What is Stress?

We all talk about stress, but we are not always clear about what it is. Stress comes from both the good and the bad things that happen to us, and it is a normal reaction to the demands in our lives. Stress may feel overwhelming at times, but there are many strategies to help you take control.

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What Causes Stress?

We become “stressed” when we feel the demands in our lives are too difficult for us to handle. For example, you might feel stress before writing a challenging exam at school. When our brains perceive a situation to be threatening, our bodies release a sudden rush of hormones that send us into an automatic “fight, flight or freeze” instinct. This biological event is called the “stress response.”

Hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol, are released to produce the physical reactions of stress. For example, when you perceive an exam as challenging, you identify that exam as a threat. When you feel threatened your body responds in order to protect itself. You may get really frustrated when writing the exam (fight), want to avoid the exam (flight), or begin writing the exam and suddenly forget everything (freeze). All three of these reactions are normal responses activated by the stress response.

The causes and impacts of stress are different for everyone because people respond to their experiences and challenges differently.

Types of Stress

Some stress can be a good for us, and some stress can be bad. Sometimes stress can motivate us to focus on a task or take action to solve a problem. In this situation, stress is manageable and even helpful. Other times, stress can bring us down and damage our concentration and make us feel poorly about ourselves and our abilities.

Positive Stress (eustress)
  • Motivates and engergizes
  • Adds moments of excitement
  • Helps us to accomplish tasks
Negative Stress (distress)
  • Negatively impacts our emotions, physical body and thoughts
  • Our response to negative stress is individual to us
  • The impact of negative stress may differ from situation to situation

Things That Stress Us Out

“Stressors” are the events, situations or people that cause us to feel stress or be stressed out. Here are some things that might cause you stress:

External Stressors

External stressors are the things that happen in life that we may not be able to control or change that stress us out. Some you might experience regularly are:

  • Being embarrassed
  • Bullying
  • Rumors
  • Moving
  • Auditions or tryouts
  • Break ups
  • Fighting with friends
  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • Trouble with teachers
  • Switching schools
  • Exams or tests
  • Grades
  • Graduation
  • Homework
  • Relationships
  • Work

Highly stressful external stressors include:

  • Death of a family member, friend or pet
  • A parent’s divorce
  • Pysical, emotional or sexual abuse
  • Natural disasters
  • Traumatic events
  • Problems with the legal system
  • Physical or mental illness
  • Physical or mental illness of a friend or family member
  • Pregnancy
  • Confusion with sexual identity
Internal Stressors

Internal stressors are the things we do to ourselves, or the choices we make that lead to or increase stress. We may feel we have no control over some of these stressors. Some common examples include:

  • Focusing on problems or situations
  • Procrastination
  • Worrying
  • Pressure to succeed
  • Not making decisions/avoidance
  • Low self-esteem
  • Negative thinking
  • Feeling disorganized

Do you know your stressors? If you are able to identify your own stressors, it’s easier to find ways to handle stress in a healthy way.

How Does Stress Affect Me?

Stress can cause positive and negative responses from us. When we are distressed (feeling negative stress), we may experience some of the following responses:

  • Overwhelmed
  • Nervous
  • Anxious
  • Worried
  • Frustrated
  • Depressed
  • Uncomfortable
  • Freaking out
  • Out of control
  • Angry
  • Trouble breathing
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Stomach aches
  • Dizziness
  • Eating more or less
  • Headaches
  • Acne
  • Aches and pains
  • Tension in muscle
  • Chest pains
  • Susceptibility to physical or mental illness
  • Exaggerating experiences
  • Having too many thoughts to think about
  • Inability to make a decision
  • Overthinking
  • Negative thinking about ourselves, others and experiences
  • Can’t concentrate
  • Blanking out