Stress – What is it and where does it come from?

April 2018 is Stress Awareness Month.


What is Stress?

A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances. The Oxford Dictionary

When can stress be harmful?

People often experience stress when struggling to meet demands placed on them. When we are overwhelmed by stress it can be damaging.

Can stress be good?

Stress within our limits can help us to be motivated, perform under pressure and react to danger. So, we can assume that a challenging but realistic deadline could be one example of a manageable stress in terms of achieving something.

The key word here is ‘manageable’ and experts warn us that we all have different tolerance levels. A stress factor that might not seem too daunting to one person, might put another person way outside of their comfort zone.


Sources of Stress

Sources of stress can be external, or internal, and categorised as: environmental, interpersonal, physiological, and intrapersonal.

Environmental causes of stress include: bereavement and other types of loss and changes such as the birth of a baby, family commitments, work pressures, and media. Interpersonal causes of stress are to do with relationships, both personal and professional, and conflicts within them. Physiological sources of stress result from our physical health,including our diet, illness and amount or lack of sleep. As Interpersonal stress is caused by our external relationships, intrapersonal stress is related to our internal relationships, such as being overly self-critical, repetitive negative thought patterns, and having a generally pessimistic outlook.

There might be one big thing causing you stress, but stress can also be caused by a build-up of small challenges.  Collard, P., (2013)

This is an interesting point, as it might seem more obvious to check whether or not a person is coping with one big life event, than it is to realise that a friend or colleague is slowly becoming overwhelmed by a series of smaller events occurring, within a period of time.

What can I do if I or someone I care about is feeling overwhelmed?

Tip 1) If you or someone you care about is feeling overwhelmed, take a step back, observe where you think the stress is coming from. Is it external or internal pressures that are impacting on wellbeing? Are you eating well and getting the right amount of sleep? How much pressure are you putting on yourself and are your expectations realistic?

Tip 2) Life can hand us some tricky things to deal with at times, and we often adapt and ‘get on with it’. But if there has been a major life change, or several smaller changes to deal with in a short space of time, check out with yourself or loved one as to how well you / they are coping. Talking to someone or asking for support can help.

The next article will focus on signs and symptoms of stress and healthy ways of coping when things get tough.

Collard., Patrizia, (2013), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Dummies, [ebook] Chichester: John Wiley & Sons Ltd

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