To understand stress, we need to look at the events that occur, our thoughts about them, and the way we respond.

Stressors: Stress-provoking situations are known as stressors. Between major life events (moving, school, job changes etc) and day-to-day hassles (traffic, busy family lifestyles), we are faced with many stress-provoking situations. Our attitude and thoughts towards these situations determines our response.

Coping effectively requires an understanding of the situations we perceive to be stressful.

The Stress Response: If we determine a situation to be stressful, our body's release adrenalin, a natural body chemical. This is referred to as the "fight or flight" response, and starts the first stage of the stress response.

Some physical signs may include muscle tension and difficulty sleeping (insomnia), whereas emotional signs may include outbursts of crying or anger.

Understanding your response to stressful situations is one of the first steps in developing your ability to lower your stress levels.

The first step to coping with stress is to know what, when and how it is happening. Signs of stress are clues you can use to change your response to stress. The next time you feel you are getting "stressed", take the time to check your body, your emotions and your behaviour. Recognizing your signs of stress, will help you begin to realize when you need to do something to cope.

Stages of Stress

When stressed, some or all of the following stages may occur:

Stage 1: Mobilization of Energy

Your body starts the "fight or flight" response to a frightening stressor (ie., an event you did not expect, like a near auto accident). This causes adrenalin to be released, a pounding heart and sweaty palms. This is called primary stress. Secondary stress refers to situations where you choose to put yourself under stress (e.g. the night before your wedding).


- increased heart rate and blood pressure
- rapid breathing
- decreased digestion rate, creating butterflies and indigestion

Stage 2: Exhaustion or Consuming Energy

If Stage 1 is not resolved, the body begins to use and release its stored energy reservoir of sugars and fats.


- feeling driven
- feeling pressured
- tiredness and fatigue
- increase in smoking, coffee drinking and/or alcohol consumption
- memory loss
- acute illnesses such as colds and flu

Stage 3: Draining Energy Stores

Chronic stress may develop if the stressful situation continues unresolved.


- heart disease
- ulcers
- mental illness
- insomnia (difficulty sleeping)
- errors in judgement
- personality changes

Effects on Physical and Mental Health

Excessive stress can lead to poor health. Common symptoms may include feeling tense or anxious, headaches, stomach complaints or symptoms that mimic old illnesses.

Some evidence suggests stress may contribute to the development of heart disease and stroke. Prolonged stress may result in higher blood cholesterol and increases in blood pressure.

In an attempt to cope, rather than exercising to manage stress, some people develop destructive habits, such as overeating, eating unhealthy foods, excessive drinking and smoking, abusing drugs, and blaming others. Some resort to physical violence, most often with family members.

Depression and anxiety may be the result of chronic stress. Both mental health conditions are broad in scope, however, left unattended and untreated, can be debilitating.

Author's Bio: 

George Bielay has been a practicing therapist since 1991. During this time, he has worked in various counselling settings such as community mental health agencies, marriage and family therapy clinics, residential treatment centres, employee assistance programs and post-secondary schools and universities. I have also taught at the post-secondary level, and am a Clinical Supervisor to professional therapists. If you are looking for Anxiety Counselling, please visit us online today!