Stress is an uncomfortable, but common experience we can all relate to. Everyone feels stressed from time-to-time, whether we’re facing big life decisions, a busy workload, relationship problems, health concerns, or any number of day-to-day pressures or frustrations. Individuals’ stress levels can also be influenced by events occurring in broader society outside of our control, particularly when we are faced with uncertainty, and managing different emotions.

Stress can bring a range of challenging feelings, physical sensations and reactions when we are facing new and/or ongoing situations. Stress can also play a helpful role in our daily lives by helping us to make adjustments when new challenges arise – this article will further explain how... 

What is stress?

We hear the term ‘stress’ all the time, and many of us use this term on a day-to-day basis to describe a whole range of feelings and reactions, but what do we actually mean when we talk about stress?

Stress is the body’s reaction to challenges or to change. When faced with a difficult or new situation or ‘stressor’, our body’s nervous system kicks in, preparing us to confront the situation. This stress response triggers a range of changes to physical sensations (e.g., rapid heart beat, irregular breathing, shaking arms or legs, temperature changes) and emotions (e.g., feelings of fear, overwhelm or frustration). These physical sensations and emotions are our body’s warning signs that we are stressed, and tells us that we would benefit from taking action towards the challenging or novel situation.

What causes stress and its function

Stress generally develops when our demands outweigh our resources; that is, when we’ve got too much on our plate. This normally happens when we’re going through a big change, facing unfixable problems, or juggling more problems than we can comfortably manage. 

Stress can be our body’s way of telling us that we have too much going on and that we need to take stock. Or it can be a bit of a ‘wake-up call’ that we might need to learn skills to cope a bit better. 

Stress as a motivator 

Illustration-of-Yerkes-Dodson-law

Image: Research Gate

It can be helpful to look at stress in a more realistic and positive light. The Yerkes-Dodson law shows us that a certain degree of stress can actually be helpful for alertness, productivity and motivation. It suggests that you reach your peak level of performance with a degree of stress or arousal. Think of stress as your personal cheerleader or coach who motivates you when you need to get something done! 

Stress can push us to work harder, it builds our capacity for future challenges, and it boosts our resilience for when we are faced with new difficulties. In a way, little bouts of stress from time to time can help us to identify that we are facing a challenge, learn how to navigate through it, and increase our readiness for dealing with future stressors.

Stress can also be a positive sign – it signifies to us that we care about things going smoothly, or that things matter to us. Although it’s not easy, we can train our brains to be less ‘stressed’ about stress over time.

Chronic Stress

Although acute stress is a normal and functional part of our evolved survival system, chronic stress is unhelpful and can be hugely detrimental to our health and relationships. Unlike acute stress, which is generally in response to an imminent or current stressor, chronic stress is constant and persists over an extended period of time. Chronic stress has been linked to a number of poor psychological and physical health impacts such as anxiety, depression, impaired memory and concentration, digestive issues, headaches, caridovascular disease and sleep problems. To ensure that normal acute stress is not evolving into chronic stress, it's important to notice and respond helpfully to stressors.

Responding helpfully to stress

Although it may not come naturally, it’s important to acknowledge your unhelpful responses to stress, and balance these with more helpful responses. One way of managing stress is to notice thoughts that tend to increase your stress, and see if you can rationalise with these to find a more helpful (less stressful!) way of thinking. This will allow you to handle everyday stress in a more constructive way.

For example, you might make a mistake at work, and think, "I mess up everything." It's likely that this thought will increase your stress. Instead, you can take a breath to calm your nervous system, and ask yourself to see things more clearly. Do you really mess up everything? Or have there been some things you have succeeded at? Are you the only person at work who makes mistakes, or do others also make mistakes? How would you respond to a friend that has made this mistake? It is likely that you will be able to find a more helpful way of looking at the situation, for example "I made a mistake, which is annoying. But everyone makes mistakes, it's not such a big deal."

Just like trying anything new, a lot of people feel strange practicing this at first. But, with time and practice, having a more balanced or helpful inner voice will feel more familiar to you.

What are the signs that we are too stressed?

Our body and mind will give us signals that the stress we are carrying might be overwhelming. These can be: 

Physical

  • Muscle aches and tension

  • Headaches

  • Nausea

  • Change in appetite or weight

  • Feeling unusually tired

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep, or over sleeping

  • Getting sick more easily than normal

  • Feeling restless, agitated or on edge

  • Being tearful

Psychological

  • Feeling persistently irritable

  • Feeling worried and overwhelmed

  • Having a short temper

  • Difficulty remembering things

  • Procrastinating more than usual

  • Having trouble concentrating

  • Being unable to enjoy the things you used to

  • Using alcohol or illicit substances to cope

  • Withdrawing from others

Recharging when things feel stressful

 We often hear, “I’m too busy to take time out to relax.” Unfortunately, this way of thinking can add to the negative cycle of stress. Although you might not feel that you’ve got time to do the things you need to do (let alone the things you want to do) managing your day to day mood is an important part of managing stress.

Taking time to recharge (by relaxing, doing enjoyable things or having fun) will help you manage your demands more effectively, and maintain your mental and physical health. It is important to be proactive in planning and taking breaks, rather than waiting before you become overwhelmed. Remember that time out for yourself is not selfish, and in fact we need to take time to care for ourselves in order to continue to be there for others, whether this is for friends, family, work, or otherwise. We can recharge in small ways each day.

Here are some ways to recharge:

  • Regular physical exercise

  • Controlled breathing

  • Massage and stretching

  • Getting enough sleep (THIS WAY UP have a free Insomnia Program if you need some help)

  • Practicing mindfulness (THIS WAY UP have a free Mindfulness Program)

  • Immersing yourself in an activity that you love or find meaningful

  • Connecting socially with others

Switching off is so important for our wellbeing. It’s not about being lazy – in fact it can increase your productivity! Taking time out can make us more alert, creative, better at problem solving, and restore our energy. 

Treatment options for stress

Changing your mindset about stress can be one of the first steps to living a happier, healthier and more motivated life, but if you think you need some help in this department…

  • THIS WAY UP'S 4-lesson Stress Management Program is about helping you tackle chronic feelings of stress and overwhelm, by teaching strategies for tackling your problems and managing how you feel.  

  • If you find that stress occurs in relation to anxiety and/or depression you are already experiencing, you can consider trying one of THIS WAY UP'S Programs for Depression and/or Anxiety.

  • Consider taking THIS WAY UP'S free, anonymous online ‘Take a Test Tool’, for recommendations for a THIS WAY UP treatment program that suits your needs or speak with your GP about which one could be most beneficial.

  • If you are worried that your stress is becoming too overwhelming to manage alone, make an appointment with your GP or talk to a Sonder team member. It’s essential that you access help sooner rather than later. 

If you're struggling with stress, chat to our team at Sonder about getting a free prescription for one of THIS WAY UP's programs. Sonder has teamed up with THIS WAY UP to provide you access to evidence-based, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy programs that help with managing your mental health. If you want to find out more about THIS WAY UP or any of it's programs, head over here.


If you have any questions or need extra support, we're here to help you anytime in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app.

Information sourced from: THIS WAY UP

Image sourced from: Getty Images

All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.

Did this answer your question?