Stress: Why Does it Happen?

What is stress?

Stress is our body’s response to pressure. Many different situations or life events can cause stress. It is often triggered when we experience something new, unexpected, or that threatens our sense of self, or when we feel we have little control over a situation.



We all deal with stress differently. Our ability to cope can depend on our genetics, early life events, personality, and social and economic circumstances.



When we encounter stress, our body produces stress hormones that trigger a fight or flight response and activate our immune system. This helps us respond quickly to dangerous situations.


Sometimes, this stress response can be useful: it can help us push through fear or pain so we can run a marathon or deliver a speech, for example. Our stress hormones will usually go back to normal quickly once the stressful event is over, and there won’t be any lasting effects.



However, too much stress can cause negative effects. It can leave us in a permanent state of fight or flight, leaving us overwhelmed or unable to cope. Long term, this can affect our physical and mental health.


What makes us stressed?

Many things can lead to stress: bereavement, divorce or separation, losing a job, or unexpected money problems. Work-related stress can also harm your mental health. People affected by work-related stress lose an average of 24 days of work due to ill health.



Even positive life changes, such as moving to a bigger house, gaining a job promotion, or going on holiday can be sources of stress. If you feel stressed in these situations you may struggle to understand why or be unwilling to share your feelings with others.



What are the signs of stress?


You may feel:



angry or aggressive





These feelings can sometimes produce physical symptoms, making you feel even worse.



You may behave differently if you’re stressed. You may:

Withdraw from other people or snap at them

Be indecisive or inflexible

Be tearful

Have problems getting to sleep or staying asleep

Experience sexual problems

Smoke, drink alcohol, or take drugs more than usual.

How your body might react



If you’re stressed, you may experience:




Shallow breathing or hyperventilating


Heart palpitations

Aches and pains.

If the stress is long-lasting, you may notice your sleep and memory are affected, you’re eating habits change, or you feel less inclined to exercise.



Some research has also linked long-term stress to gastrointestinal conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or stomach ulcers, as well as conditions like cardiovascular disease.



Who is affected by stress?

All of us can probably recognize some of the feelings described above. Some people seem to be more affected by stress than others. For some people, getting out of the door on time each morning can be a very stressful experience, whereas others may be less affected by a great deal of pressure.


Some people are more likely to experience stressful situations than others. For example:


People with a lot of debt or financial insecurity are more likely to be stressed about money

People from minority ethnic groups or who are LGBTIQ+ are more likely to be stressed about prejudice or discrimination

People with disabilities or long-term health conditions are more likely to be stressed about their health or the stigma associated with their condition.



How can you help yourself?

  1. Recognise when stress is a problem

It’s important to connect the physical and emotional signs you’re experiencing to the pressures you are faced with. Don’t ignore physical warning signs such as tense muscles, tiredness, headaches, or migraines.


Think about what’s causing your stress. Sort them into issues with a practical solution, things that will get better with time, and things you can’t do anything about. Take control by taking small steps towards the things you can improve.


Make a plan to address the things that you can. This might involve setting yourself realistic expectations and prioritizing essential commitments. If you feel overwhelmed, ask for help and say no to things you can’t take on.



  1. Review your lifestyle

Are you taking on too much? Could you hand over some things to someone else? Can you do things in a more leisurely way? You may need to prioritize things and reorganize your life so you’re not trying to do everything at once.



  1. Build supportive relationships

Find close friends or family who can offer help and practical advice that can support you in managing stress. Joining a club or a course can help to expand your social network and encourage you to do something different. Activities like volunteering can change your perspective and have a beneficial impact on your mood.



  1. Eat healthily

A healthy diet can improve your mood. Getting enough nutrients (including essential vitamins and minerals) and water can help your mental wellbeing.



  1. Be aware of your smoking and drinking

Cut down or cut out smoking and drinking if you can. They may seem to reduce tension but make problems worse. Alcohol and caffeine can increase feelings of anxiety.



  1. Exercise

Physical exercise can help manage the effects of stress by producing endorphins that boost your mood. Even a little bit of physical activity can make a difference, such as walking for 15-20 minutes three times a week.



  1. Take time out

Take time to relax and practice self-care, where you do positive things for yourself. Striking a balance between responsibility to others and responsibility to you is vital in reducing stress levels.



  1. Be mindful

Mindfulness meditation can be practiced anywhere at any time. Research has suggested it can help manage and reduce the effect of stress and anxiety.



  1. Get some restful sleep

If you’re having difficulty sleeping, you can try to reduce the amount of caffeine you consume and avoid too much screen time before bed. Write down a to-do list for the next day to help you prioritize, but make sure you put it aside before bed. For more tips on getting a good night’s sleep, read our guide ‘How to sleep better.



  1. Don’t be too hard on yourself

Try to keep things in perspective and don’t be too hard on yourself. Look for things in your life that are positive and write down things that make you feel grateful.



Get professional help:

If you continue to feel overwhelmed by stress, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It’s important to get help as soon as possible so you can start to feel better.


Talk to your doctor about how you’re feeling. They should be able to advise you on treatment and may refer you for further help. They may suggest talking therapies such as:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which can help reduce stress by changing the ways you think about stressful situations.

Brief interpersonal counseling, which can give you the chance to talk about what causes you stress and develop coping strategies Mindfulness-based approaches.

