Explains what stress is, what might cause it and how it can affect you. Includes information about ways you can help yourself and how to get support.
We all know what it's like to feel stressed, but it's not easy to pin down exactly what stress means. When we say things like "this is stressful" or "I'm stressed", we might be talking about:
"It's overwhelming. Sometimes you can't see beyond the thick fog of stress."
There's no medical definition of stress, and health care professionals often disagree over whether stress is the cause of problems or the result of them. This can make it difficult for you to work out what causes your feelings of stress, or how to deal with them. But whatever your personal definition of stress is, it's likely that you can learn to manage your stress better by:
Being under pressure is a normal part of life. It can help you take action, feel more energised and get results. But if you often become overwhelmed by stress, these feelings could start to be a problem for you.
Stress isn't a psychiatric diagnosis, but it's closely linked to your mental health in two important ways:
This can start to feel like a vicious circle, and it might be hard to see where stress ends and your mental health problem begins.
"[When I'm stressed] I feel like I'm on the verge of a breakdown."
You might find that your first clues about being stressed are physical signs, such as tiredness, headaches or an upset stomach.
There could be many reasons for this, as when we feel stressed we often find it hard to sleep or eat well, and poor diet and lack of sleep can both affect our physical health. This in turn can make us feel more stressed emotionally.
Also, when we feel anxious, our bodies release hormones called cortisol and adrenaline. (This is the body's automatic way of preparing to respond to a threat, sometimes called the 'fight, flight or freeze' response). If you're often stressed then you're probably producing high levels of these hormones, which can make you feel physically unwell and could affect your health in the longer term.
This information was published in November 2017.
This page is currently under review. All content was accurate when published.
References and bibliography available on request.
If you want to reproduce this content, see our permissions and licensing page.