A Guide to What Stress Is

We all suffer from stress from time to time and 2020 has certainly been one of the most stressful years in living memory for many people around the world. If you are suffering from stress, then it may help as a first step for you to understand exactly what stress is. Read on to find out.

Understanding What Stress Is

If you have been googling definitions of stress, then you may already know that you get slightly different variations depending on the source you look at. Here are a few definitions we found:

  • Stress is a feeling of physical or emotional tension
  • Stress is a physical, mental or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension
  • Stress is the body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response
  • Stress is our body’s response to pressures from a situation or event
  • Stress is the body’s natural defense against predators and danger

We’re not going to get obsessed about having a perfect definition for stress, but as you can see from the examples above there are some basic fundamentals that apply:

  • Stress is a reaction from the body
  • The body is reacting because it needs to respond to new circumstance
  • The reaction can be physical, emotional or mental

Positive Stress vs Negative Stress

What you may not know is that stress is not always bad. You experience short bursts of stress all the time when your body is trying to keep you alert to avoiding danger or keep you motivated and provide a performance boost.

Positive stress that is meant to help is sometimes referred to as ‘eustress’ and if it’s only short-term then it’s also ‘acute stress’. Examples of this could be the feeling you get when you:

  • Slam the brakes on to avoid an accident
  • Start a new job
  • Ride a roller-coaster
  • Are getting over rejection
  • Learning a new routine

The more common perception of stress is that it a negative state and unfortunately this is indeed often the case. This is where the terms ‘distress’ comes from. Negative stress that last for a long time (chronic stress) can cause serious health issues, both physical and psychological.

Examples of external situations that commonly lead to prolonged negative stress include:

  • Financial problems
  • Problems at work or the loss of a job
  • Relationship problems
  • The death of a loved one
  • Poor health

Internal situations can lead to stress too. This is where your own thoughts, feelings or behaviors lead to your body responding in a negative way. Examples of internally caused stress could be:

  • Worrying about the future or the unknown
  • Having unrealistic expectations of situations
  • Fears such as a fear of heights, fear of spiders, claustrophobia, or social anxiety disorder
  • Worrying about being late
  • Procrastination
  • Feeling overwhelmed or over-scheduled

Signs of Negative Stress

Since your body is consciously reacting to stress, there will be some very noticeable signs that you are feeling stressed out. It’s not always obvious that stress is the cause so you should stay vigilant. Here are some common physical and emotional signs and consequences of stress:

  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Sexual problems
  • Tiredness and lack of energy
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Problems sleeping
  • Chest pains
  • Stomach problems
  • General aches and pains
  • Feelings of sadness or anxiousness
  • Feelings of loneliness
  • Irritability
  • Anger

Risks of Stress

We all suffer from stress periodically and this is unavoidable, but also usually nothing to worry about. That being said, long-term stress can have serious health implications and so it’s important to recognize when stress is causing you to feel or act out of character for a prolonged period of time, so that you can do something about it asap.

A major risk with long-term negative stress is that it can lead people to turn to dangerous habits or substances for temporary relief. This includes things like:

  • Alcohol
  • Drugs
  • Gambling
  • Sex addiction
  • Food addiction
  • Excessive spending or shopping addiction.

These things may offer temporary relief, but they are counter-productive and destructive over the long-term. In fact, habits like these will only prolong the stressed state that your body and mind are in. Don’t ever let yourself get trapped in this type of vicious circle.

Chrionic stress that is left unchecked can also lead to serious conditions such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Impotence
  • Permanent hair loss
  • GERD and other gastrointestinal problems

In fact, excessive stress is linked to some leading causes of death, including:

  • Cancer
  • Heart attacks
  • Heart disease
  • Suicide
  • Cirrhosis of the Liver


We all suffer from stress and it will inevitably come and go throughout our lives, but it is important for you to be aware that it can have serious consequences if it is not dealt with and left to build over long periods of time.

Reducing stress is not a simple task, especially if you are going through difficult circumstances caused by something out of your control. Nevertheless, you need to get yourself the help and support you need. This may be possible through friends and family, but professional help should be considered and used as soon as you recognize that it is needed.

You can also go on the counter offensive by trying out proven techniques to manage and reduce stress.

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