How to Cope Up With Mental Stress?

Many of us are facing challenges that can be stressful, overwhelming, and cause strong emotions in adults and children. Public health actions, such as social distancing, can make us feel isolated and lonely and can increase stress and anxiety.


After a traumatic event, people may have strong and lingering reactions. Learning healthy ways to cope and getting the right care and support can help reduce stressful feelings and symptoms.


The symptoms may be physical or emotional. Common reactions to a stressful event can include:




Feelings of fear, shock, anger, sadness, worry, numbness, or frustration.

Changes in appetite, energy, desires, and interests.

Difficulty sleeping or nightmares, concentrating and making decisions

Physical reactions, such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems, and skin rashes

Worsening of chronic health problems

Worsening of mental health conditions

Increased use of tobacco, alcohol, and other substances

It is natural to feel stress, anxiety, grief, and worry during traumatic events such as mass shootings, natural disasters, or pandemics.

Below are ways that you can help yourself, others, and your communities manage stress.

Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.

Talk to others. Share your problems and how you are feeling and coping with a parent, friend, counselor, doctor, or pastor.

Connect with others. Talk with people external icons you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.

Connect with your community- or faith-based organizations. If social distancing measures are in place, try connecting online, through social media, or by phone or mail.

Avoid drugs and alcohol. These may seem to help, but they can create additional problems and increase the stress you are already feeling.


Healthy Ways to Cope with Stress:

Feeling emotional and nervous or having trouble sleeping and eating can all be normal reactions to stress. Here are some healthy ways you can deal with stress:

Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media. It’s good to be informed but hearing about the traumatic event constantly can be upsetting. Consider limiting news to just a couple of times a day and disconnecting from phone, tv, and computer screens for a while.

Take care of yourself. Eat healthy, exercise, get plenty of sleep, and give yourself a break if you feel stressed out.

Take care of your body.

Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate external icon.

Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals.

Exercise regularly.

Get plenty of sleep.

Avoid excessive alcohol, tobacco, and substance use.



Connect with others: Talk with people external icons you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.

Connect with your community:  or faith-based organizations. If social distancing measures are in place, try connecting online, through social media, or by phone or mail.

Avoid drugs and alcohol:  These may seem to help, but they can create additional problems and increase the stress you are already feeling.

Recognize when you need more help:  If problems continue or you are thinking about suicide, talk to a psychologist, social worker, or professional counselor.

Helping Others Cope:

Taking care of yourself can better equip you to take care of others. During times of social distancing, it is especially important to stay connected with your friends and family. Helping others cope with stress through phone calls or video chats can help you and your loved ones feel less lonely or isolated.

Helping Children and Youth Cope with Stress:

Children and youth often struggle with how to cope with stress. Youth can be particularly overwhelmed when their stress is connected to a traumatic event—like a natural disaster, family loss, school shootings, or community violence. Parents, caregivers, and educators can take steps to provide stability and support that help young people feel better.



Tips for Parents and Caregivers:

It is natural for children to worry when scary or stressful events happen in their lives. Talking to your children about these events can help put frightening information into a more balanced setting. Monitor what children see and hear about stressful events happening in their lives. Here are some suggestions to help children cope:


Maintain a normal routine:  Helping children wake up, go to sleep, and eat meals at regular times provide them a sense of stability.

Talk, listen, and encourage expression:  Listen to your child’s thoughts and feelings and share some of yours. After a traumatic event, it is important for children to feel they can share their feelings and that you understand their fears and worries.

Watch and listen. Be alert for any change in behavior: Any changes in behavior may be signs that your child is having trouble and may need support.

Stressful events can challenge a child’s sense of safety and security: Reassure your child about his or her safety and well-being. Discuss ways that you, the school, and the community are taking steps to keep them safe.

Connect with others: Talk to other parents and your child’s teachers about ways to help your child cope. It is often helpful for parents, schools, and health professionals to work together for the well-being of all children in stressful times.



Tips for Kids and Teens:

After a traumatic event, it is normal to feel anxious about your safety and security. Even if you were not directly involved, you may worry about whether this type of event may someday affect you. Check out the tips below for some ideas to help deal with these fears.

Talk to and stay connected to others: Talking with someone you trust can help you make sense out of your experience. If you are not sure where to turn, call your local crisis intervention center or a national hotline.

Take care of yourself:  Try to get plenty of sleep, eat right, exercise, and keep a normal routine.

Take information breaks:  Pictures and stories about a disaster can increase worry and other stressful feelings. Taking breaks from the news, Internet, and conversations about the disaster can help calm you down.

Tips for School Personnel:

School personnel can help their students restore their sense of safety by talking with the children about their fears. Other tips for school personnel include:



Reach out and talk: Create opportunities to have students talk, but do not force them. You can be a model by sharing some of your own thoughts as well as correct misinformation.

Watch and listen:  Be alert for any change in behavior. Are students withdrawing from friends? Acting out? These changes may be early signs that a student is struggling and needs extra support from the school and family.

Maintain normal routines: A regular classroom and school schedule can provide a sense of stability and safety. Encourage students to keep up with their schoolwork and extracurricular activities but do not push them if they seem overwhelmed.

Take care of yourself: You are better able to support your students if you are healthy, coping, and taking care of yourself first. Eat healthy, exercise, get plenty of sleep, and give yourself a break if you feel stressed out.