What exactly is stress?
Feeling stressed is a feeling that we all experience from time to time and know what it feels like, for the most part. However, it’s difficult to define exactly what it means. When we describe something as being stressful, we may be referring to:
Situations or events that put pressure on us
For example, where there is a lot to do and think about constantly, or where we don’t have control over the outcome of the situation.
Our reaction to being placed under pressure
The feelings we get when we have demands placed on us that we find difficult to cope with.
Stress is closely linked to your mental health
All of us will feel under pressure from time to time - it is a normal part of life. It can be useful in some situations, by motivating you to take action, feel energised and achieve the results you desire. However, if you find yourself becoming overwhelmed by stress quite often, these feelings could start to become problematic.
Stress, in and of itself, is not a psychiatric diagnosis, but it links to your mental health in a couple of significant ways:
Mental health conditions can cause stress
Coping with the day-to-day symptoms of a mental health condition can be very stressful, as well as the need to constantly think about managing medications, health care appointments or treatments.
Symptoms of stress
There are a number of symptoms associated with stress. It can be difficult to determine when stress is the cause of your changes in physical or mental health.
Stress can affect you physically, mentally and also alter the way you behave:
- headaches or dizziness
- muscle tension or pain
- stomach problems
- chest pain or a faster heartbeat
- sexual problems
- difficulty concentrating
- struggling to make decisions
- feeling overwhelmed
- constantly worrying
- being forgetful
- being irritable and snappy
- sleeping too much or too little
- eating too much or too little
- avoiding certain places or people
- drinking or smoking more
Causes of stress
Stress is typically a natural reaction to mental or emotional pressure, particularly in situations where you feel like you have little or no control over something. On the other hand, it’s possible to feel stressed without any obvious cause.
Hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released when you feel stressed. This can be beneficial in some circumstances as they can make you feel more motivated and help you take action to get things done.
However, it can also cause physical symptoms (listed above).
Examples of situations that can cause stress include:
Other significant life events such as buying a house, having a baby or planning a baby can lead to elevated levels of stress (NHS, 2019).
Mind, 2017. How to manage stress. [online] mind.org.uk. Available at:
NHS, 2019. Stress. [online] nhs.uk. Available at: