What is Stress? Symptoms, Causes and Reliever

Take a moment to clear your head and focus on making your life a little easier.

Everyone feels overwhelmed and stressed from time to time, but if you’re not careful, even small stressors can end up damaging your health. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), stress affects both your mind and your body and can lead to illnesses such as depression, headaches, stomach disorders, heart disease, and stroke.

While stress is a natural part of being human, many common stressors are not worth our physical and mental energy. Below, you can find information about What is Stress, Symptoms of Stress, Causes of Stress and Stress relievers.

What is Stress:

The term “stress”, as it is currently used was coined by Hans Selye in 1936, who defined it as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change”.

Selye was able to separate the physical effects of stress from other physical symptoms suffered by patients through his research. He observed that patients suffered physical effects not caused directly by their disease or by their medical condition.

Selye described the general adaptation syndrome as having three stages:

  • alarm reaction, where the body detects the external stimulus
  • adaptation, where the body engages defensive countermeasures against the stressor
  • exhaustion, where the body begins to run out of defenses

Stress includes distress, the result of negative events, and eustress, the result of positive events. Despite the type, stress is addictive.

Stress is primarily a physical response. When stressed, the body thinks it is under attack and switches to ‘fight or flight’ mode, releasing a complex mix of hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine to prepare the body for physical action. This causes a number of reactions, from blood being diverted to muscles to shutting down unnecessary bodily functions such as digestion. It enables us to focus our attention so we can quickly respond to the situation.

Stress within your comfort zone can help you perform under pressure, motivate you to do your best, even keep you safe when danger looms. But when stress becomes overwhelming, it can damage your mood and relationships, and lead to a host of serious mental and physical health problems. The trouble is that modern life is so full of frustrations, deadlines, and demands that many of us don’t even realize how stressed we are. By recognizing the symptoms and causes of stress, you can take the first steps to reducing its harmful effects and improving your quality of life.

Symptoms of Stress:

Stress can affect all aspects of your life, including your emotions, behaviors, thinking ability, and physical health. No part of the body is immune. But, because people handle stress differently, symptoms of stress can vary.

Emotional symptoms of stress

  • Becoming easily agitated, frustrated, and moody.
  • Feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control or need to take control.
  • Having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind.
  • Feeling bad about yourself (low self-esteem), lonely, worthless, and depressed.
  • Avoiding others.

Physical symptoms of stress

  • Low energy
  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation, and nausea
  • Aches, pains, and tense muscles
  • Chest pain and rapid heartbeat
  • Insomnia
  • Frequent colds and infections
  • Loss of sexual desire and/or ability
  • Nervousness and shaking, ringing in the ear, cold or sweaty hands and feet
  • Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing
  • Clenched jaw and grinding teeth

Cognitive symptoms of stress

  • Constant worrying
  • Racing thoughts
  • Forgetfulness and disorganization
  • Inability to focus
  • Poor judgment
  • Being pessimistic or seeing only the negative side

Behavioral symptoms of stress

  • Changes in appetite — either not eating or eating too much
  • Procrastinating and avoiding responsibilities
  • Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes
  • Exhibiting more nervous behaviors, such as nail biting, fidgeting, and pacing

Causes of Stress

Work stress tops the list, according to surveys. Forty percent of U.S. workers admit to experiencing office stress, and one-quarter say work is the biggest source of stress in their lives.

Causes of work stress

  • Being unhappy in your job
  • Having a heavy workload or too much responsibility
  • Working long hours
  • Having poor management, unclear expectations of your work, or no say in the decision-making process
  • Working under dangerous conditions
  • Being insecure about your chance for advancement or risk of termination
  • Having to give speeches in front of colleagues
  • Facing discrimination or harassment at work, especially if your company isn’t supportive

Causes of Life stresses

Life stresses can also have a big impact. Examples of life stresses are:

  • The death of a loved one
  • Divorce
  • Loss of a job
  • Increase in financial obligations
  • Getting married
  • Moving to a new home
  • Chronic illness or injury
  • Emotional problems (depression, anxiety, anger, grief, guilt, low self-esteem)
  • Taking care of an elderly or sick family member
  • Traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, theft, rape, or violence against you or a loved one

Sometimes the stress comes from inside, rather than outside. You can stress yourself out just by worrying about things.

Stress Reliever:

Stress getting to you? Try some of these tips for stress relief.

