you perceive a threat or a major challenge, stress triggers your fight, flight or freeze response. Stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself though, and it does sometimes helps you survive, but too much constant stress can have severe long-term negative effects on your health, and prolonged stress can be mentally and physically harmful. There are several types of stress, including:

  • Acute stress
  • Episodic acute stress
  • Chronic stress

Acute stress
Acute stress happens to everyone; it’s the body’s immediate reaction to a new and challenging situation. Acute stress is the kind of stress you might feel when you  ride a roller-coaster or parachute from an aeroplane. These incidents of acute stress don’t normally do you any harm, and might even be good for you and can give your body and brain practice in developing the best response to future stressful situations. However, severe acute stress – for example the kind of stress you have when facing a life-threatening or violemt situations - is completely different and can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other mental health problems.
Episodic acute stress
Episodic acute stress is when you have frequent episodes of acute stress. This often happens when you're anxious and worried about things that might (or might not) happen, or go from one crisis to the next. Certain professions, such as security and law enforcement might also lead to frequent high-stress situations. As with severe acute stress, episodic acute stress can affect your physical health and mental well-being.
Chronic stress
Chronic stress is when you have high-stress levels for an extended period of time. This could be in the workplace where unreasonable demands or heavy workloads are placed upon you, or in an unhappy, difficult relation. Long-term stress can have a severe and profound negative impact on your health and can contribute to:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • High blood pressure
  • A weakened immune system
  • Stomach problems

Causes of stress

Some typical causes of acute or chronic stress include:

  • Working in a dangerous profession.
  • Being in an unhappy marriage.
  • Being in debt.
  • Being in an abusive relationship.
  • Going through a divorce.
  • Child custody issues.
  • Being the victim of a crime.
  • Little work-life balance.
  • Working long hours.
  • Having a job you dislike or not comfortable with.
  • Conflict with co-workers.
  • Bullying by co-workers.
  • Having too much asked of you at work.
  • Poverty.
  • Homelessness.
  • Living with chronic illness.
  • Surviving a life-threatening accident or illness.

Symptoms of stress
Symptoms of stress vary from person to person but can include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Chronic pain
  • Insomnia and other sleep problems
  • Stress headaches
  • Lower sex drive
  • Digestive problems
  • Eating disorders
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Fatigue
  • Drinking more than usual
  • Taking drugs
  • Losing temper quickly
  • Ulcer

Firstly, try to realise what is causing you to feel stressed and then put them into three main categories; a) those with an immediate practical solution b) those that will take longer to get better and c) those you can’t do anything about. Once you have identified and categorised what is causing you stress you can then work at changing your lifestyle accordingly in order to lower your stress level for example: prioritising, eliminating, handing things over to other people, changing your mindset and beliefs about things.
Other things that help reduce stress are:

  • Talk to someone about what is causing you to experience stress, and discuss ways at reducing your stress. Another perspective often helps significantly.
  • Eating healthily, there is a growing amount of evidence showing how food affects our mood and how eating healthily can improve this.
  • Exercise - integrate physical exercise into your lifestyle as it can be very effective in relieving stress.
  • Be mindful - mindfulness is a mind-body approach to life that helps us to relate differently to experiences and involves paying attention to our thoughts and feelings in order to better manage difficult and potentially stressful situations.
  • Try to get a good nights sleep, or look at ways of improving your environment so you can get more restful sleep.
  • Try to keep things in perspective. 
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© Robin Barratt