  • Use Journaling: Writing down your thoughts and feelings can be a good release for otherwise pent-up emotions. Don’t think about what to write — just let it happen. Write whatever comes to mind. No one else needs to read it, so don’t strive for perfection in grammar or spelling. Just let your thoughts flow on paper — or computer screen. Once you’re done, you can toss out what you wrote or save it to reflect on later.
  • Get into Meditation
    Meditation brings short-term stress relief as well as lasting stress management benefits. There are many different forms of meditation to try – each one is unique and brings its own appeal. Body Scan meditation, loving-kindness meditation, guided imagery, visualization and other forms of meditation can be practiced anywhere at any time, whether you’re out for a walk, riding the bus to work or waiting at the doctor’s office.
  • Use Breathing
    Breathing exercises provide convenient and simple stress relief in that they can be used anytime, anywhere, and they work quickly.
  • Play Games
    Enjoying a good game with a group of friends, or playing something relaxing online can take your mind off of your stressors, and can lead to a more relaxed state. Games are stress relievers that work well because people enjoy them enough to use them regularly.
  • Sex
    Within a healthy relationship, sex can be a fantastic stress reliever as it incorporates several other stress relief ingredients – breathing, touch, social connection, and a few others – and brings a rush of endorphins and other beneficial chemicals with orgasm. It’s another one of the more “fun” stress relievers that can also be quite effective.
  • Get More Laughter in Your Life
    A good sense of humor can’t cure all ailments, but it can help you feel better, even if you have to force a fake laugh through your grumpiness. When you laugh, it not only lightens your mental load but also causes positive physical changes in your body. Laughter fires up and then cools down your stress response. So read some jokes, tell some jokes, watch a comedy or hang out with your funny friends.
  • Use Music Therapy
    Music can alter your physiology in ways that help you to relieve stress. It’s an enjoyable, passive route to stress relief. Formal music therapy sessions can help with a variety of stress-related issues.
  • Take a Walk
    Physical activity can pump up your feel-good endorphins and other natural neural chemicals that enhance your sense of well-being. Exercise can also refocus your mind on your body’s movements, which can improve your mood and help the day’s irritations fade away. Consider walking, jogging, gardening, housecleaning, biking, swimming, weightlifting or anything else that gets you active.
  • Practice Time Management
    Honing your time management skills can allow you to minimize the stressors that you experience, and better manage the ones you can’t avoid. When you are able to complete everything on your “to do” list without the stress of rushing or forgetting, your whole life feels easier.
  • Eat a Balanced Diet
    A poor diet can bring greater reactivity toward stress. A healthy diet can bring greater physical and emotional wellness. Find some simple go-to meals and snacks, and feel less stressed in your daily life.
  • Learn Assertive Communication Skills
    Relationships can be great stress relievers. Knowing how to keep your relationships healthy through effective communication is one of the best investments of time and energy for stress relief.
  • Don’t Procrastinate
    Putting off a stressful or labor-intensive project can only increase the stress you experience. Learn how to stop procrastination can allow you to get done what you need to do, without the added stress of rushing for a deadline.
  • Drink Green Tea
    Sitting with a glass of green tea and planning for the day ahead, or reflecting on the day behind (remember: decaf at night!) can provide you with a nice break and a taste of peace. You’ll experience the health benefits of green tea as well.
  • Draw a Picture
    Enjoying your creativity can be a wonderful way to relieve stress, and it’s not just an activity for artists. It’s been proven that drawing and coloring can effectively relieve stress, so pick up a pencil and doodle.

6 thoughts on “What is Stress? Symptoms, Causes and Reliever”

  1. Love this! I have been feeling very overwhelmed and the stress has been starting to get to me. I do a lot of things to help manage it, but it’s hard sometimes. I love my job, but I’m at a quarter period right now so I have A LOT of things due at once, and it’s hard to get things done because I have at least One 2 hour long meeting every other day pretty well! Luckily, I am almost finished and everything will be completed and submitted by the end of next week, and then i can breathe again, and maybe indulge in a glass of celebratory wine!! 🙂

  2. I love this too. I actually suffered from Clinical Depression for several years, after leaving a job that caused that Depression. I suffered greatly emotionally, mentally and eventually, physically. The job was a high level of intensity – far beyond what anyone can imagine – and what I had to do was not only taxing of me mentally, straining on me emotionally, but there was far too much of it to do even in a 12-hour workday, and there was far too long a week and not enough rest and recuperation time (a 6-day workweek). It was the most fascinating, rewarding and horrible job ever made on the planet. Yes, I am giving it the award.

    And I am so glad that I had that experience. I wish it hadn’t come with the still-clenched jaw I am constantly relaxing, or the Clinical Depression that I have worked first to recognize, and second to recover from… but those are what it came with. After all, I’m the little girl who was stronger than everyone else all my life. There was so much positive reinforcement from so many directions for how strong I am, that I didn’t see the workload, or the lack of training, or the constant condescension from my boss as things I couldn’t handle.

    Now I know I don’t have to handle any of that. My “No” is fully empowered. I am aware of my boundaries, and what I will put up with and what I simply don’t have to put up with… at all. I’m aware of all that and more, and I’m on the road to being healthy again. My fear of being in a job again is still ever-present, and… I don’t think that’s a bad thing. After all, I was a freelancer for most of my life. I already had a fear of being in a 9-5 life. Ha!

  3. I’m able to turn stress into problem solving energy, a lot of the time. But there are still moments, sometimes lasting, where I forget all that I try to do to quell the anxiety!

  4. I always find it funny that my body reacts physically to conceptual threats. There is no physical danger in verbal insults, yet the inevitable stress, that familiar flight-flight response, that annoying rising anger to punch the other person.

    No, no, no, give me brain power to out-insult the other guy, not muscle-power!

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